The Sixties

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The 1960s was another time of social upheaval and questioning. Long hair and beards for young men marked the start of a new era. Young women, according to the words of a song from that period, wore flowers in their hair. The guitar was the preferred musical instrument.

John Diefenbaker remained prime minister until 1963, when he was succeeded by Liberal Lester B Pearson.

In 1963, the federal government established a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism to promote understanding between French and English speakers in Canada. Its work laid the foundation for the national acceptance of bilingualism, despite some hesitancy in western Canada.

Changes were emerging in Quebec. The Quiet Revolution, which began with the death of Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis in 1959, drew attention.

In 1965, Canada, under the leadership of Nobel laureate Lester B Pearson, adopted a new national flag featuring a red maple leaf. In 1967, Canada celebrated the 100th anniversary of Confederation and hosted the World's Fair (Expo '67) in Montreal on the theme "Man and His World."

In 1967, The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) came into being, with headquarters in Toronto. The purpose of CMEC, which has no constitutional authority, is to improve interprovincial cooperation in the area of education and to provide a forum for provincial ministers of education to present their views on educational policy to the federal government. Despite the establishment of CMEC, education remained a matter of provincial jurisdiction in Canada.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau was elected prime minister in 1968, and the country basked in the glow of Trudeaumania. In 1969, Trudeau introduced the Official Languages Act.

In the United States, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. President John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. The civil rights movement was in full bloom, and Bob Dylan sang, "The times—they are a-changing."

In 1968, Soviet tanks crushed a popular democratic uprising in Czechoslovakia, and university students revolted in the streets of Paris. Alberta seemed isolated and far-removed from many of the events on the world stage.

In 1968, Harry Strom succeeded Ernest Manning as Alberta premier. Strom remained premier until 1971. Another notable politician at the time was Progressive Conservative Peter Lougheed, who became an MLA in 1967.

To provide schooling to Métis and other children across the north, the government established Northland School Division in 1961 (Manning 1968). In making the case for the new jurisdiction to Cabinet, Aalborg stated that "every child for whom the province of Alberta is responsible should have the right to attend a public school of good minimum standard, and this regardless of the tax resources of the area affected" (Chalmers 1967, 271). The policy was regarded at the time as forward-looking.

In 1961, Alberta's School Foundation Program Plan came into effect with the strong support of Aalborg. Prominent features of the plan included equalized assessment among school jurisdictions and the infusion of additional provincial funds into education. Chalmers (1978, 324) notes that the School Foundation Fund proved particularly beneficial to separate school districts, which had not previously had access to certain categories of revenue. To comply with departmental guidelines, boards found themselves dealing with a lot more paperwork. The plan also increased the province's influence over local expenditures.

In 1963, Alberta was known for having comparatively high standards of teacher preparation. For example, Alberta was still the only Canadian province that required a person to have two years of university education after grade 12 in order to be granted a teaching certificate (Aalborg 1963, 29). In 1963, Aalborg opened the new education building—now known as Education South—at the University of Alberta, thereby completing the last step in the transfer of teacher education to the university (Aalborg 1963).

Because of financial considerations, the government of Alberta had always favored the existence of only one provincial university (Berghofer and Vladicka 1980). Higher-education opportunities were to be located either at the University of Alberta or in an associated facility. The university coordinated higher education throughout the province and tended to dominate relationships with colleges.

By the 1960s, Alberta's baby boomers were demanding to go to university, and the province's only university came under considerable enrolment pressure. To meet this challenge, the government changed its policy to allow the development of opportunities for postsecondary education in various parts of the province. As a result, the number of opportunities for higher education in Alberta increased rapidly.

The founding of the University of Calgary as an autonomous university in 1966 was the achievement of a long-denied dream for Calgary. The dream had begun in 1946, when the normal school was transformed into the Faculty of Education Extension. For a short while in the early 1960s, the University of Alberta had had two campuses—one in Edmonton and one in Calgary. There was a third university in the province, as well: the University of Lethbridge, established in 1967 as an offshoot of Lethbridge Junior College.

