The Canadian education system: an overview

Moving to Canada with children means you will want and need to understand Canada’s education system.

Canadian school systems may be quite different from what you have been used to in your home country. In some respects, the school systems in Canada can also be different from each other, depending on the province or territory.

Schooling is mandatory to the age of 16 in most provinces, and to the age of 18 in New Brunswick and Ontario (or until completion of grade 12).

The Canadian school years lasts from September to June.

Regional differences

Schools are funded and overseen at the federal level, provincial or territorial level and on the local level, with chief policy making at the provincial level. Education is available in both English and in French in most places, provided there are enough students in that area speaking the secondary language.

Provinces are separated into districts, from which school boards are derived. It is the responsibility of the school boards to make local policy and to implement the standard curriculum set forth by the province. Alberta allows for charter schools that are not subject to the school boards.

As Canada has no federal department of education, the 10 provinces and three territories are, therefore, responsible for the organisation, delivery and assessment of education at the elementary, secondary, technical, vocational and post-secondary levels.

According to a report released by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, “While there are a great many similarities in the provincial and territorial education systems across Canada, there are significant differences in curriculum, assessment, and accountability policies among the jurisdictions that express the geography, history, language, culture, and corresponding specialised needs of the populations served”.


Education, in most instances, begins with kindergarten. Junior kindergarten is available in British Columbia and Ontario, while in some areas, kindergarten is either not required or it is not available. Generally, children are aged five when they start kindergarten.

Elementary & junior high/middle school

Elementary school generally includes grades one through six (for students aged approximately six to 12 years), when there is a junior high school as the next step. In some areas, elementary school is extended through grade eight. Middle schools and junior high schools provide the transition from elementary to high school, and encompass years seven and eight of the education system.

High school

High school runs typically through grades nine to 12. In Québec, high school ends in grade eleven and is followed by CEGEP, a program that prepares the student for university or a technical field. A second senior year, sometimes called a 'victory lap' is often used in its place to strengthen the student academically before entering university.

Vocational school or university

Beyond this, students can attend either vocational schools or enter a university. At a university they will first earn a Bachelor's degree, and can continue studies to receive a Master's or a Doctorate degree. Vocational students will earn certificates and diplomas that will attest to their skills in the various trades.


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