From Missionary Proclamation to Publicly-Funded Education: The Case of the Pentecostal School System

Denominational Education in Newfoundland History

Education has played and plays such a major role in the culture of the island of Newfoundland and Labrador because of its potential for economic development and upward mobility in the presence of a precarious economic situation and chronic unemployment brought on by Newfoundland's isolation, a fluctuating and now largely depleted fishery, and stark ecological and geographic realities. And it is here that the churches have played a major role in delivering education to native Newfoundlanders, starting with the charity schools of S.P.G. missionaries in the eighteenth century down to our present publicly-funded denominational educational system. This system was largely conceived and developed in the nineteenth century and has not been significantly questioned until recently, and here not so much from an ideological as from an economic and social standpoint. Only in the beginning of massive schooling during the 1830s was there a serious attempt at a non-denominational system along the lines of the Irish National System. This effort, however, became a victim of the island's denominational and ethnic rivalries and led to publicly-funded separate protestant and catholic school systems, the fate of which was sealed for more than a century in the education acts of 1874 and 1876. The systems administered through denominational superintendents brought education to their Anglican, Methodist, and Roman Catholic constituents and to those smaller religious groups within their orbit. Even in the period of government by commission from England during the 1930s and 1940s, following the collapse of the Newfoundland economy, the system remained largely intact. Newfoundland's entry into Canada in 1949 solidified the existing system and placed it on a better economic footing after the articles of confederation had ensured the inviolability of Newfoundland's existing denominational system. The changes that led to an amalgamation of the Protestant educational efforts (Anglican, United Church, Salvation Army) in 1967-68 were reflective of a lessening of denominational differences, but largely undertaken in the name of greater efficiency. There are presently four separate publicly-funded school-boards operating in the province: the Integrated (protestant) school-board and the Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, and Seventh Day Adventist boards, the last one consisting of only 7 schools and a total of 301 students as compared to the thriving Pentecostal school board, which numbered in 1989/90 43 schools, 395 teachers and 6,560 students out of a total of 549 schools, 8,009 full-time teachers and 130,724 pupils province wide. While the current economic pressures have led to a serious and fundamental reassessment of the denominational school system from an economic social policy perspective, the most serious opposition to amalgamation comes no longer from the Roman Catholics but from the latest significant player on the denominational stage -- the Pentecostals.

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