Since the manifestation of 'manual labour schools' in the 1840s through the 1950s, a distinguishing feature of the residential school system was their use of the half-day system. This model was devised by the Methodist Cleric, and school superintendent for the future Ontario, Egerton Ryerson. The theory behind this system was that half the day should be dedicated to curriculum studies and the other half should be spent learning trades, such as farming, blacksmithing and other skills deemed useful to Euro-Canadian economy. The objective of this system was "to give a plain English education adapted to the working farmer and mechanic," while also allowing the schools to be self-sufficient after a few years "with judicious management."
Egerton Ryerson believed that the half-day system was necessary for the success of the students in their assimilation into Euro-Canadian society. This belief was based on the colonial notion that "in the case of the Indian ' nothing can be done to improve and elevate his character and condition without the aid of religious feeling,'" and therefore ‘learning’ manual labour was the only way in which students would be able to contribute to Euro-Canadian society. Unanimously, reports from across the country consistently noted that the labour portion of the half-day system often took precedence and overlapped with the student’s academic studies. Students were forced to complete arduous labour at the benefit of the schools and their faculties. The exploitation of student labour was justified as being vocational training, an integral element in Ottawa's goals for the Residential School system. Solomon Johnston, a former student of an industrial school in Saskatchewan claims "the teachers only taught us enough so that we could just begin to read. The older girls taught us in the evening but during the day we cut wood, picked stones - all the worst jobs. We didn't learn anything."
Bear, Shirley, Funk, Jack, and Saskatoon District Tribal Council. "...And They Told Us Their Stories": A Book of Indian Stories. Saskatoon: Saskatoon District Tribal Council, 1991.
Miller, J. R. Shingwauk's Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools. Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1996.
Milloy, John S. A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1999. 169-173.