Education in Canada
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|Provincial & Territorial|
Ministers of Education:
|National education budget (2011)|
|Budget||5.4% of GDP‡|
|Primary languages||English, French|
|System type||Provincially Controlled|
|‡ Includes Elementary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education.|
Education in Canada is for the most part provided publicly, 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 primary education, followed by secondary education and post-secondary. 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 Manitoba, Ontario, and New Brunswick, where the compulsory age is 18, or as soon as a high school diploma has been achieved. In some provinces early leaving exemptions can be granted under certain circumstances at 14. Canada generally has 190 (180 in Quebec) 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 Quebec when it is just before June 24 – Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day/Fête nationale du Québec). In British Columbia secondary schools, there are 172 school days during a school year. (2013-2014). In Alberta, high school students get an additional four weeks off to accommodate for exam break; two weeks in January, and two in June. Classes typically end on the 15th of those two months.
- 1 Canada-wide
- 2 Pre-university
- 3 History
- 4 Post-secondary education
- 5 Private schools
- 6 Religious schools
- 7 Levels in education
- 8 Provincial and Territorial Departments and Ministries
- 9 See also
- 10 Footnotes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
Elementary, intermediate, secondary, and post-secondary education in Canada is a provincial responsibility and there are many variations between the provinces. The federal government's responsibilities in education are limited to the Royal Military College of Canada, and funding the education of indigenous peoples.
In 2016, 8.5% of men and 5.4% of women aged 25 to 34 had less than a high school diploma (340,000 young Canadians). 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. Nonetheless, more than 54.0% of Canadians have a college or university degree, the highest rate in the world. The majority of schools, 67%, are co-educational.
Canada spends about 5.4% of its GDP on education. The country invests heavily in tertiary education (more than US$20,000 per student). Recent reports suggest that from 2006 the tuition fees of Canadian universities have increased by 40 percent. 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.
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"
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).
Some scholars view academics as a form of "soft power" helping to educate and to create positive attitudes, although there is criticism that educators are merely telling students what to think, instead of how to think for themselves, and using up a large proportion of classroom time in the process. Efforts to keep students happy and socially correct often come at the expense of academic achievement. Social promotion policies, grade inflation, lack of corrective feedback for students, teaching methods that slow the development of basic skills compared to past decades, reform mathematics, and the failure to objectively track student progress have also forced high schools and colleges to lower their academic standards.
Divisions by religion and language
The Constitution of Canada provides constitutional protections for some types of publicly funded religious-based and language-based school systems.
The Constitution Act, 1867 contains a guarantee for publicly funded religious-based separate schools, provided the separate schools were established by law prior to the province joining Confederation. Court cases have established that this provision did not apply to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island, since those provinces did not provide a legal guarantee for separate schools prior to Confederation. The provision did originally apply to Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador, since these provinces did have pre-existing separate schools. This constitutional provision was repealed in Quebec by a constitutional amendment in 1997, and for Newfoundland and Labrador in 1998. The constitutional provision continues to apply to Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. There is a similar federal statutory provision which applies to the Northwest Territories.
Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right of citizens who were educated in the minority language in a particular province to have their children educated in the minority language in publicly funded schools. In practice, this guarantee means that there are publicly funded English schools in Quebec, and publicly funded French schools in the other provinces and the territories.
Quebec students must attend a French school up until the end of high school unless one of their parents qualifies as a rights-holder under s.23 of the Charter. In Ontario, French language schools automatically admit students recognized under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and may admit non-francophone students through the board's admissions committee consisting of the school principal, a school superintendent and a teacher.
Length of study
Most education programs in Canada begin in kindergarten (which is age five) or grade one (age six) and go to grade twelve (age 17 or 18), except in Quebec, where students finish a year earlier. After completion of a secondary school diploma, students may go on to post-secondary studies.
In 2019, the government of Quebec has announced the creation of kindergarten classes for four-year-olds in the province's elementary schools. But four-years-old kindergarten would be optional.
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 Alberta 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, Intermediate education, and secondary education combined are sometimes referred to as K-12 (Kindergarten through Grade 12). Secondary schooling, known as high school, collegiate institute, école secondaire or secondary school, consists of different grades depending on the province in which one resides. Furthermore, grade structure may vary within a province or even within a school division and may or may not include middle school or junior high school.
Kindergarten (or its equivalent) is available for children in all provinces in the year they turn five (except Ontario and Quebec, where it begins a year earlier), but the names of these programs, provincial funding, and the number of hours provided varies widely. For example, the Department of Education in Nova Scotia refers to Kindergarten as Grade Primary.
Ontario offers two years of optional kindergarten (junior kindergarten for four-year-olds and senior kindergarten for five-year-olds). At French schools in Ontario, these programs are called Maternelle and Jardin. In 2010, Ontario increased both years to full-day programs, while BC's single year of kindergarten became full-day in 2012. Quebec offers heavily subsidized preschool programs and introduced an early kindergarten program for children from low-income families in 2013. Students in the Prairie provinces are not required by statute to attend kindergarten. As a result, kindergarten often is not available in smaller towns.
