Technical Education | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Technical Education

From its origins in manual training "shop" and industrial arts, technical education has consisted of practical and applied subject matter that reflects the practices of current society.

Education, Technical

From its origins in manual training "shop" and industrial arts, technical education has consisted of practical and applied subject matter that reflects the practices of current society. Although concerned primarily with the teaching of proper and safe techniques for handling materials and applying modern technologies, including the theories behind them, technical education is intended to be a part of a student's general education. With the skills and experience provided by technical education courses, students are better able to contend with the technology encountered in society, and are also provided with knowledge of and skills for possible careers.

The terms "technical education" and "vocational education" are sometimes thought to refer to the same thing since early in this century technical education included most courses that entailed manipulation of materials or mechanical equipment and the applied principles of engineering. This could be for general education or for career preparation and be found within secondary education and post-secondary education. Today technical education usually describes courses of study, largely within secondary education, encompassing a broad range of practical subject matter intended to enrich the student's general knowledge and which does not necessarily lead the student into a particular career.

Vocational education, however, usually refers to a multiyear program or a series of courses providing specialized instruction in a skill or trade intending to lead the student directly into a career or apprenticeship program based on that skill or trade.


Technical education courses teach the safe handling of common materials; the properties of materials and components; methods of fabricating and constructing useful items from such material and components; the identification and proper use of tools for professional and recreational purposes; basic theory and principles of various technologies, often linking instruction with other subjects such as physics and chemistry; analysis of industrial and manufacturing systems and methods; and the application of technology in the workplace and at home.


The beginnings of technical education in Canada can be traced to trade schools established by the Roman Catholic Church in Québec City and St-Joachim, c 1668. Basic instruction was provided in cabinet making, carpentry, masonry, roofing, shoemaking and tailoring, and sculpture and painting were taught both as trades and as arts. This practice spread in Québec during the 18th century as the connection was established between schooling in practical subjects and success in contending with careers and problems in contemporary society.

Further developments in technical education did not occur until the 19th century when European and American innovations in making the instruction of technical subjects a part of school curricula were realized, in part, through the effects of immigration. Some of the developments in Canada included the establishment of MECHANICS' INSTITUTES in Saint John, NB, in 1838, and in Victoria, BC, in 1864.

Role of Governments

The establishment of Canada in 1867 defined administrative responsibility for education in the country and led to further expansion and developments in technical education. As the result of the BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT of 1867, each provincial government possesses sole authority for education in its province, although the federal government has, on occasion, provided special funding for technical and vocational education programs because of the high cost of equipment and because of acute demand for individuals possessing particular skills. Examples of developments under provincial aegis include the founding of the Halifax Marine School in 1872 (now the Nova Scotia Nautical Institute); the Ontario Society of Artists' School (later the Ontario College of Art) in 1876; 13 trade schools in Québec in 1880; and industrial schools for native people in the North-West Territories (the areas which are now Saskatchewan and Alberta) in 1884.

Growth of programs and facilities accelerated during the early years of the 20th century as the result of increased immigration, the influence of other industrialized countries and the creation of new provinces in western Canada. A manual training centre was established in Manitoba in 1900, and by 1909, manual training courses were offered at most high schools in BC. Technical education of one sort or another existed to varying degrees in most of the provinces at this time.

Influenced by technical education curricula in industrialized countries of Europe and the US, and concerned with consistency in technical education across the country, the federal government established a Royal Commission on Industrial Training and Technical Education in 1910. Although the findings of the commission were not binding upon the provinces, an influential piece of legislation arising from these findings was the Ontario Industrial Education Act of 1911. This legislation established a policy towards the implementation of technical education programs in general and formalized manual training as part of the Ontario curriculum. Similar legislation was passed in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta by 1914, where technical education programs in secondary schools were extended to schools in villages and towns.

In 1919 the federal government passed the Technical Education Act. Its purpose was to permit the federal government to share up to 50% of provincial expenditures for technical education, resulting in federal grants of $10 million over a 10-year period. The Youth Training Act of 1939, out of which the War Emergency Training Program (1940-46) was developed as a special schedule, provided technical training for individuals in war industries and in the armed services. Nearly $24 million was expended under this program and more than 300 000 persons received training.

Federal government support for technical education continued after WWII. The largest expenditure of federal funds for education came through the Technical and Vocational Training Assistance Act of 1960, designed to help the provinces replace and augment equipment in secondary schools, and to construct new vocational high schools, institutes of technology and adult-training centres. More than $2 billion was spent over a 10-year period, and new programs could accommodate over 600 000 students.

Post-Secondary Programs

Although technical education programs are offered at some Canadian universities as part of a Bachelor of Education degree, such programs are primarily intended to instruct prospective teachers in the methods and content necessary to teach technical education subjects in secondary schools. A few faculties of education also offer advanced degree programs in the study of technology in society and the study of the teaching of technical education. Some innovative methods of instruction have been devised at Canadian universities. The Alberta Plan of teaching industrial arts and technical education as a multiple-activity approach was devised at the University of Alberta.

Many COMMUNITY COLLEGES and institutes of technology offer post-secondary technical and vocational education courses. Examples include the Ryerson Institute of Technology (see RYERSON POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY) in Toronto, École Polytechnique de Montréal, Red River College in Manitoba, NORTHERN and SOUTHERN ALBERTA INSTITUTE of TECHNOLOGY and the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Technical courses were at one time taken almost exclusively by males, but within the last 15 years an increasing number of females have enrolled in high school and post-secondary technical courses. In response to innovations such as the Alberta Plan and the shifting nature of the job market, many provincial departments and ministries of education are de-emphasizing specific skills training, preferring instead programs that offer a group of related subjects which are taught as "broad-based technologies." This approach is in keeping with the traditional goals of technology education, the provision of skills as a part of a general education to prepare the individual to cope successfully as a contributing member of society.