Aims and Philosophy of Education in British Columbia [c. 1937]

1. The Functions of the British Columbia System of Education

From the point of view of society, the schools in any state exist to develop citizens, or subjects, according to the prevailing or dominating ideals of the state or society. Any society desires to transmit its culture. All states seek to ensure their safety, stability, and perpetuity. The people of a democratic state such as Canada aim at more than this. They wish to have citizens able to play their part in a democratic state, but able also to make new adjustments in an evolving and progressive social order, so that social stability may be united with social progress. For these purposes they have established schools.

From the point of view of the individual the schools exist to aid him in his own growth or self-realization, in making adjustments to his environment, and, it may be, in modifying this environment, which is at once a social and a physical environment. These two processes, of adjustment and of growth, are largely complementary, but at times they involve conflict. From their reconciliation comes individual-social balance and the development of an integrated personality, socially efficient and capable of further growth and progressive adjustment. This capacity for progressive adjustment requires the development of critical thinking, of open-mindedness and freedom from prejudice, unimpeded by ill-regulated emotion.

Character, therefore, may be said to be the main objective of education. The school and its curriculum should be organized to achieve this end.

This aim, in order to be significant in curriculum- making, must be further analyzed, particularly in the light of the teachings of psychology and sociology. Many such analyses have been made. Analyses will reveal aims common to all types of schools, and some peculiar to schools of special type, such as Elementary, Junior and Senior High Schools. The objectives of the special subjects in these various schools are designed to realize the general aims of education in so far as they are appropriate to the level of development of the pupils. Courses of study should be drawn up with these objectives in mind.

The curriculum consists of significant aspects of experience chosen to achieve goals implicit in the statement which appears above of the social and individual purposes of education. Experience man be direct or may be vicarious. It is the aim of organized education that learning should eventuate in desirable outcomes, which may be stated as:-

The curriculum-maker and the teacher will find it profitable to consider these outcomes in organizing the materials of instruction. What knowledge should be gained from the study of this subject, or of this unit? What habits? What skills? What interests and appreciations should be developed? What attitudes and what ideals?

2. The Social Nature of Education

Education and Adjustment to the Environment.

Education is a social function. The school assists the child in his adjustment to society. As society is constantly changing, the adjustment must be flexible and progressive. The child no only must make a temporary adjustment, but he must acquire capacity for readjustment. The power of reacting intelligently to his environment is the basis of individual growth.

The Nature of the Curriculum.

The materials of a curriculum should be a selection of subject-matter and experiences chosen and arranged to stimulate the growth of the child and to assist him in fitting into his environment. Subject-matter is not educative in and of itself, but only as it is made meaningful to the pupil.

Child versus Adult Needs.

There is no essential opposition between the demands of social living in childhood and in adult life. The best and most meaningful social experience at his own age-level is the best preparation for the child's later life. All intelligent adjustment is forward-looking. Children take keen interest in acquiring the knowledge, skill, and experience which they observe in their elders. This interest gives meaning to much that is beyond their immediate needs and makes preparation for the future vital. There is no absolute criterion to determine whether or not any item of subject-matter is related to child-life. Some important materials, such as language and the rules of health, have immediate usefulness. These must be given place in the curriculum. On the other hand, a great deal must be included which is beyond the child's present need. The meaning of this can be revealed by intelligent teaching. Studies and occupations the full significance of which can be appreciated only at a much later time should be included only if necessary for indispensable learning to follow.

The makers of the school programme, therefore, should select content and experiences which are important for life, including adult life, and should assign them to the years childhood in which they will have the greatest immediate significance. These materials should be brought into relationship with the pupil by providing a setting out of which arise problems which call for their use.

Subject-matter as a System of Ideas.

Subject-matter has meaning for a pupil only as it helps him to solve problems that are real to him. Problems are difficulties in thinking. They may arise from practical activity with real things. Or from the pupil's attempt to grasp the sense of what is going on about him. All problems concern the meanings of things. A child's system of meanings becomes more and more independent of immediate concrete objects as he matures. The ability to work in the imagination and build up systems of ideas is essential in education. To limit the curriculum to that which has immediate practical application is to overlook this truth. Practical projects form the starting-point of learning and the first step in method, but they are not the goal.

Education for the Improvement of Living.

Education is continuous throughout life. It means progressive change for progressive living. The school should exemplify superior living to strengthen the influence of good homes and counteract the influence of others. The total experience of the school should contribute to ideals and standards of conduct that will function throughout life.

The Tools of Learning.

