In 1931 the Government Correspondence School began experimenting with the use of radio to deliver evening lessons covering high school courses in English, history, science, Latin, and German; later on, geography was added to the list. The educational broadcasts, prepared by the teachers in the Correspondence School, were intended to supplement the work in the courses. They were discontinued in 1936, however, due to the prevailing economic conditions. The initial successful experiment with school radio broadcasts did convince the Department of Education of the potential of the medium to support learning, and in 1938 the government amended the School Grants Act and the Secondary Education Act to provide grants to schools to assist with the purchase of radios and film projectors.
Other provinces also became interested in the potential of radio to support education in the 1930s. The British Columbia Department of Education began broadcasting programs for schools on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation network in 1936, and in the winter of 1940-41 the CBC carried some of these programs over its prairie transmitter. The programs were well received by teachers and students in schools, and in 1940 representatives from departments of education in the four western provinces met to discuss potential co-operation in the production and scheduling of school telecasts.
In 1941, the Saskatchewan Department of Education established the Audio-Visual Instruction Branch to assume responsibility for distribution of audio-visual aids, the development and sponsorship of school broadcasts, and the supervision of the rural circuits of the National Film Board. Morley P. Toombs, a superintendent of schools, was appointed as head of the branch. In the 1941-42 school year, the Saskatchewan Department of Education began offering school radio broadcasts on Tuesdays and Fridays. The first programs to be broadcast were a language arts series entitled “Highways to Adventure” for Grades 5 to 10, and a junior music series for Grades 1 to 4.
In 1942-43, national school broadcasts were added to the schedule, and a series called “Heroes of Canada” was produced with support from all departments of education across the country. The Canadian Teachers' Federation was also involved in supporting this endeavour. By 1944-45, school telecasts were offered four days per week; programming was provided through a combination of national, western regional and provincial programs by CBC, and a network of private stations that included CKRM Regina, CHAB Moose Jaw, CFQC Saskatoon, CKBI Prince Albert, and CJGX Yorkton. At the same time, the Department of Health and the Department of Education co-operated to produce a series of health education programs called “Health Highways.”
In 1945, Rj Staples joined the Department of Education as supervisor of music and introduced a new kind of music programming, which served as a model for classroom instruction. Over the years, music programming became an important feature of the school broadcasts and became a mainstay in the music education of students throughout the province. In 1950 Gertrude Murray joined the Department as supervisor of school broadcasts, replacing J.W. Kent who had served in this capacity since 1945. From 1951 to 1953, music and other school programming was produced in a small studio in the Department of Learning offices until the production studio work was transferred to the CBC studio in 1954; there the provincial radio programming continued to be produced until 1982, when school radio broadcasts were discontinued.
Experiments with school telecast programming were started in the 1954-55 school year. The programs originated in Toronto and were prepared and presented by the School Broadcasts Branch of the CBC under the direction of the National Advisory Council of School Broadcasts, which had membership from Departments of Education across Canada. In Saskatchewan, CKCK-TV and local distributors assisted with the first experiment by helping to equip schools with television sets. These early experiments with educational television continued, and the amount of programming expanded. By the 1963-64 school year, a full schedule of school telecasts was offered on the CBC network with programs contributed through provincial, western regional, and national arrangements. This programming would be replaced when the Saskatchewan Communications Network (SCN) began broadcasting school telecasts on the SCN cable channel.
Over the years, CBC played a significant role in the production of programs for the school telecasts, in addition to serving an important role as broadcaster. However, many of the video programs were produced by independent film producers and by the Government Services Branch of the provincial government. In 1974, SaskMedia Corporation was established to provide support for educational programming. Many audiovisual productions in a variety of formats were prepared by the corporation during the years that it operated prior to its dissolution in 1974. Since that time, production work has been contracted to independent producers. Many of the school broadcast and telecast programs won awards over the years for their quality and instructional design. The programs have provided a major resource support for schools over the years.
As audio and video playback machines became available, the Department established an audio and later a video duplication service so that schools could obtain copies of educational programs; this technology allowed teachers to use programs at their convenience in accordance with their instructional plan. The service was operated at various times by the Government Services Branch of Executive Council, by SaskMedia, by Saskatchewan Education, and through a contracted service provider. The audio service was eventually discontinued, but the video duplication service continues to be provided with assistance of SCN, which clears video broadcast and duplication rights for programs on the recommendation of Saskatchewan Learning.
Delee Cameron, Leanne Miles