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Education in Canada is provided, funded and overseen by federal, provincial, and local governments. Education is within provincial jurisdiction and the curriculum is overseen by the province. Education in Canada is generally divided into Elementary (Primary School, Public School), followed by Secondary (High School) and Post Secondary (University, College). Within the provinces under the ministry of education, there are district school boards administering the educational programs. Education is compulsory up to the age of 16 in every province in Canada, except for Ontario and New Brunswick, where the compulsory age is 18. In some provinces early leaving exemptions can be granted under certain circumstances at 14. Canada generally has 190 school days in the year, officially starting from September (after Labour Day) to the end of June (usually the last Friday of the month, except in some cases in Quebec when it is just before June 24 - the provincial holiday).


Elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education in Canadamarker is a provincial responsibility and there are many variations between the provinces. Some educational fields are supported at various levels by Federal Departments. The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is responsible for the education of first nations. Vocational training can be subsidized via the Department of Labour.Junior Kindergarten (or equivalent) as an official program exists only in Ontario currently. Kindergarten (or its equivalent) is available in every province, but provincial funding, and the number of hours provided varies widely. Starting at grade one, at age six or seven, there is universal publicly funded access up to grade twelve (or equivalent). Dependent on the province the age of mandatory entry is at 4–7 years. Children are required to attend school until the age of sixteen (eighteen in Ontario and New Brunswick). About one out of ten Canadians does not have a high school diploma — one in seven has a university degree — the adult population that is without a high school diploma is a combination of both immigrant and Canadian-born. In many places, publicly-funded high school courses are offered to the adult population. The ratio of high school graduates versus non diploma-holders is changing rapidly, partly due to changes in the labour market that require people to have a high school diploma and, in many cases, a university degree.

Canada spends about 7% of its GDP on education. Since the adoption of section 23 of the Constitution Act, 1982, education in both English and French has been available in most places across Canada (if the population of children speaking the minority language justifies it), although French Second Language education/French Immersion is available to anglophone students across Canada. And recently, Canada has opened doors to foreign students. According to an announcement of Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Canada is introducing a new, fast-track system to let foreign students and graduates with Canadian work experience become permanent eligible residents in Canada.

Most schools have introduced one or more initiatives such as programs in Native studies, antiracism, Aboriginal cultures and crafts; visits by elders and other community members; and content in areas like indigenous languages, Aboriginal spirituality, indigenous knowledge of nature, and tours to indigenous heritage sites. Although these classes are offered, most appear to be limited by the area or region in which students reside. "The curriculum is designed to elicit development and quality of people's cognition through the guiding of accommodations of individuals to their natural environment and their changing social order" Finally, "some scholars view academics as a form of "soft power" helping to educate and to create positive attitudes."Furthermore, "subjects that typically get assessed (i.e., language arts, mathematics, and science) assume greater importance than non-assessed subjects (i.e., music, visual arts, and physical education) or facets of the curriculum (i.e., reading and writing versus speaking and listening)." The students in the Canadian school system receive a variety of classes that are offered to them. The system is set up to meet the diverse needs of the individual student.

Divisions by religion and language

Originally all the provinces had educational systems divided by religion, but most provinces have abolished these. Ontariomarker, Albertamarker, the Northwest Territoriesmarker, and certain cities in Saskatchewanmarker are exceptions to this, as they still maintain publicly-funded Separate district school boards (usually Catholic but occasionally Protestant). In Quebecmarker, the Catholic/Protestant divide was replaced with a French/English one in 1998. Québécois must attend a French School up until the end of high school unless one of their parents previously attended an English-language school somewhere in Canada (immigrants from other countries cannot use this exception). However Bill 101 applies only to public schools, therefore immigrants to Quebec can send their children to English private schools.

Length of study

Most Canadian education systems continue up to grade twelve (age seventeen to eighteen). In Quebecmarker, the typical high school term ends after Secondary V/Grade eleven (age sixteen to seventeen); following this, students who wish to pursue their studies to the university level have to attend CEGEP.


Normally, for each type of publicly funded school (such as Public English or Public French), the province is divided into districts (or divisions). For each district, board members (trustees) are elected only by its supporters within the district (voters receive a ballot for just one of the boards in their area). Normally, all publicly funded schools are under the authority of their local district school board. These school boards would follow a common curriculum set up by the province the board resides in. Only Albertamarker allows public charter schools, which are independent of any district board. Instead, they each have their own board, which reports directly to the province.


