Katie Gemmell, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC
In the 2013-2014 school year, approximately 21375 students were educated in British Columbia’s Catholic schools, representing one third of the more than 1 in 10 British Columbia children who attend independent schools (Ministry of Education 2014). In spite of ongoing public interest and partial government funding for Catholic schools, very little academic research has examined the historical development of Catholic education. Government funding for Catholic schools in British Columbia has a unique history relative to the rest of Canada (Barman 1991; Magsino 1986). Within a year of joining Confederation, British Columbia passed the Public School Act (1872). Although the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Sisters of St. Ann had already established Catholic schools in British Columbia in the 1860s, separate or diocesan Catholic school systems did not take shape until 1936, and the provincial government, committed to an ideal of secular education, elected not to legally recognize Catholic schools or grant them protection under the provisions outlined in Section 93 of the British North America Act (1867). (Canada’s Constitution had given provinces exclusive rights over education, but stipulated that denominational school systems operating at the time of union be protected.) Catholic schools petitioned the provincial government for funding until The Independent School Support Act was passed in 1977. Since 1989, Catholic schools have received 50 percent of the local school district’s per student grant amount.
My dissertation, “A History of Catholic Education in British Columbia, 1863-Present” builds on my recently completed MA thesis, “The Impact of Progressive Education on Roman Catholic Schools in British Columbia: 1924-1960” (Gemmell 2014). In the past three decades, academics, journalists, and individual citizens (provincially, nationally, and internationally) have debated government funding for private/independent schools, questioning their values, contributions, and distinctiveness, and with particular attention to Catholic schools (Barman 1991; Van Brummelen 1993). My dissertation explores the underlying question of the distinctiveness of Catholic education in British Columbia from its origins to the present. My research provides historical context for the philosophy, curriculum, pedagogy, teaching personnel, students served (Catholic and non-Catholic, including Aboriginal), administrative structure, relationships to the community and the state, of Catholic education.