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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 6, April 2005

Commercialization in B.C.’s public schools

by Colleen Hawkey

Commercialization in Canadian Schools—A National Survey, measured the extent to which sponsorships, fundraising, incentive programs, and advertising exist in public schools across Canada. Conducted by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and the Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement, the study involved 15,000 public schools across the country.

In British Columbia, questionnaires were sent to one teacher in each school in the province in the fall of 2004. Each staff representative was asked to consult with other teachers and administrative staff to fill out the detailed four-page questionnaire. Completed questionnaires were received from 565 schools, representing 33% of the approximately 1,700 public schools in the province.

The data from British Columbia show significant corporate presence in B.C. schools:

Exclusive marketing

Schools can receive additional income by entering into marketing arrangements whereby they agree to sell exclusively one product. With such arrangements, the company not only sells its product but also excludes competition, limits student choice, and builds future brand loyalty. Results from this study show that exclusive marketing arrangements with either Coke (15%) or Pepsi (12%) exist in 27% of schools in British Columbia, ranging from 16% at the elementary level to 62% and the secondary level. This is virtually unchanged since 2000, when a BCTF survey found 28% of schools had an exclusive arrangement with either Coke (15%) or Pepsi (13%). With a government commitment to eliminate junk food and improve student health within four years, we should see a substantial decline in soft-drink vending machines in schools.

Graph 1



Since 1990, real per pupil funding in B.C. schools has declined by over $570, or over 8%. As per-pupil amounts decline, alternative sources of funding to support core academic and extracurricular programs are sought. The study shows that schools and parents have turned attention to fundraising initiatives not only for traditional extra-curricular activities such as school trips and clubs, but also for library books, textbooks, and technology.

One of the most significant findings from the study is the extent to which schools and parents fundraise to support core academic activities. In 67% of schools, money is raised to purchase library books, 57% of schools fundraise for technology, and 31% fundraise to support academic programs. Even textbooks, often outdated or in short supply, are singled out for fundraising initiatives by 22% of schools.

Graph 2


Corporate advertising exists in over 36% of B.C. schools. Although less prevalent at the elementary (29%) and middle school (33%) levels, at the secondary level that is the case for 63% of schools. The majority of advertising is in hallways and cafeterias (19%) and on schools supplies (12%) with additional advertising (14%) in the gymnasium, on vending machines and vehicles.

Much of the advertising is in the form of vending machines for soft drinks, milk, and juice in hallways, but advertising on student backpacks (e.g., Costco), mouse pads (e.g., shaw.ca; Seanix computer systems; Pearson Education), school supplies, and agendas is also prevalent.

Graph 3

Dollar amount raised

Survey data show that the average amount of money raised by schools from commercial activities is just over $19,500. As schools rely more and more on alternative sources of funding, there is a greater risk of creating "have" and "have-not" schools as those in richer areas and with greater money-raising skills and capacity attract more funding. Among schools that raise money through corporate involvement, the amounts range from as little as a few dollars per student to several hundred dollars per student.


Underfunding, market ideology, and powerful child and youth consumers contribute to the commercialization of public education. An extended period of underfunding, combined with a prevailing world view that values market forces in the public sector, encourages schools boards, teachers, parents, and administrators to seek alternative funding to maintain education programs, buy textbooks, or attempt to keep up with technology in the classroom. In addition to funding pressures, contributing to the commercialization in schools is the fact that children, tweens, and teens have millions of dollars in disposable income and influence the spending of millions more. It is not surprising that schools and children are the target of corporations and businesses bent on securing a share of that lucrative market. As evident in the results of the survey, what may be surprising is the extent to which corporations and business have become a strong presence in public schools.

Further information on the results of the study is available at the BCTF web site bctf.ca/NotForSale

Colleen Hawkey is a researcher in the BCTF’s Research and Technology Division.

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