Primary education and secondary education combined are sometimes referred to as K-12 (Kindergarten through Grade 12). It should be noted that this structure can vary from school to school, and from province to province. For instance, Prince Edward Island school systems is the only province that does not provide Kindergarten. In contrast, Ontario is the only province which provides two levels of Kindergarten (Junior and Senior).

In Canadamarker, secondary schooling, known as high school or collegiate institute or "école secondaire" or secondary school, differs depending on the province in which one resides. Additionally, grade structure may vary within a province and even within a school division. Education is compulsory up to the age of 16 in every province in Canada, except for Ontario and New Brunswick (where the compulsory ages are 18). Students may continue to attend high school until the ages of 19 to 21 (the cut-off age for high school varies between province). Those 19 and over may attend adult school. Also if high schoolers are expelled or suspended for a period of time over 2 months or so they could attend night school at the high school.

Ontario had a "Grade 13" known as Ontario Academic Credit (OAC) year, but this was abolished by the provincial government to cut costs. OAC was last offered for the 2002-2003 school year. As a result, the curriculum has been compacted, and the more difficult subjects, such as mathematics, are comparatively harder than before. However, the system is now approximately equivalent to what has been the case outside of Quebec and Ontario for many years. Secondary education in Quebec continues to Grade 11 (Secondary V), and is typically followed by CEGEP, a two or three year college program taken after high school. Pre-university CEGEP programs are two years in Quebec (university for Quebecers is three years, except Engineering), and vocational or professional programs are three years in duration (see Education in Quebec).

Post-secondary education

Post-secondary education in Canada is also the responsibility of the individual provinces and territories. Those governments provide the majority of funding to their public post-secondary institutions, with the remainder of funding coming from tuition fees, the federal government, and research grants. Compared to other countries in the past, Canada has had the highest tertiary school enrollment as a percentage of their graduating population.

Nearly all post-secondary institutions in Canada have the authority to grant academic credentials (i.e., diplomas or degrees). Generally speaking, universities grant degrees (e.g., bachelor's, master's or doctorate degrees) while colleges, which typically offer vocationally-oriented programs, grant diplomas and certificates. However, some colleges offer applied arts degrees that lead to or are equivalent to degrees from a university. Unlike the United States, there is no "accreditation body" that oversees the universities in Canada. Universities in Canada have degree-granting authority via an Act or Ministerial Consent from the Ministry of Education of the particular province.

Post-secondary education in Quebec begins with CEGEP (collèges d'enseignement général et professionnel), following graduation from Grade 11 (or Secondary V). Students complete a two- or three-year general program leading to admission to a university, or a professional program leading directly into the labour force. In most cases, bachelor's degree programs in Quebec are three years instead of the usual four; however, in many cases, students attending a university in Quebec that did not graduate from CEGEP must complete an additional year of coursework. When Ontario had five years of high school, a three-year bachelor's degree was common, but these degrees are being phased out in favour of the four-year degree.

The main variation between the provinces, with respect to universities, is the amount of funding they receive. Universities in Quebec receive the most funding and have the lowest tuitions. Universities in Atlantic Canadamarker generally receive the least funding and some, like Acadia Universitymarker, are almost wholly reliant on private funding.

The Royal Military College of Canadamarker (RMC), is the military academy of the Canadian Forces and is a full degree-granting university. RMC is the only federal institution with degree granting powers.

Private schools

About 8% of students are in private schools. A minority of these are elite private schools. These schools are attended by only a small fraction of students, but do have a great deal of prestige and prominence. It is not unusual for the wealthy and prominent in Canada to send their children to public schools, especially in the lower grades. A far larger portion of private schools are religious based institutions. Private schools are also used to study outside the country. For example CCI has an Ontario curriculum, but the students study in Italy.

Private schools have historically been less common on the Canadian Prairies and were often forbidden under municipal and provincial statutes enacted to provide equality of education to students regardless of family income. This is especially true in Alberta, where successive Social Credit (or populist conservative) governments denounced the concept of private education as the main cause of denial of opportunity to the children of the working poor. These rules lasted longer than Social Credit; it was only in 1989 that private K-12 schools were allowed to operate inside the boundaries of the City of Calgary.

