Co-operative businesses across Canada are working with the University of Toronto to develop a curriculum to teach high school students how co-ops work.

'If they learn about a co-op, get to understand it, in the long run, maybe they'll become a co-op member.'— Reg Shields, co-op member

The Canadian Co-operative Association is drawing on resources from provincial councils across the country to develop the curriculum. Daniel Martens of the P.E.I. Co-operative Council told CBC News Monday the program is important for co-ops in Canada to survive.

"The demographics of P.E.I. is starting to really show within the co-operative community. It's starting to show that the population is aging," said Martens.

"We need to have the youth rejuvenated, and take control of some of these co-operatives to move forward in the future."

Martens said many high schools have business as part of their curriculum now, but co-operative models are not included. Rather than shareholders, co-ops are businesses that have memberships, and members get an equal share in the profits.

The material on how co-ops work will be used in business and social studies classes across the country. It will teach students to be socially-minded in business and to work together, said Martens.

Reg Shields, a member at the Co-op Foods in Charlottetown for almost 50 years, said co-ops have a long-standing tradition, and students should learn about them.

"If they learn about a co-op, get to understand it, in the long run, maybe they'll become a co-op member and see the benefits of it," said Shields.

The lessons will be tested in Ontario schools this September, and if the pilot goes well could be moved into other provinces the following year.