(February 1920 — June 2018)
It is not an exaggeration to say that Quebec could not have made the tremendous strides it took in the early 1960s without the guiding hand of Paul Gérin-Lajoie, Quebec’s first education minister of the 20th century. Gérin-Lajoie was part of Jean Lesage’s Équipe de Tonnerre – the Thunder Team, elected in June, 1960 and determined to modernize Quebec and do so rapidly, moving it out of the Great Darkness of the Maurice Duplessis era.
Gérin-Lajoie’s main accomplishment was putting into action the recommendations of the Parent Commission of broad reforms in the education system. To bring Quebec into the modern era, he created and headed the Department of Education, instead of leaving it up to churches. Under his stewardship, the state enforced compulsory schooling to the age of 16 and ensured access to free education by building polyvalent high schools throughout the province, with academic and vocational streams.
He laid the groundwork for the creation of the Université du Québec network and the first CEGEPs, which were intended to make available post-secondary education for more students, offering what was the equivalent to free Grade 12 and first-year university.
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Offering the three-year technical courses in the same institution, instead of segregating the two streams, and making core education compulsory so graduates could qualify for university was a great idea, if not always successful.
His passing is a reminder of how much progress we have made in Quebec from those dark days, thanks in large part of the work of such visionaries as Paul Gérin-Lajoie.