JITE v32n2 - A National Census on Technology Education in Canada

Volume 32, Number 2
Winter 1995

A National Census on Technology Education in Canada

Chris A. Chinien
University of Manitoba
Merrill M. Oaks
Washington State University
France Boutin
University of Manitoba

Although technology is as old as the human race, it is only in recent years that we have witnessed a growing interest in technology education. This interest has been fueled to a large extent by major shifts in world economies that have resulted in dramatic changes in skill requirements at the workplace. As we move into an internationalized information-based economy, a well educated and technologically literate workforce is becoming a key ingredient for maintaining our competitiveness as a nation.

According to the Prosperity Secretariat (1992a) : "in spite of the fact that technology impacts virtually every aspect of our modern society and its effect increases on a daily basis, Canadians are largely oblivious to it" (p. 4). The Secretariat (1992a) further indicated that technological literacy is quickly becoming essential for all Canadians in order to cope with the impact of technology at the workplace and on their daily lives" (p. 3). Similarly, Polette (1991) stated that "it is critical that people in a wide range of careers and occupations achieve a greater understanding of the technological world; without this understanding, it becomes less likely that they will be able to function effectively in tomorrow's society" (p. 1).

There is no clear consensus on the meaning of technological literacy. Using DeVore's (1985) definition of technology, Gentry and Csete (1991) defined technological literacy as a multidimensional construct that relates to the understanding of "the creation, utilization and behavior of adaptive systems including tools, machines, materials, techniques and technical means and the behavior of these elements and systems in relation to human beings, society and the environment" (p. 25).

In spite of the need to help students gain critical technological literacy skills, schools have failed to emphasize this area. This failure was clearly revealed by Boyer (1983) :

We must recommend that all students study technology: the history of man's use of tools, how science and technology have been joined, and the ethical and social issues technology has raised… We are frankly disappointed that none of the school[s] we visited required a study of technology. More disturbing still is the current inclination to equate technology with computers… The great urgency is not `computer literacy' but `technological literacy,' the need for students to see how society is being reshaped by our inventions, just as tools of earlier eras changed the course of history. The challenge is not learning how to use the latest piece of hardware, but asking when and why it should be used. (p. 304)

A study conducted by Oaks (1991) in the United States indicated that the call for increased attention to technological literacy has resulted in diminishing emphasis for traditional industrial arts programs and a growing interest in technology education. Many Canadian corporate leaders and government agencies are advocating the integration of technological literacy across school curricula from K--12. As recommended by the Prosperity Secretariat (1992a) , technological aspects should "be integrated into all grade levels and all subjects--beginning in kindergarten--and that this include the full spectrum of technology from the very traditional to the emerging high-tech" (p. 20).

Given the philosophical and substantial similarities between the industrial arts programs in the US and Canada, it is important to know if there is a parallel shift in emphasis from traditional industrial arts to technology education program (O. Cap, personal communication, December 12, 1994). In the context of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among Canada, the United States, and Mexico, which binds the three partners on economic and political issues, it is equally important to monitor major changes in educational emphasis among the partners, especially those changes with promising potential to enhance competitiveness and impact on the economy in general. In Canada there is some evidence of increased interest in technology education ( Employment and Immigration Canada, 1992 ). Technology education is currently viewed as a viable alternative to help public school students acquire essential technological literacy skills.

While McCrory (1987) provided a critical review and synthesis of literature and research on the transition from industrial arts to technology education in the United States, little is known regarding the extent of this transition in Canadian school systems. Oaks (1991) argued that: "there is a need for technology education professionals to be informed about the degree of change occurring" (p. 61). The purpose of this study was to generate useful information regarding the degree of change from industrial arts to technology education in all Canadian jurisdictions (provinces and territories). More specifically, this study attempted to investigate the following ten issues and concerns previously addressed by Oaks (1991) in a survey of the state level Industrial Arts and Technology Education supervisors in the United States:

  1. The degree of importance of technology education;
  2. The availability of resources to facilitate the implementation of technology education;
  3. Enabling legislation to advance the implementation of technology education;
  4. Types of curriculum models being used for implementing technology education;
  5. The degree to which content organizers are being used in developing technology education programs;
  6. Responsibility for implementing technology education programs;
  7. Progress made in curriculum development;
  8. Teachers' responses toward change in technology education;
  9. Teacher retraining initiatives; and
  10. Leadership.