Private Universities

At present, all private universities in Canada maintain a religious history or foundation. British Columbiamarker’s Quest Universitymarker will become the first privately funded liberal arts university without a denominational affiliation (although it is not the first private liberal arts university). Many provinces, including Ontario and Alberta, have passed legislation allowing private degree-granting institutions (not necessarily universities) to operate there.

Many Canadians remain polarized on the issue of permitting private universities into the Canadian market. On the one hand, Canada’s top universities find it difficult to compete with the private American powerhouses because of funding, but on the other hand, the fact that the price of private universities tends to exclude those who cannot pay that much for their education could prevent a significant portion of Canada’s population from being able to attend these schools.

Religious schools

Each province deals differently with private religious schools. In Ontario the Catholic system continues to be fully publicly funded, but other faiths receive no such funding. Ontario has several private Jewish, Muslim, and Christian schools, but all are funded through tuition fees. Since the Catholic schools system is entrenched in the constitution, the Supreme Court has ruled that this system is constitutional. However, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that Ontario's system is discriminatory, suggesting that Ontario either fund no faith-based schools, or all of them.. In 2002 the government of Mike Harris introduced a controversial program to partially fund all private schools, but this was criticized for undermining the public education system and the program was eliminated after the Liberals won the 2003 provincial election.

In other provinces privately operated religious schools are funded. In British Columbia the government pays 50% of the cost of religious schools that meet rigorous provincial standards. The province has a number of Sikh, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim schools. Alberta also has a network of charter schools, which are fully funded schools offering distinct approaches to education within the public school system. Alberta charter schools are not private and the province does not grant charters to religious schools. These schools have to follow the provincial curriculum and meet all standards, but are given considerable freedom in other areas. In all other provinces private religious schools receive some funding, but not as much as the public system.

An example of how schools can be divided by religions in Torontomarker includes the Toronto Catholic District School Board and Toronto District School Board.

History of religious schools

The role of religion in Canadian education has been controversial for centuries. The first schools in New France were operated by the church. In the early nineteenth century the colonial governments moved to set up publicly funded education systems. However, soon religious divisions became problematic. At the time religious study was considered an integral part of education, but Protestants and Catholics were deeply divided over how this education should be delivered. In Upper Canada the Catholic minority rejected the Protestant practice of Biblical study in schools, while in Lower Canada the Protestant minority objected to the education system instilling Roman Catholic dogma. Thus in both these areas two schools systems were established, a Catholic and a Protestant. Upon Confederation these schools systems were enshrined in the British North America Act, 1867.

In the three Maritime provinces, schools were mainly Protestant, and a single Protestant oriented school system was established in each of them. In Newfoundlandmarker there was not only the Catholic/Protestant split, but also deep divisions between Protestant sects, and nine separate schools systems were set up, one catering to each major denomination. Eventually the major Protestant boards merged into an integrated school system. The three Prairie provinces adopted a system based on Ontario's with a dominant Protestant system, and smaller Catholic ones. In 1891, however Manitobamarker moved to eliminate the Catholic board, sparking the Manitoba Schools Question. Eventually the Catholic school system in that province was merged with the Protestant one. British Columbia established a non-sectarian school system in 1872.

Over time, the originally Protestant school boards of English Canada, known as the public schools, became increasingly secularized as Canadians came to believe in the separation of Church and state, and the main boards became secular ones. In Ontario all overt religiosity was removed from the public school system in 1990. In two provinces the sectarian education systems have recently been eliminated through constitutional change. Newfoundland, after a close and controversial referendum, eliminated its multiple school boards, merging them into a single public board. In Quebec the Catholic/Protestant divide was replaced with a French language/English language one.

Residential School System

The Canadian residential school system consisted of a number of schools for Aboriginal children, operated during the 20th century by churches of various denominations (about sixty per cent by Roman Catholics, and thirty per cent by the Protestants) and funded under the Indian Act by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, a branch of the federal government. The schools' purpose was, according to the Indian Act, to "civilize" aboriginals, teach them English or French, convert them to Christianity, and end their traditional ways of life.

A great number of First Nation, Métis and Inuit students suffered sexual abuse and cultural assimilation in the residential school system. The incidents mark one of the greatest cultural tragedies in Canadian history.