The number of Alberta teachers grew in the period from 1950 to 1965. In the sphere of professional development, the sixties manifested noteworthy advances in the opportunities available to teachers. The Alberta Teachers' Association established specialist councils, semi-autonomous organizations intended to enhance teachers' professional expertise in a number of areas. S C T Clarke, the Association's executive secretary, played a prominent role in the creation and expansion of specialist councils.

In response to high unemployment levels, the federal government decided to invest heavily in technical and vocational education in the early 1960s. Alberta accepted the invitation to participate in a federal-provincial cost-sharing agreement. The funding came through the Technical and Vocational Training Assistance Act of 1960. Major construction projects were initiated in Alberta. The infusion of funds resulted in the establishment of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), which began operations in 1962. By 1966, NAIT was the largest technical institute in Canada. The campus of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) was modernized as part of the same effort. Under the umbrella of these two technical institutes, Alberta's apprenticeship training program came into existence.

Although some defenders of provincial autonomy protested federal intrusion into the provincial sphere of education, the infusion of federal funds into manpower training enabled Alberta to alter the character of its secondary schools. Under these federal-provincial cost-sharing arrangements, new high schools were constructed and were able to offer vocational training in addition to traditional academic and business programs. As a consequence, a greater range of students was able to attend and complete high school.

In 1961, the Department of Technical and Vocational Education was established in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta to prepare students to teach technical and vocational programs in high schools.

In the 1960s, Alberta still struggled to provide high-quality education in small high schools, particularly in rural areas. Downey (1965, 10) described the situation as follows:

Over 65,000 students attended 368 high schools during the 1964–65 term. Of these, over 25,000 or approximately 40 percent attended schools enrolling fewer than 300 students. Over 11,000 or approximately 16 percent attended schools enrolling fewer than 100 students. . . . Obviously the small high school continues to be very much a part of Alberta's educational system.

In 1967, Alberta created the Human Resources Research Council, one purpose of which was to conduct research into education. As an advocate of research to bridge the gap between theory and practice in education, S C T Clarke supported the Council's research mandate. Riffel's 1971 monograph on educational planning and his 1972 survey on teacher workload exemplify the sort of work that the council was able to perform. Dr Lawrence Downey, a professional educator and a former professor of school administration at the University of Alberta, served as director of the council (Chalmers 1967, 271). Shortly after its election in 1971, the new Progressive Conservative government would abolish the council.

Chalmers (1970, 18) depicts the average Alberta teacher of the late sixties as follows:

In 1969 that abstraction called "the average Alberta teacher" was 34.6 years of age, had 4.0 years of professional preparation beyond grade 12, had 8.7 years of experience, and was earning $7,293 per year. The chances were about even that this mythical teacher had at least one university degree, was teaching in a city or large town, and had had no breaks in teaching career. Other odds were about two out of three that this teacher had received first teacher certification in Alberta, and about three in ten that all teacher service had been for one system. Six of ten teachers were women. Over 60 percent of the women and 80 percent of the men were married.

During the 1960s, several colleges were established in smaller urban centres in Alberta: in Red Deer in 1964, in Medicine Hat in 1966 and in Grande Prairie in 1966. In Calgary, Mount Royal College was set up in 1966. In 1967, Alberta created the Board of Post-Secondary Education to oversee postsecondary education outside Alberta's universities.

To solidify the status of these new institutions, Alberta passed the Colleges Act in 1969, making the colleges partners in higher education in the province. The colleges developed their own curricula, combining transfer courses with a wide range of credit and noncredit programming, thereby giving many more students the opportunity to receive an education. This period represented a creative phase in the development of a public system of postsecondary education in Alberta.