The population for this study consisted of all provincial and territorial coordinators of industrial arts/technology education ( N = 12) in Canada. The coordinators assume essentially the same responsibilities as the state directors of vocational education in the United States and they hold permanent appointments. They were therefore selected in order to be consistent with Oaks' (1991) study of industrial arts and technology education in the United States. Additionally, in-depth consultation with key stakeholders (i. e., school administrators, school district consultants, department heads, teachers, teacher educators) in the developmental stages of this survey also confirmed that the coordinators were the most knowledgeable group, with most expertise to complete the survey instrument. Since the coordinators are responsible for the governance and policy formulation for industrial arts/technology education programs, they are the single most valid and reliable source of information regarding trends and issues related to enabling legislation, program funding, curriculum development initiatives, teacher retraining efforts, and program implementation. Their close contact with all of the key stakeholders also enables them to make an accurate report on the leadership issue. It was assumed that the coordinators could provide responses based on empirical data since they have access to various Ministry of Education data bases as well as their personal compilation of data through their own surveys. Additionally, they are the sole source of data as sanctioned official representatives authorized by their jurisdiction to manage and provide leadership in the transition to technology education.

Survey Instrument

The instrument used for data collection was adapted from a questionnaire developed and used by Oaks (1991) to assess the degree of change from industrial arts to technology education in the United States. In the developmental stages of his study, Oaks consulted a host of experts to determine the most accurate and valid method for collecting national data regarding the transition to technology education. These experts included nationally known individuals representing technology education, state department education staff, technology teachers, state and district supervisors of technology education, and university faculty and administrators. This collective group of experts was unanimous in its choice of state supervisors as the only people who possess the expertise and data necessary to determine to what degree technology education was implemented in each state.

The design and development of this model and instrument is fully described in a previous article ( Oaks, 1991 ). Oaks' instrument was selected because it addresses ten of the most critical issues and trends related to the transition to technology education. This instrument was modified to reflect the Canadian context. These modifications related essentially to the differences in geographical settings, differences in governing institutions, and terminology used in Canada and the United States. The adapted version of this instrument was validated using a panel of Canadian experts in industrial arts/technology education. The experts' feedback confirmed that the Oaks model was appropriate for the Canadian study.

Data Collection

A mail survey approach was used for data collection. The questionnaire was mailed to all twelve provincial and territorial coordinators of industrial arts/technology education in Canada. Since the entire population was involved in the data collection process, the study was essentially a census. A cover letter, the research instrument, and a prepaid/self addressed envelope were mailed to the respondents. Two weeks after the initial mailing, a telephone follow-up was conducted to invite all non-respondents to complete and return the instrument. These late respondents were also encouraged to fax their responses to the research team. The entire population (100%) completed and returned the questionnaire.

Data Analysis

All quantitative data generated by the instrument were entered in a data base and analyzed using the S.A.S. Institute statistical package (1992) . The descriptive analyses performed included means, percentages, and frequency distributions. Data were summarized according to the ten major issues and concerns addressed by the study. Qualitative feedback provided by some respondents were also analyzed and reported whenever appropriate to provide richness and depth to the quantitative data.


Degree of Importance of Technology Education

The coordinators were asked to identify the perceived degree of importance given to technology education by their provincial or territorial Departments of Education. Only ten of the coordinators responded to that question. All ten stated that technology education is an important element in the public school curriculum. They were also asked to specify whether their public schools had changed the curriculum name Industrial Arts to some other title. Nine of the ten responding coordinators reported a name change from Industrial Arts to some other name that would reflect the current emphasis on technology. In all cases the word technology has been incorporated into the program title.

Availability of Adequate Resources

Coordinators were asked to answer four sets of questions regarding the allocation of resources for technology education programs by their provincial or territorial government, school districts, and business or industry. The following section provides a summary of the findings related to each of these four sets of questions.

