Newfoundland debates divided schools
St. John's, Newfoundland
PSYCHOLOGY professor William McKim recalls a personal story about this province's unique educational system, one in which all the schools are owned and administered by religious denominations. His school, run by the United Church of Canada, usually played ice hockey against the local Roman Catholic school. ``They were the enemy,'' he says. ``We were not just playing against another team. We were playing against the Pope.''Skip to next paragraph
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Since then religious antagonisms on this island of 580,000 have diminished greatly.
``Twenty or 25 years ago, nobody would have dreamed that Catholics and Protestants would come together for a garden party or anything else,'' remembers Myrle Vokey, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador School Trustees Association. ``There has been a tremendous change.''
Despite this religious tolerance, the province has not one public school system, but four publicly funded denominational school systems. The merits of this divided system are still being debated.
Earlier this month, the provincial government named members of a task force to look into school funding. Also, the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Association has been advertising for parents who would register their children in a public, nondenominational school system. If the government agrees, this would be a fifth school system.
With the anticipated growth in the offshore oil industry here, many Newfoundlanders feel the province will need a higher level of education. The province has the highest illiteracy rate in Canada - about 31 percent of those over age 15. Critics say the denominational system makes progress against this problem more difficult.
At present, there are one Pentecostal school board, one Seventh-day Adventist board, 12 Catholic boards, and 19 Integrated, or Protestant, boards. The latter are the result of a 1969 agreement of the Anglicans (Episcopalians), the United Church (a union of various Protestant churches), and the Salvation Army to integrate their separate systems. They agreed also to represent the Moravians in Labrador and the Presbyterians.
There is no nondenominational public school system. Adherents of different Christian denominations, atheists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and others tend to send their children to the Integrated schools. Though they do not prevent such attendance, some trustees of the Integrated schools are not too happy about being the ``dumping ground'' for the children from families with minority religions.
Unlike the United States, Canada has no constitutional clause guaranteeing separation of church and state. In fact, the tradition of church involvement in Canadian education is deep-rooted. The educational provisions of the British North America Act of 1867 (Canada's original constitution) and subsequent amendments basically froze into place the educational systems of the provinces as they existed before union. Moreover, the 10 provinces have autonomy in educational matters. This has resulted in a wide variance in how education and denominational issues are managed.