Canadian Education System
There is so much to love and enjoy about Canada and living in it, with one of the major things for families being the education system. The Canadian education system is built on a provincial level, rather than federal, meaning each province and territory gets to determine their own curriculum and education plan. For all their differences, the core tenant of providing a well thought out and enriching education system.
If you’re new to the country, out of touch with the system or want to know more about what other forms of education are out there, then this guide is for you!
While there are differences between each province and territory as to how the education system may look, there is a pretty widely accepted and generalized structure you’ll see around the country.
Generally, you start at about age 5 and are required to continue education until at least age 16. Most students will at least finish high school before deciding whether or not post-secondary school is for them, but it isn’t uncommon for one to drop out of high school and never finish or receive their GED later in life. However, the main Canadian education structure is as follows:
-Preschool/Kindergarten: Preschool and Kindergarten are more of a daycare system with very basic learning and education in kindergarten. This generally starts at about age 2 and wraps up at about age 5 or 6 before moving on to elementary school.
-Elementary School: Elementary school usually starts at age 5 or 6 and covers grade 1 through grade 6. Elementary school is where the education system becomes compulsory, as you’re required to send your child through school at this stage, lasting until age 16.
-Middle School: Middle school covers grades 7, 8 and 9 and serves as a bridge between elementary school and high school. Some schools serve as both an elementary and middle school, while most others will end at grade 6 where you’ll have then attend your middle school and the move on to the next stage.
-High School: High school is where the compulsory schooling ends, as it covers grades 10-12 and is where students can choose to drop out once they reach age 16. High school is meant to prepare students for adulthood, whether that begins with university/college or an early jump into the work force.
-Post-Secondary: Most students will follow the path of college or university following high school (thought you don’t have to), where they can specialize in a subject they find interesting that can lead to their desired career path. Post-secondary school drops the grade system, having a credit system that’s required to graduate, usually averaging about 3 or 4 years.
-Graduate School: Graduate school is the next step after your undergraduate, where students can aim for high degrees like a master’s degree or a PHD. Professions like doctors and lawyers are required to go through graduate school, as medical school and law school are both high forms of graduate school.
Not all provinces follow that exact structure to the tee, and we’ll explore that more as we breakdown each level further.
Preschool is any system with early childhood educators that takes place before a child is eligible for grade 1. This includes Kindergarten, and generally will have programs that start accepting children around age 2-3. The important note about Preschool and Kindergarten is that it isn’t required, but it is definitely suggested.
There are variety of benefits to sending your child to preschool and kindergarten which includes:
-Social Learning: The social aspect of preschool and kindergarten may provide the largest benefit, as it begins the process of socializing on a larger scale at an early age. Through the school system your child will at least a decade in classes and interacting with other students, and starting it early helps make it an even more seamless. Humans are social creatures, and preschool and kindergarten present the perfect opportunity to begin learning early and growing with other children at the same age.
-Language: Whether your child is in an English-only household, or a multilingual household, preschool and kindergarten are a great opportunity for your child to start learning English early. Language is best learned at younger ages, as our brains are less mature, but more impressionable. So, starting them in preschool early will get them started learning the basics of English and setting them up for an easier time down the line.
-Educational Learning: While preschool and kindergarten may not be providing your child with textbooks and notebooks, there is still a lot they can learn foundationally will help them when they get to elementary school and beyond. Most ECE programs have different forms of fun learning activities that combine education and play in a clever and useful way. In addition to language they can learn early and basic level math, science and more through the activities in preschool and kindergarten.
-Daycare: This last benefit is for you, but if you have a lot of errands to run or a you need to go to work, preschool and kindergarten provide a day care system for you that lets you have some time to yourself to work on anything you may need to take care of. Some school will even have a daycare system built in, combining traditional daycare and preschool together in a convenient and time-freeing system for you.
There are various other benefits as well, but the decision is ultimately yours. It’s up to you to determine what you think is best for you and your child, and whether or not preschool and kindergarten is that.
Elementary school is the next stage in the education structure and begins the compulsory stage of schooling. Depending on which province or territory you go to the name may differ, along with the grades including.