Provincial funding. Coordinators were asked whether their provinces or territories had appropriated funds for the implementation of technology education programs. If funding was available, they were asked to assess the adequacy of funds in the areas of curriculum development, facility improvement, equipment needs, teacher retraining, and research.

As shown in Table 1, seven of the ten coordinators who responded (70%) reported that their provincial or territorial government had appropriated adequate funds for curriculum development in technology education. Five of the eight responding coordinators (62%) also felt that funding for acquisition of equipment was adequate. Approximately half of those who responded indicated that sufficient funds were granted for the other program components: facility planning, equipment needs, and teacher retraining. It is noteworthy that 50% or more of the coordinators who responded believed that the funds being devoted to facility planning, teacher retraining, and research in technology education were inadequate.

Table 1
Adequacy of Provincial and Territorial Funding by Program Development Components

Adequate Inadequate
Programs Components f % f % No Response

Curriculum development 7 70 3 30 2
Facility planning 4 50 4 50 4
Equipment needs 5 62 3 38 4
Teacher retraining 4 50 4 50 4
Research 4 44 5 56 3

Local school district funding. Coordinators were also asked what percentage of school districts in their provinces have allocated funds for the implementation of technology education. As indicated in Table 2, 45% of the responding coordinators indicated that technology education programs have received only limited funding support from their school districts. The same percentage of the coordinators (45%) reported that more than 80% of their school districts have appropriated funding for technology education.

Table 2
School District Support for Technology Education

Percentage of Districts
Allocating Funds for
Technology Education
Provinces & Territories
n %

Less than 10% 2 22
10--29 2 22
30--49 - --
50--79 1 11
80 or more 4 45
Total 9 100

Business and industry support. Two research questions were focused on community support. The first assessed business and industry support for technology education and the second was directed to the extent and nature of that support (see Table 3). Half of the responding coordinators indicated that their provinces or territories have received private sector support for technology education. However, that support has been given to only a very small percentage of the schools in each province/territory.

Table 3
Business/Industry Support for Technology Education

Percentage of Schools Receiving
Business and Industry Support
Provinces &
Territories n

Less than 10% 3
10--29 2
30--49 -
50--79 1
80 or more -
Total 6

Only one coordinator indicated that more than 50% of the schools in his jurisdiction have received private sector support for technology education. A follow-up question was asked to probe the nature of support provided by the private sector. The form of support most often cited was equipment donation. As shown in Table 4, the other forms of business and industry support (money, supplies, books, other) were evenly distributed. Analysis of written comments provided by respondents revealed other types of business and industry contributions to schools, including software, posters, charts, transparencies, training, and cooperative education facilities. In some provinces schools have developed partnerships with local businesses and other community agencies.

Table 4
Nature of Business and Industry Support

Nature of Assistance from
Business and Industry
# of Provinces/Territories
Receiving Assistance

Money 3
Supplies 4
Equipment 7
Books 4
Other 4

Provincial and Territorial Enabling Legislation

A subset of two questions was posed to identify any provincial or territorial legislation governing specific policies toward advancing the implementation of technology education. More specifically, the coordinators were asked whether legislation had been passed in their provinces to implement technology education or whether such legislation was pending. Three of the eleven coordinators (27%) who responded to that question reported that such enabling legislation had been passed, and one coordinator indicated that the legislation was pending.

Curriculum Models

A series of questions was asked to identify the type of curriculum models being used to implement technology education. Of particular interest here was the extent to which provincial and territorial authorities were using well known curriculum models in developing technology education programs, such as the Futuring Project (New York), Industrial/Technological Curriculum Guide (Colorado), Industry and Technology Education (Wisconsin), Industrial Technology Systems Handbook (Ohio), and the Illinois Plan Project. Usable results from nine respondents indicated that none of their provinces or territories has used the five most widely known curriculum models as a template for developing their technology education programs. All nine responding coordinators reported that their provinces or territories have implemented some form of curriculum model for technology education after consultation with administrators, educators, and business and industry leaders. Four of those nine jurisdictions have developed their own curriculum models. Three jurisdictions were using adapted and modified versions of existing models. For example, one province has developed a curriculum model by adapting ideas gathered from well known models, such as the Futuring Project in New York, the ITEA's Technology Education Standards, the Design Technology curriculum from Great Britain, and many other individual state plans.

