Black and white photo of an outdoor classroom with seven rows of students at desks and teacher

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Introduction

Egerton Ryerson (b. 1803, d. 1882), the Chief Superintendent of Schools (1844-1876) in Upper Canada, and later Ontario, laid many of the foundations of Canadian education.
Ryerson’s radical idea: universal, free, state-provided education. In 1845 only a patchwork of schools existed. Children could expect only a few years of formal schooling. Many, the poor and the rural especially, did not attend at all. Even the idea of public education was not yet accepted everywhere.
Over the next 100 years, the public education system would be centralized and the number of schools would grow significantly. Education would be expanded to the masses and the number of years of schooling extended. It was widely accepted, by 1945, that the state had a duty to provide public schooling to the young, free of charge, and to levy taxes for that purpose. Many people came to believe that schools could even transform society. Over the same 100-year period, schooling itself was reformed numerous times. Education was also transformed by technology and schools became centres for art and culture.
This collection consists of five learning objects that introduce Egerton Ryerson, his ideas about education, and the legacy of those ideas from 1845 to 1945.


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