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Education

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Spaniards/

The Spaniards who came to Canada after World War II had little formal education. The one significant exception were political refugees. In terms of regional origins, the Catalans had the highest levels of education, although the actual difference between them and the rest of the immigrants was slight. The low educational levels of the bulk of the Spanish immigrants began to change in the 1960s, as economic development in Spain permitted the extension of public education. At the same time, both the high schools and the universities were transformed from highly elitist institutions into relatively open ones. Even so, the majority of the Spaniards who arrived in Canada in the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s had moderate or low levels of education. Thus, the community as a whole was divided between the vast majority, which had limited academic training, and a highly qualified and educated minority.

Of those immigrants who arrived between 1962 and 1970, 71 percent expected to find work which required little or no formal qualifications, for instance in construction, agriculture, manufacturing, and the service sector. Only 10 percent of the immigrants had the qualifications to allow them to aspire to white-collar work. There was also, however, a large minority, some 24 percent, who had high levels of academic or technical training and who hoped to work as professionals or skilled technicians or in education. In general, this cohort of immigrants lacked adequate knowledge of either official language, and domestic responsibilities made it difficult for all but a few to attain a high school education.

The educational development of the children of these immigrants has been most interesting. The creation of numerous theatre groups and the number and range of cultural activities in which they have been involved suggests the strength of their intellectual life. Not having to endure the language barriers that faced their parents, young Spanish Canadians have been able to move smoothly into the Canadian school system. In the mid1980s, nearly 62 percent of Spaniards in Toronto said they had a strong command of English; 36 percent a reasonable command, and only 2 percent a minimal command. There were, however, no clear patterns to determine their linguistic preferences. Before the government of Quebec passed Bill 101, most children of Spanish origin studied in English. In 1962–63, for example, fully 77 percent of the children of Spanish immigrants attended English-language schools. In contrast, in the 1980s many of the Spaniards who lived in Ottawa sent their children to francophone schools.

The educational levels of Spaniards in Toronto in the mid-1980s reflect these changing patterns. The largest group, 42 percent, had a secondary education, while 27 percent had studied at a post-secondary level. And almost as many, 13 percent, had post-graduate studies as had attended only elementary school, 17 percent.

Spanish Canadians have been concerned to preserve the Spanish language. While Spanish-English or Spanish-French bilingualism is the norm, especially in families in which both parents are Spanish, it is hard for many to maintain their mother tongue with fluency.

Montreal has been the centre of Spanish education and culture in Canada. Since 1964 the Cervantes Academy has offered primary-level courses in Spanish language, which follow the official guidelines of the provincial Ministry of Education. The Centro de Estudios Españoles was founded in 1972 by the Spanish government. It offers accredited courses in Spanish geography, history, and literature to hundreds of young people. During the 1980s its range of activities expanded to include university-level courses.

The educational efforts of the Toronto community have been less successful than in Montreal, but then there has been less official support. In the 1970s the Club Hispano was instrumental in convincing the Spanish government to authorize and then fund the Spanish Complementary School. This school was incorporated into the public schools’ heritage language program in the 1980s.

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Toronto deserves special mention. For many years it was considered one of the best departments in the world and Diego Marín, a professor who as a young man was part of the “La Barraca” travelling theatre troupe organized by the great Spanish writer Federico García Lorca, has been prominent as an organizer in the city’s Spanish community. In 1981 the department also hosted an international conference on Catalan.