History of Education in Alberta

The first schools in what is now Alberta were parochial, that is, they were organized, owned and operated by Church clergy, missionaries, or authorities, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. A nominal fee was often charged for the attendance of students at these schools, and the fee was more often waived, as an act of charity or as an act of proselytizing, or as an act of local solidarity.

The first "free" school (which would now be called a public school) in what is now Alberta, was established in the Hamlet of Edmonton, in what was then Northwest Territories, in early 1881. The school was established before the Northwest Territories had a Territorial Assembly, and before there was any law for the Territory respecting schools, or local government, or local taxation. The people of the Hamlet of Edmonton elected trustees to govern the establishment and operation of the school, and submitted to an informal local taxation entirely on the basis of local solidarity.

Between 1883 and 1905 a system of education developed in Alberta by which public education was available in every community once the local population initiated its introduction; and separate school education could be provided subsequently, provided certain conditions were met. This system, by which public education was to be universally available and separate school education available under certain conditions, was the system which the federal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier enshrined in the constitution of Alberta (the Alberta Act) in 1905.

The most recent significant development in the governance of education in Alberta has been the emergence of Francophone education authorities in response to the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982). There are now five Francophone authorities in Alberta. In the south a public Francophone authority and a separate Francophone authority share coterminous boundaries. In the north there are three authorities which provide both public and separate school education. The Francophone authorities, together, cover the province, but they are not required to provide Francophone education from place to place, except where numbers warrant, and it is the responsibility of the authority to decide whether numbers warrant.