Levels in education

Canada outside Quebec

  • Pre-School or Nursery School (age 5 and younger)
  • Elementary school: refers to grades 1 through 6, but may also include grades 7 and 8
    • Grade 1-6 (ages 6–12)
  • Junior high school: also called "middle school" or "intermediate school". In many places, junior high school and high school are merged into one consisting of a high school with grades 8-12. In other areas, the junior high grades are merged into elementary schools consisting of grades K-8. In parts of Ontario, "senior public schools" exist (basically the same as US middle schools), consisting only of grades 6, 7 and 8 or grades 7 and 8. This particular split is driven by demographics and school building capacity. In the Prairie Provinces, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, however, junior high schools (which are not called middle schools) include only grades 7, 8, and 9, and never grades 6 or earlier; there are, however, combination elementary and junior high schools that include grades 1 to 9 and, occasionally, kindergarten.
    • Grade 7 (12-13)
    • Grade 8 (13-14)
    • Grade 9 (14-15) (in Ontario, Saskatchewan and the Atlantic Provinces, this may be the first grade of high school)
  • High school (in some areas, usually areas with no junior high schools, from grade 8 to 12):
    • Grade 10 (15-16)
    • Grade 11 (16-17)
    • Grade 12 (17-18)
    • Grade 12+ (18+) (Ontario only)
  • College or University
    • College: Two to three years leading to a diploma. In some cases, an Associate's degree (not common in Canada) or a Bachelor's degree may be possible at the institution
    • University:
      • In Ontario and the Atlantic Provinces, university normally consists of three years leading to a Bachelor's degree; four years leading to an advanced major degree, a double degree or (in Ontario) an Honours Bachelor's degree (the latter is in Ontario usually required for Graduate school).
      • In Western Canada, university normally consists of four years leading to a Bachelor's Degree (whether Honours, With Distinction, or otherwise), and five years for a double major or for a Bachelor's Degree in certain specific fields. However, at many universities in Western Canada students are permitted to take up to ten years to complete a Bachelor's Degree part-time. It is also more common in Western Canada for students to apply to university years after graduating from high school than it is in Ontario or the Atlantic Provinces.
    • Graduate school
      • One or two years leading to a postgraduate certificate or postgraduate diploma, sometimes called advanced graduate or post-baccalaureate in some universities. This qualification is usually taken after the Bachelor's degree, but before a Master's degree.
      • One or two years leading to a Master's degree, depending on programme requirements.
      • Four years leading to a Doctoral degree.

Special Notes:
  • Names of each grade varies around the country. For example, the Nova Scotian government may sometimes refer to kindergarten as Grade Primary.

  • As opposed to their French designations in Quebec, Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten in Ontario are called Maternelle and CPE Centre de la Petite Enfance in French.

  • Students in the Prairie Provinces are not required by statute to attend kindergarten. As a result, kindergarten is not often available in smaller towns.

  • In Ontario, a student may take up an additional year of secondary education, commonly known as a victory lap. There is no legal age or time constraint against victory lapping, with victory lappers composing making up an average of 4% of all students enrolled in Ontario secondary schools each year. Many see this as a result of the elimination of the OAC year.


  • garderie (Pre-school); Under 5
  • maternelle (Kindergarten); 5-6
  • école primaire (literally Primary school, equivalent to Elementary School)
    • Grade 1; 6-7
    • Grade 2; 7-8
    • Grade 3; 8-9
    • Grade 4; 9-10
    • Grade 5; 10-11
    • Grade 6; 11-12
  • école secondaire (literally Secondary school, or High School)
    • Secondary I; 12-13
    • Secondary II; 13-14
    • Secondary III; 14-15
    • Secondary IV; 15-16
    • Secondary V; 16-17
Secondaries I-V are equivalent to grades 7-11. In most English High Schools, the different terms are used interchangeably. In some English High Schools, as well as in most French schools, high school students will refer to secondary 1-5 as year one through five. So if someone in Secondary three is asked "what grade/year are you in?" they will reply "three" or "sec 3". It is presumed that the person asking the question knows that they are not referring to "Grade 3" but rather "Secondary 3". This can however be confusing for those outside of Quebec who are asking the question.
    • Pre-university program, two years (typically Social Sciences, Natural Sciences or Arts)
    • Professional program, three years (e.g. Paralegal, Dental Hygienist, Nursing, etc.)
  • University (Must have DEC or equivalent)
    • Undergraduate
      • Three of four years leading to a Bachelor's degree. Non-Quebec students require an extra year to complete the same degree because of the extra year in CEGEP.
    • Graduate (or postgraduate)

English schools in Quebec have the same grade system as French schools, but with English names. For example, "elementary school" is not called "école primaire" in an English school, but has the same grade system.