In ordinary life certain experiences which are necessary for intelligent living in later life are either lacking or so casual that they do not bring about the desired learning. Learning to read and to write are examples of this. It is the function of the school to supply this lack. The curriculum, therefore, should be a graduated and systematized course of experiences to meet such needs in an effective and economical way.

Interpretation of the Environment.

The school is our only means of furnishing effectively to the whole population an understanding of our natural and social environment. Modern life depends at every turn upon science. Scientific devices, however simple they may be to use, are too complex to be understood by the uninstructed. It is the task of the school to make things intelligible by presenting principles of science in simplified settings. The aims are: the development of the attitude of expecting and looking for explanations, the ability to make use of scientific literature, and good judgment as to whether explanations offered are reasonable and adequate.

Most of our social institutions and ways of behaviour cannot be understood unless one knows something of their origins. The historic point of view must be developed by the school. It must extend the child's environment back in to the past, must help him to interpret the present, and forecast the future in terms of a larger framework of meaning.

Education in Citizenship.

The social function of education gives citizenship a place in school-life. The community interests of the school call for organization. All group activities are preliminary and basic to the undertakings of adult life. The way and manner of lessons, activities, and games transcend in social value the measurable items of subject-matter.

The School and the Outside World.

The pupils should not regard school-life as an artificial existence unconnected with normal living. The activities of the school should derive their meaning, in the main, from their relation to the world outside. The teacher not only should interpret subject-matter by means of examples draw from the pupil's experience, but should make actual contacts with the life and work of the community, partly through well-planned visits and excursions and partly by the introduction of real things into the class-room.

The method of social adjustment is by living. There should be a maximum of free and spontaneous group activity, and opportunity for natural leadership expressing itself in informal as well as in organized ways. Children's purposes, interests, and preferences should come freely to the surface. While they cannot be the final determiners of the school programme, they should be the point of departure and the source of motivation.

To summarize, school should be thought of as a life to be lived where there is action, co-operation, and opportunity to develop desirable attitudes, habits, and ideals.

3. Education as Individual Development

Social Adjustment and Individual Development Complementary.

From the point of view of the individual, education is self-realization. Between the conceptions of education as adjustment and as self-realization there is no necessary conflict. Personal growth depends, either directly or indirectly, upon others, and in turn affects them. Individual development which is opposed to the social good is undesirable. The school, therefore, must foster the growth and development of each pupil in ways that are conducive to the good of all. It is the task of education to bring individual freedom and social adjustment into unity, that is to say, to effect an individual-social balance.

Individual Development Many-sided.

All-round personal growth involves every aspect of the human being. It includes the emotional life and attitudes as well as the ability to think and act. The powers of knowing, thinking, doing, and feeling are inseparably linked. It is the duty of the teacher to be conscious of this four-fold objective and to provide for the growth and functioning of all these powers. The lesson, which is the smallest unit of school-work, must stimulate thinking, add to knowledge, lead to action, and enrich emotional life. It is upon the side of action and appreciation that we have the greatest opportunity to improve and humanize our schools.

Education for Health and Physical Development.

For education as self-realization, health and physical development are primary objectives. The school is challenged to lay the foundation of personal habits and ideals which will result in a higher level of physical fitness throughout the whole population. The routine and activities of the school should establish a consciousness of health and safety and a personal sense of duty in relation to them.

Education for Moral Character.

All education has a moral reference. Every acquisition of knowledge, every judgment, and every effort put forth contributes to forming the character. The school should lead to the formation of high ideals and to noble conduct, by providing opportunities for right thinking, right action, and the satisfaction that results therefrom. These measures should supersede the negative method of rigid and external discipline.

The development of the child's social nature is allied with his moral growth. As a counterpart to the process of adjustment to his environment, the pupil undergoes a progressive modification of his individual nature. He develops attitudes and outlooks which profoundly affect his character and personality. The life and work of the school should be so arranged and conducted as to bring the full socialization of each child.

Education for Aesthetic Development.

Artistic appreciation is in part an emotional response and in part a matter of understanding. Appreciation requires of the teacher that he be sensitive to aesthetic values. Appreciation depends in part upon social experience. The atmosphere of the group contributes to the response of the individual. Aesthetic experience is not a matter of impression only. Pupils should attempt artistic expression. Even if only moderately successful, such expression produces sympathetic insight into the work of others.

Education for Intellectual Development.

The education of the intellect is not storing of the mind with inert items of knowledge, but providing the child with the tools of thought and training him to use them. Education must furnish the pupil with a well-selected equipment of precise and manageable ideas and meanings, mainly in the form of generalizations applicable to a wide range of situations. Some definite information, thoroughly mastered, is indispensable as a basis for thought and intelligent action. The selection and orderly presentation of this material is vital. An excessive number of facts, taught as unrelated items, impede the grasp of principles. There must be a natural growth from knowledge that is fragmentary and causal to that which is unified, meaningful, and complete.