Alberta includes Kindergarten as part of the name “Elementary”, while BC uses Primary instead which goes from Kindergarten to grade 3. Manitoba is similar, using the name “Early Years” to cover Kindergarten to Grade 4. Most other provinces hover around the Grade 6 stage, while the Yukon Territory takes Elementary school all the way to Grade 8. With all these differences, the general consensus is that Elementary school is the early stages, where most of your foundational learning, both in the educational and social spaces, take place.
Grade 1 typically begins around age 5 or 6, which is when the compulsory stage begins. All provinces have a minimum of 10 years of education, meaning you’ll be allowed to dropout at age 16 (usually around Grade 11). However, three provinces, Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick, make is compulsory to continue in school until you’re 18 years old, or have received your high school diploma. Under the normal progression, those two ages should just about line up, making it worth it to just get your high school degree, but there are students who that doesn’t always work for.
Elementary school is the most system-based based stage of education, as all classes and schedules are the same, as they focus on classes like English, Math and Science. The next stage is where more classes begin to be introduced, as children continue to develop and mature.
Middle School/High School
Middle school is the next stage, covering around Grade 6/7 to grade 8/9 depending on the province you’re in. Also know as “Junior High” or “Junior Secondary” most provinces have it from Grade 7 to Grade 9, but a few differ. In the Yukon, Junior Secondary is from Grade 8 to Grade 10, and in Ontario only Grade 7 and 8 make up Middle School. However, the overall idea tends to the same, serving as the bridge between your early stages of childhood and your last stage of childhood before becoming an adult. Your early teen years are generally in Middle school, which means puberty begins and your hormones and body start changing with it.
That’s not the only change however, as your classes start changing to, introducing more varying subjects like history, computer science, sociology and more. The seeds may start being planted here for what you’ll take in high school, which sets the stage for you’ll do in university and your career.
For most provinces high school or secondary school is the final stage of school you’ll take before legally becoming an adult. This is where your classes open up even more and you have even more freedom to set your class schedule and pick your courses (if you didn’t already start in Middle school). The classes you choose in High school are designed to set you up for university, as many university programs require you to have completed certain classes in high school.
In most provinces, Grade 10 through 12 are your high school years, while in Ontario it’s Grade 9 through 12. For Quebec, high school actually ends in Grade 11, where you then take a year in a pre-college or university program. Outside of the three provinces listed earlier (Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick) where its compulsory to go to school until age 18, which is typically when you’d graduate anyway, high school is usually the stage when you can drop out at age 16, which typically lines up with Grade 11. While you can dropout, it definitely isn’t recommended, as most jobs require at least a high school diploma.
For most people, middle school and high school are the real formative years that set the course for who they’ll be as adults, but that doesn’t mean you have to decide your entire life when you’re 13 years old. Ultimately kids should enjoy their youth, and hopefully find something they’ll be passionate about for life.
Post-secondary school, which includes colleges and universities, makes up the next and “final” stage of school. Post-secondary is not compulsory but is definitely suggested and is the stage of education where tuition and expenses start to show up. It’s generally made of two areas; undergraduate and graduate school.
Undergrad is the first level of university, and for many will be as far as they go in university. Many jobs require you to have a bachelor’s degree at minimum, which is obtained through an undergraduate degree. Most undergrad programs are between 2 and 4 years, with varying lengths dependent on the nature of the degree. When undergoing your undergrad, you have the most control of any level schooling, as you get to choose what your major is (and if you want to add a minor or a double major) and pick your courses. Programs will have their own required courses, but from there you usually have the freedom to choose what general education courses you want from the qualifying categories and have free reign to choose your own electives from just about any subject you want. The goal of an undergrad is to start helping you specialize in a particular subject, while showing future employers you have the discipline to be a self-starter and complete years of work that you may or may not enjoy doing.
Your graduate degree is the next level, adding further specialization, and for some jobs it is a required part of receiving the job. Doctors and lawyers are the two most recognizable jobs that require graduate programs, as you need to attend medical school or law school respectively. To apply and get in to a graduate school, you must first complete an eligible undergrad program (usually a minimum of 3 years), and then you usually have to take a test; the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), which focus more on critical thinking, problem solving and analysis than they do on science/medicine and law (though knowledge is required there as well). Most subjects have a form of graduate schools, resulting in different high-level degrees like a master’s degree or a PHD.
Post-secondary school can be expensive and difficult, but whether you’re just doing your base level undergrad program or want to receive a PHD, there is a lot to learn and enriching experiences to take part of. The decision is best for you to decide what you need and what you want to do.