Grade structure by province

The following table shows how grades are organized in various provinces. Often, there will be exceptions within each province, both with terminology for groups, and which grades apply to each group.

( source)
  Elementary Junior High Senior High  
  Kindergarten 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12  
British Columbiamarker
( source)
  Elementary Junior Secondary Senior Secondary  
  Kindergarten 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12  
( source)
  Early Junior High Senior  
  Kindergarten 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12  
New Brunswickmarker
( source)
  Elementary Middle School High School  
  Kindergarten 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12  
Newfoundland and Labradormarker
( source)
  Primary Elementary Intermediate Senior High  
  Kindergarten 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Level I Level II Level III  
Northwest Territoriesmarker
( source)
  Primary Intermediate Junior Secondary Senior Secondary  
  Kindergarten 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12  
Nova Scotiamarker
( source)
  Elementary Junior High Senior High  
  Primary 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12  
( source)
Elementary Secondary  
Junior Kindergarten Senior Kindergarten 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12  
( source)
  Elementary Intermediate School Senior High  
  Kindergarten 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12  
Quebecmarker   École primaire École secondaire CEGEP
garderie maternelle 1 2 3 4 5 6 Sec I Sec II Sec III Sec IV Sec V first second third
( source)
  Elementary Level Middle Level Secondary Level  
  Kindergarten 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12  
( source)
  Elementary Junior Secondary Senior Secondary  
  Kindergarten 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12


  • In British Columbia some schools may group together the higher Elementary and lower Secondary Grades. These schools are referred to as Middle Schools or Jr. Secondary Schools. Some Elementary Schools consist solely of grades K-5. Likewise, some Secondary Schools may only have grades 11 and 12. In addition, some school districts may use just elementary (K-7) and secondary (8-12) schools.
  • In Nova Scotia the terms for groups, and grades they apply to varies significantly throughout the province. A common, but not universal, organization is shown.
  • In Quebec CEGEP is two or three years, depending on what a student selects, based usually on what their post-secondary plans are. CEGEP in Quebec overlaps what other provinces consider the boundary between secondary education (high school) and post-secondary education (college and university). "Sec I" = "Secondary Year One" = "Grade 7"
  • In Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, schools are now set up as elementary schools with grades K-5, middle schools with grades 6-8, and high schools with grades 9-12. However, high school graduation requirements only include courses taken in grades 10-12.

Provincial and Territorial Departments and Ministries

Provincial and Territorial Departments and Ministries
Provincial Education(Wikipedia) Provincial Department Or Ministry(External Link)
Education in British Columbia Ministry of Education
Education in Alberta Ministry of Education
Education in Saskatchewan Ministry of Education
Education in Manitoba Ministry of Education
Education in Ontario Ministry of Education
Education in Quebec Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport
Education in New Brunswick Ministry of Education
Education in Nova Scotia Department of Education
Education in Prince Edward Island Department of Education
Education in Newfoundland and Labrador Ministry of Education
Education in Northwest Territories Department of Education, Culture and Employment
Education in Nunavut Department of Education
Education in Yukon Department of Education, Culture and Employment

See also


External links


  1. INAC Canada website. Retrieved 2008-05-24.
  2. INAC Press relase on education. Retrieved 2008-05-24.
  3. Canada Is Opening Doors To Students
  4. Wotherspoon, R. (2006, November). Teachers' work in Canadian aboriginal communities. Comparative Education Review, 50,(4), 672-694. Retrieved May 21, 2009, from Education Research Complete database.
  5. Shaker, P. (2009). Preserving Canadian exceptionalism. Education Canada, 49(1), 28-32. Retrieved on May 11, 2009.
  6. Nelles, W. (2008). Towards a critical pedagogy of comparative public diplomacy: Pseudo-education, fear-mongering and insecurities in Canadian-American foreign policy. Comparative Education, 44(3), 333-344. Retrieved May ll, 2009. doi:10.1080/03050060802264876
  7. Volante, L. (2007). Educational quality and accountability in Ontario: Past, present, future. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, (58), 2-21. Retrieved on May 11, 2009.
  8. Statistics Canada education data
  9. [
  10. Education Facts. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
  11. Quick Facts – Ontario Schools, 2005-06. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
  12. 'Victory lap' year carries no stigma. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
  13. [
  14. [

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