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Canadian Studies Office/Association of Canadian Community Colleges

By Roger Elmes

Volume 10 Number 2

THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE MOVEMENT IN CANADA began in the mid-sixties in response to the changing demands of Canadian society. The majority of colleges trace their founding to the period 1968-1973. Given the heightened concern of Canadians during that period for their economic, political, and cultural sovereignty, it is not surprising that the community colleges and their national association would have a particular interest in Canadian studies and Canadian content.

The Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) was one of the first national associations to actively encourage and financially support the development of Canadian studies among its constituents.

Even prior to the receipt of Canadian studies funding from the Kellogg Foundation of Battlecreek, Michigan, U.S.A. in late 1975, the ACCC had organized a number of national conferences dealing with Canadian cultural identity and workshops on Canadian studies at its annual conferences. This is a remarkable achievement when one recognizes that in 1975 the ACCC was barely five years old and had two staff members to deal with all of the activities of a national post-secondary education association.

With receipt of this funding, paradoxically from a foreign source, the Association was able to expand its activities by the engagement of a half-time project of officer and a halftime secretary from January 1976 to July 1978.

During that time, the ACCC-Canadian Studies Office (CSO) was involved in the organization of several national conferences; established a liaison network of fifty-four college employees across the country; published several issues of a bibliographic reference publication, Communique; operated exchanges for some 200 students and fifteen faculty members; liaised extensively with other groups and individuals interested in Canadian studies; and spent a very large proportion of its time and considerable effort to place the CSO on a firm funding base through approaches to private corporations, several provincial ministries of education, the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada, and federal government departments.

As with most Canadian voluntary organizations, identification of a firm funding base has been and remains a vexing problem for the CSO. Fortunately, from the beginning of 1979 to the present, the ACCC-CSO has enjoyed the stability of a grant of $325,000 for each of three successive years. Awarded under the Secretary of State, John Roberts, it has been continued under his successors, David Macdonald, Francis Fox, and Gerald Regan.

As originally conceived, this ACCC-Secretary of State pilot project would have sought to create interdisciplinary programs and courses in Canadian Studies as an end objective. It was decided at an early stage that given the corporate goals and mandates of Canada's colleges and technical institutes, if this objective were attained and such programs and courses were instituted in all colleges, the level of Canadian content for ninety-five per cent of the students would not be increased at all.

The CSO has, therefore, while addressing these objectives, concentrated its efforts in part on raising the level of awareness of the need for a drastically increased level of Canadian content in all programs and courses offered by colleges.

At the same time, the tremendous challenges and threats of the information society to Canada's cultural, political, and economic survival have become obvious. The effects of microcomputers, word processors, Telidon, satellites, videodiscs, computer assisted design, and so on, on both educational curriculum and delivery system will result in radical changes to the education scene. We must now seriously address the problems of producing high quality, relevant Canadian materials and content for these new communications, technologies, and the varied applications of them. There has, as a consequence, been a parallel concentration of the CSO on this area over the last two years. At first, we were virtually a voice in the wilderness, but increasingly, the creation of educational software for the new communications technologies has attracted the serious attention of the federal and provincial governments.

In both of these last two areas of activity, the ACCC-CSO has been a truly pilot project, breaking new ground and changing ingrained attitudes, practices, and beliefs. The importance of these changes should not be underestimated. Canadian education systems, taken collectively, constitute a large, conservative bureaucracy with many vested interests. The resistance at all levels to significant change can be substantial.

Parenthetically, it should be noted that with funding from another branch of the Secretary of State, the Canadian Studies Office has been able to move almost 2,500 students and 170 faculty members on short-term educational exchanges, thus contributing to a better understanding of Canada's regional diversities. In the process, the level of Canadian content in the teaching of these 170 faculty members has increased as a result of their experiences.

In outline form, some of the specific activities of the ACCC-CSO are the following:

a) Learning Materials Development
  • development of learning materials pertaining to the human, cultural, social, economic, and physical attributes of Canada and her regions
  • development of learning materials that will help to increase both the quantity and quality of Canadian content in all programs and courses offered in colleges
  • exchange and distribution of these materials within and between the regions of the country.
b) Communication and Information
  • publication of the Canadian Studies BULLETIN des etudes canadiennes, a monthly bilingual forum for news, views, commentary, and articles on Canadian studies and Canadian content
  • publication of Communique, a bilingual quarterly review of bibliographic, human, and physical resources on selected themes
  • operation of a clearinghouse to exchange information between faculty, students, and administrators of the various colleges
  • publication of various specialized manuscripts relating to the CSO.
c) Technology
  • provision of information on the impact of new communications technology on education in general and Canadian content in particular
  • creation of mechanisms to ensure involvement of educators in decisions concerning the adoption of new communications technology, development of Canadian-based software, and design of education-oriented hardware.
d) Liaison
  • organization or co-ordination of conferences, workshops, regional meetings, and seminars
  • facilitation of conference organization through the provision of conference seed money to interested colleges
  • facilitation and support for full-time exchanges of faculty and students between regions
  • on-going communication with a wide range of educational groups, institutes, and government departments
  • support to national committees with special interests, i.e., Iabour studies
  • organization of short-term exchanges for students under the Open House Canada Programme.
e) Quebec Office
  • provision of specialized services to Quebec's seventy colleges through a Quebec of office.

With funding due to expire in a few months, the CSO is engaged in negotiations for contributions to cover its activities for the fiscal years 1982-83 and 1983-84. It is hoped that sufficient funds will be received to permit continuation of present activities as well as the opening of centres of Canadian studies excellence in twenty-five colleges across Canada. These centres would be a local focal point of activities aimed at the increase of Canadian content in both credit and non-credit programs at the college level.

Although many gains have been made in the past decade, the level of knowledge that Canadians display about their own country remains alarmingly low. How much longer can we afford the luxury of graduating students with an imperfect knowledge of their own society after fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen years of public education? Can we ignore the level of ignorance of Canada's adult population about the cultural, political, and economic realities that govern their lives?

The following issues of our bibliographic physical and human resources publication Communique will be of special interest to libraries: "Archives in Canada" at $5.00 "Alberta" at $5.00, "Canadian Business" at $6.00, and "Women's Studies" at $6.00.

If you are interested in more information, being placed on our mailing list, receiving our publications, or increasing the level of Canadian content in your teaching, please write to the Canadian Studies Office, Association of Canadian Community Colleges 211 Consumers Road, Suite 203, Willowdale, Ontario, M2J 4G8, or call us at (416 497-4400.

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