The period from 1945 to 1970 was the golden age of education in Alberta. It was a dynamic period, a time of expansion and optimism for public education. McIntosh (1986, 42) describes this period as follows:

The year 1970, with passage of the new School Act, marks a turning point in Alberta's educational history. In fact, a dividing line can be sketched on the topography of Alberta educational history from which the waters of educational development can be seen to flow in very different directions. For 25 years, beginning immediately upon the conclusion of World War II, the rivers of educational change had flowed strongly and surely along turbulent courses that nevertheless were well defined and widely supported. These were years not only of dramatic expansion in the scale of publicly supported educational services, but also of change in the nature of these services, which were broadened and enriched at all levels—from elementary to post-secondary. Public education in Alberta, as we know it today, was brought to maturity during this singularly creative period.

According to McIntosh (1986), four educational leaders in particular championed the cause of public education in this golden age: Dr Timothy Byrne, Dr Herbert Coutts, Dr S C T Clarke and Dr Gordon Mowat. Public policy was that everyone should have access to schooling. In the words of Berghofer and Vladicka (1980), schooling was an "access to opportunity."

In the 1960s, leading educational professionals in the province knew one another personally. As a result, the organizations with which these educators were associated exhibited considerable cooperation in the interests of public education. The prominent organizations involved in education were the Alberta Teachers' Association, the Department of Education and the Faculty of Education. During the 1970s, the size of the organizations involved and the sheer number of educators in Alberta made this kind of cooperation increasingly difficult.

As deputy minister of education, Dr Timothy Byrne was involved in drafting the School Act of 1970. Its passage signaled the coming of age of rural school divisions and counties in Alberta and put them more on a par with their urban counterparts. In particular, the act allowed the establishment of rural school divisions, which could hire superintendents to act as chief executive officer for the trustees.

Dr Herbert Coutts, who served as dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta from 1955 to 1972, continued the work of his predecessor, M E LaZerte, in building the faculty and in overseeing a gradual increase in the standards for initial teacher certification. To be certified as a teacher in 1970, a person needed at least three years of university education. By 1972, most Alberta teachers possessed a degree.

Once a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta, Dr S C T Clarke served as executive secretary of the Alberta Teachers' Association from 1959 to 1969. During the 1960s, he was instrumental in establishing the Association's specialist councils as a vehicle for fostering the professional development of teachers. After leaving the Association, he returned to the Department of Educational Psychology and served, for a time, as head of Special Sessions.

Dr Gordon Mowat was appointed chair of the Department of Educational Administration in 1968. A former high school inspector, he helped establish Alberta's Board of Post-Secondary Education in 1967. For two decades, this board, a forerunner of the Department of Advanced Education, coordinated the activities of Alberta's colleges, technical institutes and universities.

As the baby-boom generation came of age in the 1960s, the demographics of the teaching profession changed accordingly. Chalmers (1968, 271) characterized the teachers of the decade as follows:

The province's teachers are bright, inquiring, better educated than ever before, probably healthier, and committed to the discipline to which they have devoted a large part of their as-yet short lives. Their organization is equally vibrant, dynamic, prepared to cope with the stresses that lie in the future.

SummaryTop of page

The period from 1945 to 1970 was a golden age of accomplishments in public education in Alberta. During this time, the province developed a remarkable educational infrastructure and produced highly qualified personnel. The 1960s saw the inauguration of mature rural school divisions capable of directing their own administrative affairs. The high school curriculum was expanded to include vocational and technical areas. Teacher preparation standards were the highest in the country. Through the persistent efforts of the Alberta Teachers' Association, the teaching profession was on the brink of requiring degree standards for initial certification. By 1970, Alberta's teaching profession was sufficiently organized to conduct its own system of continuing professional development. By the end of the 1960s, the province was developing a coordinated system of postsecondary education, a compelling manifestation of the importance of public education. Public education, including postsecondary education, was viewed, in the words of Berghofer and Vladicka (1980), as "access to opportunity."

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