Canada, near the end of World War I, devised an idea to keep its soldiers occupied during their down time, steering them away from vice, and preparing them for postwar life. This idea was Khaki University.
The program, originally called Khaki College, was the brainchild of Dr. Henry Marshall Tory. The National Council of the YMCA was active in Europe, setting up facilities for soldiers to enjoy recreation and sports or to conduct Bible studies.
Tory reported for the YMCA on the needs of men returning to civilian life. He recommended that men would benefit greatly from access to education.
Initially, courses were taught by chaplains, but soon classes were instructed by professors, officers and men who held teaching degrees. In September 1918, the program was recognized as a formal educational institution by the Canadian government and became a university.
Khaki University was used as a model for other nations.
Classes were held in army camps and hospitals throughout France and Britain. They ranged from self-study and hands-on training to study groups and formal lectures.
Students could fill any gap in their skill set, from learning to how read to university-level courses. Credits earned could be applied to any educational institution back home.
Among the courses offered were:
- High school matriculation
- Foreign languages
- Business management
- Teaching programs
Textbooks were approved in Canada before being sent to Europe, and certificates were awarded upon completion of courses. Libraries also were established.
In addition, classes in homemaking were taught to English women who had married Canadian soldiers and women who planned to move to Canada after the war.
For many men, education brought them hope. For some, it allowed them to restart civilian life with their skills sharp. For others, it was the start of a new life full of opportunity; 3,000 men learned how to read and write.
By Armistice, 20,000 men were taking classes.
Postwar study was divided into two semesters: October 1918-January 1919 and February-May 1919. The soldiers all were demobilized by June 1919, and Khaki University closed.
By the time all the soldiers returned home, 50,000 had attended classes, 1,000 at university level.
Updated: 23 October 2020
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