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Adult Education in the Co-operative Movement

In Saskatchewan, a co-operative is an organization incorporated under either provincial or federal laws. It differs in several distinctive ways from other incorporated organizations: its primary goal is to provide goods and services to its member-owners; and it has a system of democratic control in which each member has one vote and the profits are distributed to the users on the basis of patronage. There are several kinds of Co-operatives in Saskatchewan: consumer Co-operatives (retail stores); producer co-operatives (e.g., Saskatchewan Wheat Pool); and workers co-operatives, which are businesses jointly owned and operated by the workers of the enterprise. All of the co-operatives are involved in promoting educational activities.

In 1958, the Co-operative Institute came into being at 402 Grain Building in Saskatoon; courses were offered for co-operative and credit union employees, as well as their elected officials. The facilities were inadequate, so in 1959 a permanent building site of three acres was selected near the University of Saskatchewan campus, with financial backing from large co-operatives such as Federated Co-operative Wholesale, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, and the Credit Unions; and the name was changed to “Western Co-operative College.” The college classrooms and residences were designed to encourage social gatherings for debates and the exchange of ideas, reinforcing the concept that learning is a continuous process which takes place both in and outside of the classroom. The college was administered by a board elected from representative co-operatives; the board hired the Institute's principal, who hired staff and produced programs to fit the needs of the member co-operatives. The first principal of the Western Co-operative College was Harold Chapman. He developed the principles of adult learning, whose guidelines were: problems need to be considered important to those expected to solve them; start where people are - not where we think they are or would like to be; a person cannot transfer his/her knowledge and skills to another - the person must go through his/her own learning process; significant learning takes place when facts and information are integrated into the experiences of the learner; a person feels more responsible for what he/she helps to create.

There was not one area of consumer needs that could not be fulfilled through the vast array of financial, production, or consumer co-operatives, and the college attempted to develop courses specific for these training needs. Courses gave practical training for the directors, management, staff, and other institutions, but all course groupings would include the basic tenets for a democratic organization.

The college developed two levels of adult Education certificates so that all program instructors or extension teachers in local communities had a common standard in the delivery of the course materials. The University of Saskatchewan used Western Co-operative College adult instructors to offer their adult education courses through the university's extension programs. The Western Co-operative College adult education certificates, however, were only officially recognized within the co-operative movement.

The College was a Pioneer in developing self-learning packages for northern Aboriginal people, as well as an international program which brought adults from overseas developing countries to the college to learn how to set up a consumer-owned co-operative to help balance the power of the industrial giants. In 1987, the college amalgamated with the Co-operative Union of Canada under the name of “Canadian Co-operative Association.”

Ken Rodenbush

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Further Reading

Wright, J.F.C. 1956. Prairie Progress: Consumer Co-operation in Saskatchewan. Saskatoon: Modern Press.
This web site was produced with financial assistance
provided by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan.
University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
Ce site Web a été conçu grâce à l'aide financière de
Diversification de l'économie de l'Ouest Canada et le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan.