Very few colonist in New France received a proper education before the compulsory schooling laws. Catholic missionaries were tasked with a mission to educate the natives, however that was met with failure as the aboriginal believed that learning should be an ongoing part of everyday activities. After the British conquest, the British authorities tried repeatedly to assist in the establishment of schools as a way of diminishing the French Canadian presence in their new colony; however their efforts were blocked by the Catholic Church who remained in control of the schools, and of the local communities that did not see what a school could teach their children that they could not. It took several years before a good education system was put into place in the different provinces of Canada, and contrary to popular beliefs compulsory schooling in Canada didn’t happen all at once throughout the country, each province implanted compulsory schooling at different times.
The first province to take a step towards compulsory schooling was Ontario in 1871, parents would be given a fine if their children did not attend school at least four months a year, between the ages of seven and twelve. The law evolved until, in 1921, the compulsory attendance age was raised to sixteen years-old in urban areas except for those with a home permit or an employment certificate. It took until 1970 to have all of the restrictions removed and for schooling to become compulsory for all children up to sixteen years-old.
British Columbia was the second province to begin implanting schooling laws in 1873, the children were obligated to attend school between the ages seven and fourteen. In 1921, the schooling age was increased to fifteen years-old.
As for Quebec, it was one of the last province to start putting into action compulsory attendance laws. The two first bills to be submitted to the legislature, one in 1892 and the other in 1901, were both defeated. The argument that went around at that time to explain the refusal of the compulsory attendance laws, was that the child labor laws already restricted the employment of youths and instead promoted schooling. It took until 1943 for an Act to be adopted, making schooling compulsory between the ages of six and fourteen, it was raised to fifteen in 1961.
In 1910, most of the other provinces had also begin implanting compulsory attendance in school. It took until a little after 1963 for all provinces to implement schooling for everyone until the age of either fifteen or sixteen years-old. New Brunswick became the first province to raise schooling age to eighteen in 1999, it was soon followed by Alberta in 2011 who raised the school leaving age to seventeen.
Around the same time that compulsory schooling laws were put into place, laws prohibiting child labor were slowly put into function as well. To encourage schooling for the children, many provinces started imposing restrictions on the age that a child could start working in a mine or at a factory. Even with the compulsory schooling law in place, many children of the working class families often missed school to be able to go to work where they could and bring back money to their poor families. These working class children could work a total of ten hours a day and sixty hours a week, if they had time they would attend school as well; though the importance was less significant for them.
Some children needed to attend school simply to get their employment certificates that could be obtained by passing a grade or by showing evidence that they could read and write. With those certificates in hand the students were discharged from school and free to go work in occupations such as mining.
Nowadays, it has become normal for everyone to attend school until they are at least sixteen years-old in Quebec, and even then only a small amount of students decide to drop out. The socio-economic situation of the student often influence his choice to drop out of school early on in life. A student coming from a poorer family or rural area will have the tendency to drop-out earlier than other students to go help their family.
By 2020, the MELS hope to have an 80% rate of high school students with diplomas; however, before that happens, many preventive measure must be put in place in different schools to help those who need it.
Axelrod. The Promis of Schooling: Education in Canada, 1800-1914. Toronto: University of Toronto Press Incorporated , 1997.
Gaffield, Chat. The Canadian Encyclopedia. 7 July 2013. 31 March 2014.
Oreopoulos, Philip. Canadian Compulsory School Laws and their Impact on Educational Attainment and Future Earnings. Research Paper. Toronto: Ministry of Industry, 2005. PDF.