For all types of education, there’s a cost, whether we feel it directly or not. Public schools in Canada may not have a direct tuition that you pay yearly or monthly, but they’re paid for by our taxes, making it a group effort to pay for public schools. That’s why most families will send their children to public school, as most are excellent and set your child on the right path. However, private schools, and other forms of private schools like boarding school and some catholic schools have a yearly tuition cost that can get quite expensive.
Private schools, unlike public schools, aren’t funded by the government, meaning they have to cover their costs for staff salaries, supplies, facilities, utilities, maintenance, transportation, food, taxes and more through tuition fees. Tuition for most private schools can range from $4,000 per year, all the way up to $20,000 or more per year, but there is a lot more than just the classroom attendance that this cost covers.
The reason a lot of people choose to enroll their children in private schools is because of the various additional benefits that they provide. Most private school have less students, which means you can get more personalized lessons, as your teachers will have more time for you. They also have more programs, including for those with learning disabilities, that they can streamline more with the funds they receive. There is extra tutoring, deeper lessons and often a plethora of extracurricular programs available as well. These can all help for a fun childhood, but also help make children more well-rounded and successful in university and beyond. If you’re sending your child to boarding school, then that tuition fee also includes housing, food plans and more.
With boarding schools, that’s where the greatest cost for private schools comes, as you may pay upwards of $50,000 per year for a prestigious and well-renowned boarding school. Catholic schools may run you around $10,000 per year, more or less depending on the school you choose.
Post-secondary school costs are another area to consider, as many who don’t send their children to private school will spend the years not paying for public school to save for post-secondary. University is expensive, especially if you want to go to graduate school as well. If you’re a Canadian citizen, and go to university in-province, it’s likely going to cost about $6,000-$8,000 to year for just the tuition. Then you have to consider the costs of housing (if they don’t stay at home) and more. University is even more expensive if you go out of province or are immigrating from another country to go to school here in Canada.
Additionally, you can receive student loans from banks or the government, but there are also grants and scholarships you can receive. In fact, for students living in low-income households, your entire tuition may be covered under government grants through recent law changes.
Other Forms of School
Everything discussed up to this point in this guide has been about the normal public-school system, but it’s not the only option available. In fact, there is a variety of school options available for people of all ages, always providing an opportunity to learn. These alternatives include:
-Private School: Private schools are a direct alternative to public schools, where the privacy tends to come through in the cost of tuition and the possible testing requirements to be accepted into the school. We generally think of tuition for post-secondary only, as public schools are free to attend (paid for by taxes), but private schools generally provide deeper programs for the additional cost you’re paying.
-Catholic School: Catholic schools are another widespread form of school, and a third option to public schools and private schools. As the name suggests, they include more focus on religion (specifically Catholicism) and governed by the Catholic School board in respective provinces. They’ll follow a lot of the same subjects, but take different perspectives and generally include religion classes, time for prayer and more.
-Home School: Each province has its own curriculum set that parents can apply for and take on to educate their child or children at home. While education is a requirement, for all children up to age 16, the way you go about that education is up to you, and homeschooling is an accepted method. There may be a variety of reasons you’d want to explore the home school, with the government providing you the curriculum to follow so everyone is (somewhat) on the same playing field.
-Night School: Night school is an option primarily associated with adults, though there is night schooling for high school students as well, to take classes in the evening and earn credits for those who adults who never received their GED or high school students who may have fallen behind or want to get ahead. By providing classes at night, it offers a convenient option for those who can’t make it during the day (usually because of work) to still get an education and set themselves up for better future employment.
-Summer School: Summer school is a similar option to night school, where high school students (and university students) can either catch up after falling behind, retake courses to get a better grade or get ahead. These classes are shorter terms, as they’re done in the summer, but cram in as much of the curriculum as they can with often longer classes than you’d get day to day over a regular school year.
-ESL School: ESL schools are available for both children and adults who speak another language as their primary language first and want to focus on learning English. They have a variety of times the classes are available to make it as easy and convenient as possible.
There are even more forms of school available, with the goal being to let people have access to as many ways to educate and better themselves as possible.
Canada has a well-known and respected education system, with generally more pros than cons. There is a lot more information out there, but we hope this guide helped give you the base knowledge you need on all the education available in Canada.