Skill in thinking comes from the use of one's equipment of ideas in solving real problems. Thinking calls for deliberation and reflection. Pupils should be given systematic practice in thinking through significant problems not only in the secondary school, but in all grades of the elementary school. They soon come to enjoy the mastering of difficulties and to scorn evasion and ready-make solutions.

Learning may be thought of too much in the terms of acquiring ready-made responses through mechanical repetition. Most of the significant learning of life is not of this sort. Mere repetition apart from effort and intelligent purposes gives negligible results. Furthermore, life does not provide detached stimuli to which to respond, but complicated situations which call for a grasp of their meaning. There is little opportunity for intelligence to operate in exercises of purely formal character. This accounts for the small amount of transfer from mechanical drills. Where intelligence is given greater scope, learning is easier and the carry-over to useful applications is greater. There is evidence to show that much that was formerly taught by laborious drill is now accomplished with less effort and greater effect in meaningful settings.

4. The Learning Process

The Place of Interest and Purpose in Learning.

Interest is the foundation of learning. Interests may be either native or acquired. The teacher should start with those that are native and lead to those which are the product of human thought. A child may be interested in events which affect him directly or in the doings of others, as experienced vicariously in pictures and language. Education should establish worthy interests which will endure through life.

When an interest becomes attached to an imagined future accomplishment and the will to achieve is aroused, a purpose results. A continuing purpose tends to direct the pupil's actions. External motivation is less necessary. The immediate and transitory interests of pupils should be transformed into enduring purposes.

The Active Nature of Learning.

All learning involves activity and effort upon the part of the learner. In ideal conditions the work should not be unpleasant or distasteful, but pupils must learn not to shrink from necessary labour because it is unpleasant. The spirit of play should be utilized in the early years and lead gradually to the disciplined labours of adulthood.

The Place of Satisfaction in Education.

Learning is facilitated by the satisfactions which accompany it. The greatest satisfactions are those which come from the overcoming of difficulties through strenuous effort in well-disciplined surroundings. The satisfactions of the learning process will be greater when the school is well governed and ably directed.

5. Education and Individual Needs

Instruction should be fitted to the needs of the individual. Pupils differ in native intellectual capacity and in physical nature and emotional disposition. They differ in background, outlook, and ambition. In the elementary school the chief purpose is to give to all children the common foundation of knowledge, abilities, and attitudes necessary for life. For this reason the adaption of the programme to individual needs will not be made by altering the basic course, but by making adjustments within it. The school must provide individual opportunities and responsibilities as well as group-work. There will be variation in the rate at which pupils learn. Variation will occur also in the way pupils participate in group activities, the leadership they assume, and in general, the wealth of the experience they derive.

In the Junior High School the curriculum is exploratory. Exploration enables the pupil to discover his tastes, aptitudes, and needs. Provision for individual differences becomes increasingly the function of the school. It is for this reason that the programme of the secondary school is organized upon the basis of Constants and Variables. The Senior High School will aim at mastery, appropriate to the maturity of the pupils, in the fields which they have chosen.

6. The Rural School

In spite of its obvious handicaps the rural school has many compensating advantages as an educational institution. The responsibilities of farm-life and the intimate contact with nature and the soil are educative forces that cannot be matched in the city. The mingling of pupils of all ages in the school itself provides a natural learning situation which makes for responsibility, initiative, and comprehensive grasp. The programme of studies must be made adaptable to a school organized in three or four groups rather than in yearly grades, and the rural teacher must think in terms of essential end-products of education more than of minute subject details.

7. The Teacher

Throughout all types of school the character of the teacher is of fundamental importance. Of all the educative forces within the school, the personal influence of the teacher is the most potent in its effect. The good teacher must have many qualifications-the capacity of growth, a broad and well-matured conception of education, a thorough command of subject-matter, a mastery of the principles of teaching (including foundations in psychology and sociology), an understanding of the economic and social structure of the modern world, a wholesome and likeable personality, appreciation of aesthetic values, tact, kindliness, and high ideals. He should be myself what he would have his pupils become.

8. The School and the Home

The school should establish close contact with the home. The teacher should know the parents and home conditions of each child and should secure the goodwill of the family. The parents should feel that they play an important part in the total plan of education. Opportunities to visit the school during its every-day work as well as on festal occasions are means of cultivating interest in the school and an understanding of its work.

9. Conclusion

The foregoing may be compressed into the following statement of the aims of education for the various types of schools in British Columbia.