Qualitative comments provided by the coordinators indicated that three provinces have implemented technology education from Kindergarten/Grade One to Grade 12. Additionally, one province reported that technological literacy was infused across content areas from K--12, as one of the six Common Essential Learnings (CELs) in the core curriculum. It is noteworthy that one province has organized its K--12 technology education curriculum in three distinct phases: (1) Formative Transition Years Program (Grades 1-6); (2) Design Processes in Technology (Grades 7-9), and (3) Broad-Based technologies (Grades 10-12).

Content Organizers

The survey instrument also attempted to identify the content organizers (e. g., manufacturing, construction, communication, and transportation) that were used for developing technology education curriculum. As shown in Table 5, construction and communication were the most widely used content organizers while transportation and manufacturing were the least often used. Only three coordinators reported the use of the transportation cluster in some schools. The frequency distribution regarding the level of use for each of these clusters was as follows: (a) manufacturing--4 provinces/territories; (b) construction--7 provinces/territories; (c) communication--7 provinces/territories, and (d) transportation--3 provinces/territories. Six coordinators reported the use of content organizers that varied significantly from the above clusters: (a) information technology, materials products technology, power and energy technology, systems integration technology, personal and community studies, management and marketing studies, design and innovation studies, natural resources studies, drafting; (b) information processing, computer applications and computer science, services, production, graphics; and (c) plastics, ceramics, metals, earth, photography, carving, wood, leather work, and textiles.

Table 5
Level of Use of Common Types of Content Organizers

n Most

Manufacturing 6 17 33 17 33
Construction 9 67 -- 11 22
Communication 8 25 50 12.5 12.5
Transportation 5 20 20 20 40

Change Agents in Technology Education

One instrument question attempted to identify the major agents responsible for the shift from industrial arts to technology education. These agents were (1) Department of Education, (2) professional association, (3) teacher preparation institutions, (4) school principals, and (5) advisory committee. It is interesting to note that eight coordinators indicated that at least three of these agents were instrumental in shaping the future of technology education in their jurisdictions. According to two coordinators, all five of these agents were providing leadership for change in technology education. The majority of coordinators identified the provincial/territorial Department of Education (84%) and the Industrial Arts/Technology Education Association (67%) as the two major change agents. In three jurisdictions, the Department of Education was the only change agent identified. Half of the coordinators also cited teacher training institutions and advisory committees as being responsible for changes in technology education. Only two coordinators cited school principals as being major change agents.

Progress Regarding the Adoption of Technology Education

The coordinators were asked to rate, on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), the progress made in curriculum development, teacher retraining, equipment, and facility upgrading. Results indicated average accomplishment in curriculum development (3.5), equipment needs (3.2), and facility needs (3.0). Progress in teacher retraining was rated slightly below average (2.7). One coordinator indicated that the Department of Education had just begun a massive 5 year project to develop and implement new technologically-based programs. Another coordinator also stated that new technology-based programs were about to be implemented.

Promotional Activities

The coordinators were asked whether promotional activities have been organized to improve awareness for technology education. Eight of the twelve (67%) coordinators reported the use of promotional activities. The most common types of promotional activities were newspaper articles, presentations, school exhibits, technology fairs, hi-tech weekends, TV or radio programs, brochures, tabloids, conferences, journal articles, newsletters, and videos to introduce the new program in schools.

Teachers' Responses Toward Change to Technology Education

The majority of the jurisdictions ( N = 8) had fewer than 500 industrial arts/technology education teachers; only one province had 3000 or more teachers. Teacher distribution in the three other provinces ranged from 500 to 999, 1000 to 1999, and 2000 to 2999 respectively. Coordinators were asked to indicate what proportion of teachers were committed and willing to change from traditional industrial arts to technology education. There was no evidence that any formal survey of teacher opinion had been conducted. However, the coordinators' qualitative comments indicated that their responses were based on informal feedback gathered from field meetings. Six coordinators reported that 80% or more of their teachers were willing to change. According to three coordinators, more than 50% of their teachers were not committed to change.

