History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


In a pioneering effort, radio station KYW in collaboration with the YMCA broadcasts health education program

In 1924, the radio station KYW in Chicago became the first in the United States, and most likely in North America, to broadcast a health education program of daily morning exercises. This radio program was done in collaboration with the physical education staff of the Chicago YMCA.

When broadcasting, or communicating to a 'broad' group of people became possible, it was rapidly identified as a new opportunity for educational efforts. The YMCA was the first institution to use radio for health education. Prior to this initiative, it had had a long history of working towards improving, both directly and indirectly, the life and health of people.

The Young Men's Christian Association or YMCA was founded in England in 1844 in response to poor social conditions following the Industrial Revolution. Its purpose was to offer lodging to men working in the big cities. In North America, the first two YMCAs opened in Montreal and Boston in 1851.

In 1866, the New York YMCA expanded its mission and became dedicated to improving the spiritual, mental, social and physical condition of young men. This was a very progressive approach to improving the well being of people. This global approach closely resembles the health promotion principles that became popular in the early 1970s. Therefore, it is no surprise that an organization with such a vision for health was one of the first to use mass communication to expand their reach. It was also in the late 1800s that gyms, including exercise classes (the ancestors of aerobics), pools, auditoriums and bowling alleys, appeared in YMCAs. They provided an environment for physical and social activities to occur a major principle of health promotion.

The YMCA certainly had an impact on the use of media such as radio for education in the United States but also in Canada. One person whose work has had a tremendous impact on the use of broadcasting (radio, film, and television) and its influence on adult learning is James Robbins Kidd. Roby Kidd completed a B.A. degree at Sir George Williams University in Montreal in the early 1930s. This university was based on the educational principles developed by the YMCA. Roby Kidd moved on to work at the YMCA in Montreal, where he became familiar with the use of 16mm films for educational use. He became Associate Director of the Canadian Association for Adult Education (CAAE) in 1947, after completing his Ed.D. Under his direction, the CAAE became closely involved with one of the earliest media-related adult education initiative in Canada, the CBC Citizens' Forum in 1955. This is an example of how the YMCA's educational principles and visionary approaches have impacted adult education in Canada.

Health education vs. health promotion

For a long time, health was defined as the absence of disease. From the 1950s to the early 1970s, the major goal of health education was to influence the behaviour of people to prevent disease.

In Canada, the Lalonde Report of 1974 gave birth to the social marketing of lifestyle approach. This approach to health promotion extended the behavioural approach to health education towards popular education using mass media. The report highlighted that health education had to take into consideration more than the behaviour of people, but also determinants from four areas: human biology, lifestyles, the environment, and health care. Health education was becoming health promotion, since it now encompassed multiple determinants of health.

One of the first Canadian health promotion endeavours using media was the mid-1970s ParticipAction TV ad comparing the fitness level of the average 30-year-old Canadian to the average 60-year-old Swede. This ad has been criticized by Pederson et al. (1994) as perhaps being based on incorrect research. However, this ad became highly recognized in Canada and had tremendous impact on the future use of media by ParticipAction for health promotion purposes (Barbara Davis, personal communications, August 1st, 2000).

Media for health promotion: today and tomorrow

Mass media became a boost for health education; however, the lack of a targeted approach may have explained the failure of early campaigns. In recent times, the roles of media in health promotion have been to inform the public, motivate at the individual level, and advocate social and political changes to create healthy environments. This has been a more global approach to health, based on health promotion principles.

Mass media exerts a tremendous influence on our society. It constructs particular frameworks of interpretation and shapes our perspective of the world. The media can play a major role in defining what health is. If we want to move away from the old concept of health as an absence of disease, media reporting may have to move away from 'illness news' towards 'health news'.

Media can be a tool for health promotion campaigns. However, for a media campaign to be effective, certain guidelines must be followed. Solomon, as cited in Egger et al., provides the following framework for success: problem analysis (set objectives and target to audience); appropriate media selection; effective message design; and evaluation (certainly an important part of all programs).

We are now a long, sophisticated distance away from the first time radio was used for health education. In our media savvy world, it is possible to forecast that media (radio, television, video, Internet, etc.) will become even more important in health promotion endeavours. Presently, there are also interactive Web sites that help people make behavioural and emotional changes to improve their diet. This type of direct interaction between an individual and the media has only been possible since the mid-1990s with the advent of the Internet.

It remains important for the educator to remember that media is only one tool for health promotion and not an end in itself. However, it can be a powerful tool to help develop a healthier society for us to live in.


  • N. Cochrane and Associates (1986): J. R. Kidd: An International legacy of Learning. Center for Continuing Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 320 pages.

  • G. Egger, R. Donovan, R. Spark (1993): Health and the Media. Principles and Practices for Health promotion. McGraw-Hill Book Company Publishers, Sydney.

  • R. McCron and J. Budd (1981): The Role of Mass Media in Health Education: An Analysis. Chapter in the book edited by M. Meyer: Health Education by television and Radio. K. G. Saur Editor, Munchen, pages 118-137.

  • A. Pederson, M. O'Neil and I. Rootman (1994): Health Promotion in Canada. Provincial, National, and International Perspectives. W.B. Saunders Canada Publishers, Toronto.

  • YMCA-1 (no date): A Brief History of Health and Fitness in the YMCA. [Online] Available http://www.ymca.net/presrm/discovery/00_spring/timeline.htm, accessed July 31st, 2000.

  • YMCA-2 (no date): A brief History of the YMCA Movement. [Online] Available http://www.ymca.net/about/cont/history.htm, accessed July 31st, 2000.

    Prepared by Elaine De Grandpre (OISE/UT)

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