It is the function of the school, through carefully selected experiences, to stimulate, modify, and direct the growth of each pupil physically, mentally, morally, and socially, so that the continual enrichment of the individual's life and an improved society may result.


To accomplish the above purposes the Elementary School should provide experiences necessary to meet the common needs of all children; that is:-

    1. To develop an appreciation of the value of physical and mental fitness and to build correct health habits.

    2. To develop the child as an individual through instruction, training, and experience based upon his needs, interest, and abilities.

    3. To stimulate and develop desirable self-expression.

    4. To bring children to a progressive understanding of the problems, practices, and institutions of social life; and of their responsibility for social and civic welfare and progress through acceptance of pupil contribution.

    5. To develop to as high a degree as possible, skill in the fundamental processes in all school subjects and in life situation.

    6. To encourage interests in art, music, literature, nature, and play for the enrichment and enjoyment of life.

    7. To develop and practice desirable habits, attitudes, and appreciations of right behaviour which will enable the child to live more effectively and to co-operate in home and community life.

    8. To develop habit of critical thinking and effective study.

    9. To foster the desire for continuous education both in and out of school.


I. Aims of the Junior High School, or Grades VII., VIII., IX.

It is believed that the general aim of education may be realized best on the Junior High School level by directing and stimulating individual growth in the following ways:-

    1. To improve further (according to individual capacities) the habits and skills in the fundamental processes through the use of materials and activities which in content and method are of vital importance to pupils at the beginning of adolescence.

    2. To continue to develop the understandings, attitudes, and habits which are of importance in the realization of emotional, mental, and physical health of the individual and of the community.

    3. To furnish for all pupils opportunities to explore some of the possibilities of the general fields of knowledge, in sciences and mathematics, in language and literature, in commercial, fine, and industrial arts, and so reveal to pupils some of the possibilities in the major fields of learning and their own dominant interests, capacities, and limitations for them.

    4. To give all pupils a body of information about educational opportunities and occupations; then to help them to make wise choices in their future vocational activities or in the continuance of their education in the higher schools.

    5. To develop habits, understandings, attitudes, and ideals in the class-room, library, club organizations, assembly- hall, lunch-room, and on the playground, which are essential to social living in the school, in the home, and in the community.

    6. To develop tolerant and critical understanding and behaviour in relation to society and its problems through pupil participation, pupil co-operation, and pupil contributions.

    7. To provide for active and vicarious experiences calculated to stimulate lasting appreciations of beauty and of leisure-time, interests in literature, music, art, nature, and science, philosophical reflection, practical arts, and human associations in order to satisfy the individual's desire for enjoyment; also, to develop in children, according to the degree of native ability, a reasonable skill in creating beautiful and useful things.

    8. To develop in boys and girls through all fields of subject-matter and through every class-room situation an understanding appreciation of right and wrong, and a desire to attain a high standard of personal conduct. 9. To cultivate habits of critical and independent thinking, evaluation of propaganda, and to strengthen further the ability to study.

II. Aims of the Senior High School.

    1. To continue to refine and improve the numerous skills required by society in the fundamental processes, especially in the cursory and study types of reading for various purposes, and in oral, written, and graphic expression by constant practice in all departments of instruction.

    2. To develop the ability to solve problems; to do critical, reflective thinking; to summarize and formulate generalizations from concrete situations; to apply these generalizations to other fields, and to develop effective and economical study-habits.

    3. To establish the understandings, habits, and ideals which are of importance in the realization of mental and physical health for the individual and for the community.

    4. To provide varied and numerous experiences which will give the pupil the necessary understanding of himself and of vocations in order that he may be helped to choose intelligently, to plan his application for, to enter upon and make progress in his chosen occupation.

    5. To develop interests in and habits of employing leisure- time for worthy enjoyment in order to promote personal growth and human betterment; to develop high standards of appreciation and enjoyment of the best in music, art, literature, drama, nature, architecture, and other arts.

    6. To train pupils in the skillful and economic management of household affairs, to give them a knowledge of suitable, practical, and aesthetic standards of living to the end that the co-operation in the home of all its members may be secured.

    7. To provide experiences which will make for tolerant understanding of modern social problems, and of the interests, possessions, privileges, and duties which one citizen shares with another in a democratic society.

    8. To develop high and just standards of moral value and to develop right habits of action through high ideals of sportsmanship, the ideal of service, the faithful performance of duty, and the insistence on personal responsibility for conduct.

Source: Department of Education, Programme of Studies for the Elementary Schools of British Columbia, Grades I to VI, 1947.

Transcribed by Jacqueline Hill, History 349, Malaspina University-College, March 2002.