Teacher Retraining

Respondents were asked four questions related to teacher retraining efforts during the transition to technology education. All provinces and territories have provided some form of in-service or teacher retraining programs to ease the transition from industrial arts to technology education. All respondents indicated that the four types of retraining activities most often conducted were workshops (92%), seminars (58%), conferences (58%), and college credit courses (41%). The less commonly used teacher retraining strategies were hi-tech weekends (25%) and industry-educator exchange or internships (17%). When asked to rate the extent of teacher participation in retraining programs, six coordinators stated that 50% or more of their teachers had taken part in some form of retraining for technology education. Four other coordinators estimated that less than fifty per cent of their teachers had been involved in retraining initiatives. The coordinators were also requested to rate the quality of the teacher retraining initiatives. Only three provinces reported having conducted an overall evaluation of the industrial arts/technology education teacher retraining programs. In all three cases, teachers rated the retraining programs as being "good."

Respondents whose jurisdictions have done little to date with regard to the development and implementation of technology education were asked to recommend improvement efforts. Only three coordinators responded to that question, and all agreed that the situation could be improved by increasing (a) provincial support, (b) teacher interest, and (c) school administration support. They also identified a need for better curriculum coordination.


Consistent with previous research conducted in the United States ( Oaks, 1991 ), results of this study also depict a continuing transition from traditional industrial arts to new technology based program concepts. This wave of change ranges from simple name change to more fundamental program redesign. All these changes have important implications. The discussion that follows focuses on these implications.

Results indicate that the great majority of the provinces and territories have already changed the name of industrial arts programs and have incorporated the word technology into their new program title. This name change trend provides an indication of the growing awareness regarding the importance of technological literacy. However, name change to meet political pressure without providing adequate financial support for program development and implementation can be deceptive. Oaks (1991) notes than "although the change to technology education is occurring, it can be accelerated by the availability of adequate funding" (p. 69). Findings of this study indicated that funds appropriated to technology education ranged from $60 to 1.4 million dollars. Results also indicated some differences in funding patterns among the provinces and territories that could adversely affect the successful implementation of technology education programs. While several provincial and territorial governments have appropriated adequate funds for curriculum development efforts in technology education, many were not providing adequate financial support for program implementation: facility planning, equipment, teacher training, and research. All these components are critical for successful program implementation and require the allocation of adequate resources. It is therefore imperative for all governments to adopt a more holistic funding paradigm that would not only focus on curriculum development, but would also support all program development components.

This study also raised concerns regarding the lack of interest of local school districts in funding technology education programs. Approximately half of the coordinators surveyed indicated that technology education programs received only limited financial assistance from school districts. This finding raises broader issues and concerns regarding the roles and responsibilities of the Canadian public school system and the allocation of resources for public schools. The Prosperity Secretariat (1992a) recently argued for reallocation of resources in the public school systems: "resource allocation must be adjusted to more realistically reflect actual student paths--i.e. only 15% go to university, while 85% pursue other options after high school. More priority must be accorded to these other options in school budgets, facilities and equipment" (p. 5). Technology education has a major role to play in shaping the career path of non-university bound students. Consequently, adequate funding should be provided for development and implementation of technology education programs to address the skill needs of the "forgotten majority" ( Prosperity Secretariat, 1992a ).

Technology education programs have so far received only limited support from the community. Additionally, very limited instances of formal partnership between school and business and industry were reported. These findings suggest that more effort must be initiated to induct the key stakeholders involved in technology education, especially business and industry leaders. Specific provincial and territorial legislation can provide the necessary framework for formulation of enabling policies for the advancement of technology education. However, results indicate that only three jurisdictions have passed such legislation. This finding suggests that technology education professionals need to be more politically involved in promoting their programs.

