Understanding The Canadian Education System

By area, Canada is the second biggest country in the world, right after Russia. It’s a country filled with endless beauty that consists of 10 provinces and 3 territories, extending from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Pacific Ocean and into the Arctic Ocean. The education in Canada is excellent, and arguably among the world’s best with a well-funded and strong public education system.

Education is one of the highest priorities for the Canadian government. For the most part, children in Canada attend kindergarten for a year or two at the age of four or five by choice. School then becomes mandatory as of grade one, which tends to be at the age of six years old. Depending on the province, schools go up to either grade 11 or 12, generally until the age of 16 years old. Children then have the choice whether or not to continue onto higher education in universities, colleges or Cegep.

The Structure of the Canadian Education System

Although it varies from province to province, in general, Canadians must attend school until the age of 16, and it is comprised of four levels.

1. Pre-elementary

Pre-elementary or ‘kindergarten’ is the first stage of education in Canada and is offered to children between the ages of four to five before they start elementary school. In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, this is mandatory, while everywhere else it is optional.


They are offered by either public, private, or federal schools, depending on where you choose to send your child. In most areas, the first year of pre-elementary school is public and free, while certain provinces offer additional years free of charge, such as Quebec offers free kindergarten for those from low-income families or for children with disabilities.


The teaching curriculum taught in pre-elementary in Canada is relaxed, and is a chance for young students to learn the alphabet, basic skills such as counting, pre-reading, music, art, and how to play with others. These programs are specially designed to prepare children for their next step: primary school!

2. Primary

Primary education or elementary school in Canada is mandatory for children, starting in grade 1, generally at the ages of 6 or 7, and going until grade 6 at the ages of 11 to 12 years old.


In Canada, students at this stage of education tend to have only one teacher that teaches them all subjects in the same classroom, with the same students. Special education classes are also available.


The pre-elementary curriculum covers subjects such as reading, math, English language (French in Quebec), history, science, music, social studies, physical education, and art. The difficulty of the courses increases as students advance in grades.



3. Secondary

Secondary education in Canada has two levels: junior high school and high school. Junior high school or intermediate education follows immediately after completion of elementary school. It’s a two-year stage of education that includes grades 7 and 8.


These two years give students the chance to adjust to the changes of switching classrooms and teachers throughout the day. The goal of this stage is to help students best prepare for their next step of education, with the difficulty of courses expected to increase greatly.


High school is the last part of secondary education that comes when students reach grade 8, and they stay in this stage for 4 years, until grade 11 or 12 (ages 16-18, depending on the student’s circumstances and province).


Students are required by law to stay in school until the age of 16, regardless of what grade they are in when they reach that age.


In Ontario and New Brunswick, the law is that students must stay in school until 18 or until they have successfully earned a high school diploma. In Quebec, secondary education ends in grade 11, which is generally followed by a two-year pre-university program known as Cegep.


Canadian high schools have carefully and thoughtfully designed their curriculum in order to best prepare students for higher education. Some provinces even offer job training at the high school level.



4. Post-Secondary Education / College and University

Upon graduating from high school, Canadian students are given the opportunity to apply to colleges and universities. College in Canada generally refers to a smaller community college or a specific trade school. Many students in Canada will attend college to further prepare themselves for university and obtain credits that can be transferred over.


University in Canada is a place for higher education where academic degrees can be obtained in a wide variety of subjects in a similar structure to that of the United States, starting with a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree, and finally a PhD as the highest level of education.


For public universities and colleges, they are mostly funded by provincial governments and the remainder is paid by minimal tuition fees, as well as research grants and partially from the federal government too.

What Languages are Classes Taught in Canada?

The two official languages of Canada are English and French. International students are given the choice to decide to study in either language, and many schools in Canada offer studies in both languages.

In most of Canada, English is the main language of school-level education, although French is seen heavily throughout. In the province of Quebec, however, students are required to attend school fully in French until they complete their high school studies, and only under certain special circumstances may a Canadian student study in English, for example, those that are in Quebec for a temporary period of time.

In general, newcomers and immigrants to Quebec have to attend school in French and are only given the chance to study in English by attending a private school.

Equal Opportunities

By giving all students equal opportunities to education, and treating everyone the same, Canada has proved to have little difference between its students — whether they come from more well-off local families or from minorities and immigrants that have more disadvantages.

While some people believe that high levels of immigration can potentially affect the success of students, when it comes to Canada, according to Prof Jerrim, immigrants may very well be key to its success. ‘‘These families have an immigrant ‘hunger’ to succeed, and their high expectations are likely to boost school results for their children’,” Jerrim explains.