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Adult Education in Northern Saskatchewan

Adult Education has played a significant role in the economic, political and social developments that have shaped northern Saskatchewan. During the first half of the 20th century, few northern residents had access to formal education opportunities in their own communities. The north was cut off from southern services until roads opened it up in the 1940s. By the 1950s the northern population consisted of approximately 15,000 people of Cree, Dene, and Métis ancestry. For many years, Anglican and Catholic missions were the only organizations to provide schooling in northern communities. After World War II, changing world conditions and provincial government interest in important resources (forestry, Uranium and gold) found in northern Saskatchewan led to economic initiatives that brought services to the region (also referred to as the “Northern Administrative District” or NAD) in the 1950s and 1960s. With these developments came a realization that education was fundamental to the development of the north, and that an integrated approach was required to reduce socio-economic disparities between the northern and southern parts of the province.

Formal organization of adult and continuing education opportunities for northerners can be divided into three stages: pre-college (1968-72); college establishment and development (1973-86); and college amalgamation and future plans (1987 to present). The pre-college stage laid a foundation to help northerners make transitions in their lifestyles and livelihoods. Administered by the Department of Continuing Education in Regina, programming in the north focused on adult upgrading and domestic science programming (specifically for northern women), supported primarily through federal training funds. Later, programs like the Training Opportunity Program (TOP) combined English and Mathematics upgrading with technical skills to enhance the learner's ability to gain employment-related skills; adults attending these programs also received a training allowance.

Two provincial Acts had a major impact on how adult education developed and advanced in northern Saskatchewan. In 1972, the Department of Northern Saskatchewan Act established a single agency, based in La Ronge instead of Regina, to administer and facilitate delivery of all its programs and services to northern residents. Within the new department, the Northern Continuing Education Branch became responsible for organization and administration of adult education and training in the NAD. In May 1973, the Community Colleges Act created the province's first four community colleges, including one in the north. This was the beginning of the College Establishment and Development stage, in which La Ronge Region Community College (1973) was founded to provide adult education services to the central region. The overall aim was to help northerners adapt to and take a greater part in the changes that were rapidly occurring in northern Saskatchewan. Upgrading programs including Adult Basic Education 1-4, 5-10, 11-12, and GED continued to be a major focus.

The Department of Northern Saskatchewan (DNS) continued to provide for the direct delivery of adult education in areas outside the central region until West Side Community College, administered from Beauval, was formed in 1976, followed by North East Community College, administered from Creighton, in 1981. Together, the three northern colleges continued to offer programming in the areas of adult basic education, basic job readiness, home management, and life skills. The growing demand for skilled Labour in the expanding Forestry and Mining sectors resulted in the offering of apprenticeship trades training as well as other skill and industry-specific trainings (prospector, surveyor aide, mill operator, and diamond drilling), technical training (chemical laboratory technician, environmental monitoring technician, recreation technician), and other types of skill training (bush camp and commercial cooking, general labourer, early childhood development worker), and administrative studies. In 1983, DNS was dissolved and responsibility for adult training in the Athabasca region in the far north was transferred to La Ronge Region Community College.

The college amalgamation stage began in 1987 with the Regional Colleges Act. The three northern colleges were amalgamated into Northlands College, with headquarters in La Ronge and campuses at Buffalo Narrows and Creighton. A major focus of Northlands College was to provide employment-related training: this required Northlands College to continue to offer programming in adult basic education as well as skill and trades related training, and to include technical training and university programming in its mandate. The Northern Teacher Education Program (NORTEP), established in 1976, further increased northerners' ability to participate in the changing north. This program began as a three-year elementary teacher certificate program, and evolved to a nationally recognized teacher-education program with students earning a Bachelor of Education. NORTEP continues to be an off-campus institution accredited by the University of Regina, the University of Saskatchewan and the First Nations University of Canada. Northlands College, NORTEP, and the university access program called NORPAC provide leadership in adult education in northern Saskatchewan. Recent initiatives in which adult education played a significant role to address chronic underemployment and support human resource development in the north include the Multi-Party Training Plan (1993-98) and the Northern Strategy (1997).

Michèle Bonneau, Donna Woloshyn

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Further Reading

Winkel, J.D. 2002. Northern Saskatchewan - A Transformation. Regina: Saskatchewan Northern Affairs.
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University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
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