Although the Prosperity Secretariat (1992a) recommended that "technological aspects be integrated into all grade levels and all subjects--beginning in kindergarten--and that this include the full spectrum of technology from the very traditional to emerging high-tech" (p. 20), only three provinces have so far implemented technology education from elementary through secondary education. Technology educators need to promote and seek support for their programs more aggressively. It is interesting to note that none of the provinces and territories has adopted the well known curriculum models developed in the United States in spite of the proximity of the two countries. Results indicated that the provinces and territories have developed their own curriculum models based on broad consultation with key stakeholders and by adapting ideas gathered from various other models. Similarly, while the states are generally using the Jackson's Mill curriculum clusters or beyond the cluster materials as content organizer ( Oaks, 1991 ), no Canadian provinces or territories were using all four clusters as content organizers. The provinces and territories are developing technology education programs that reflect their unique demographic and regional needs. While this trend appears to make good sense, the absence of a shared national vision for technological literacy can also be problematic in our attempt to improve our ability to compete through sound human resource development initiatives. Provincial and territorial authorities should reach a consensus on the roles and goals of technology education in Canadian public school systems.

The great majority of respondents felt that provincial/territorial Departments of Education and the Industrial Arts/Technology Education Association were the two major change agents responsible for the shift from traditional industrial arts to technology education. Consistent with Oaks' (1991) findings, results of this study also confirm that those most affected by change are those encouraging the transition to technology education. Only half of the respondents identified teacher education institutions and advisory committees as change agents. Given the comparatively low priority status of technology education in most school reform efforts, it is important for all technology education professionals to form a strong united front for the advancement of the field.

Results of this study indicate that teacher retraining had a relatively low priority in the implementation of technology programs. Overall, only fifty per cent of the teachers have been exposed to some type of retraining intervention. This failure in providing adequate teacher training may have a devastating impact on the diffusion, adoption, and implementation of technology education curriculum. This study confirmed that teachers were the major change agents in the transition to technology education and that a significant proportion of teachers were also committed to the change process. Consequently, they need opportunities to participate in teacher development and retraining activities. Faculties of teacher education programs should also keep up with the changes in the field so that they can not only revamp their initial teacher education programs, but also address teacher development needs through post-baccalaureate initiatives.

Although considerable effort and resources are being devoted to the advancement of technology education, results indicated very limited support for research. Given that technology education is a relatively new field, its development and implementation need to be supported by research. More funds should be allocated for research and development.

Final Thoughts

Current beliefs that technological literacy is empowering and that a technologically literate workforce will enhance our ability to compete in world trades have generated a national momentum for replacing the traditional industrial arts programs with technology education. If technology education is to impact our nation favorably, then a shared vision on the roles and goals of technology education must be established ( Prosperity Secretariat, 1992b ). A shared vision will ensure that all Canadian students have equal access to technology education programs and could lead to the establishment of technology education consortia for program design, development, and implementation. In this period of fiscal restraint, this effort will help pull scarce resources together and eliminate useless duplication of efforts. The Canadian Council of Ministers could be instrumental in setting the foundation for this type of partnership among provincial and territorial governments. As Canadians have to learn to do more with less, more collaboration and partnership among local, provincial, and national stakeholders is required. This collaborative partnership for program design and development in technology education should not be limited to Canadian boundaries, but should take an international dimension and be extended to neighboring partners in the United States. In the context of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among Canada, Mexico, and the United States, it would make good sense for the trading partners to develop a shared vision of technology education and to create opportunities for partnership and collaboration among technology education professionals. All will benefit from this collaborative partnership.


Chinien is Associate Professor, Curriculum, Mathematics, and Natural Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winipeg, Canada.

Oaks is Professor, Department of Teaching and Learning, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington.

Boutin is Associate Professor, Curriculum, Humanities, and Social Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winipeg, Canada.

The authorship for this article is equally shared among the authors. The authors wish to acknowledge graduate students Rhonda Kawalski and Doris Young for their assistance in compiling the results of this study.


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Reference Citation: Chinien, C. A.,Oaks, M. M., & Boutin, F. (1995). A national census on technology education in Canada. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 32 (2), 76-92.