Kindergarten is mandatory in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, and is optional elsewhere. Dependent on the province the age of mandatory entry to the education system is at 4–7 years. Starting at grade one, at age six or seven, there is universal publicly funded access up to grade twelve (age seventeen to eighteen), except in Quebec, where secondary school ends one year earlier. Children are required to attend school until the age of sixteen (eighteen in Manitoba, Ontario, and New Brunswick). In Quebec, 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 college (see Education in Quebec). Quebec is currently the only province where Grade 12 is part of postsecondary, though Grade 11 was also the end of secondary education in Newfoundland and Labrador prior to the introduction of grade 12 in 1983.
Ontario had a Grade 13, subsequently, known as Ontario Academic Credit (OAC) year, but this was abolished in 2003 by the provincial government to cut costs. 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.
Students may continue to attend high school until the ages of 19 to 21 (the cut-off age for high school varies between provinces). Those 19 and over may attend adult school. Students of high school age who have received long-term suspensions or have been expelled, or are otherwise unable or unwilling to attend conventional schools may be offered alternative learning options to complete their secondary education, such as drop-in programs, night school, or distance/online classes.
An increasing number of international students are attending pre-university courses at Canadian high schools.
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. Private career colleges are overseen by legislative acts for each province. For example, in British Columbia training providers will be registered and accredited with the (PCTIA) Private Career Training Institutions Agency regulated under the Private Career Training Institutions Act (SBC 2003)  Each province with their own correlating agency. 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 college 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 college 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 the universities, is the amount of funding they receive and the amount of tuition and other fees they charge.
About 6% of Canadian tenth-graders are in private schools, most of which are in Quebec. A Statistics Canada study from 2015 found that these students tend to have higher test scores and future educational attainment than their public school counterparts. Rather than enjoying superior resources and educational practices, the most likely explanation for this discrepancy is the higher expectation of success that students experience from their parents, teachers, and fellow students.
In the past, private universities in Canada maintained a religious history or foundation. However, since 1999, the Province of New Brunswick passed the Degree Granting Act allowing private universities to operate in the Province. The University of Fredericton is the newest university to receive designation in New Brunswick.
Trinity Western University, in Langley British Columbia, was founded in 1962 as a junior college and received full accreditation in 1985. In 2002, British Columbia's Quest University became 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.
In addition to the issue of access, some Canadians find issue with protections instituted within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as ruled by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001 and consistent with federal and provincial law that (private) faith-based universities in Canada based on the long established principles of freedom of conscience and religion can exempt itself from more recent human rights legislation when they insist in their "community covenant" code signed by staff, faculty and students that they act in accordance with the faith of the school. The covenant may require restraint from those acts considered in contradiction with the tenets of their faith such as homosexual relationships, sex outside marriage or more broadly abstain from consuming alcohol on campus or viewing pornography. However, private-Christian based schools do not preclude homosexual or lesbian students from attending. Some faith-based universities have been known to fire staff and faculty which refused to adhere or whose actions were in opposition with the tenets of the faith, although in some provinces, their dismissals have been successfully challenged in court based on the circumstances.
Each province deals differently with private religious schools. In Ontario the Catholic system continues to be fully publicly funded while other faiths are not. Ontario has several private Islamic, Christian and Jewish schools all 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 independent schools that meet rigorous provincial standards up to 50% of the per-student operating cost of public schools. The province has a number of Sikh, Hindu, Christian, and Islamic 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 religion, Toronto has two English boards; Toronto Catholic District School Board and Toronto District School Board, and two French boards; Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir and Conseil scolaire Viamonde.
History of religious schools
Levels in education
Canada outside Quebec
As the education system in Canada is managed by the varying provincial governments in Canada, the way the educational stages are grouped and named may differ from each region, or even between districts and individual schools. The ages are the age of the students when they end the school year in June.
- Early childhood education
- Junior Kindergarten or Pre-Kindergarten (ages 3–5) (Ontario only)
- Grade Primary or Kindergarten (ages 5–6)
- Elementary education
- Grade 1 (ages 6–7)
- Grade 2 (ages 7–8)
- Grade 3 (ages 8–9)
- Grade 4 (ages 9–10)
- Grade 5 (ages 10–11)
- Grade 6 (ages 11–12)
- Intermediate education
- Grade 7 (ages 12–13)
- Grade 8 (ages 13–14) (in some parts of B.C. high school starts in Grade 8)
- Grade 9 (most provinces and territories group grades 7, 8 and 9 into junior high, while others include grade 5 or 6 through grade 8 into middle school and include grade 9 in high school)
- Secondary education
- Grade 9 (ages 14–15)
- Grade 10 (ages 15–16)
- Grade 11 (ages 16–17)
- Grade 12 (ages 17–18)
- Grade 12+ (ages 18–21) (Ontario only)b
- Tertiary education
- College: In Canada, the term college usually refers to a community college or a technical, applied arts, or applied science school. These are post-secondary institutions granting certificates, diplomas and in some cases, bachelor's degrees.
- University: A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university provides undergraduate (bachelor's degree), graduate (master's degree), and postgraduate (Ph.D) education.
- Pre-school (‹See Tfd›(in French):Garderie); under 5
- Kindergarten (‹See Tfd›(in French):Maternelle); 5-6
- Grade School (‹See Tfd›(in French):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
- High School (‹See Tfd›(in French): école secondaire, literally Secondary school)grade names
- Grade 7/Secondary 1; 12-13
- Grade 8/Secondary 2; 13-14
- Grade 9/Secondary 3; 14-15
- Grade 10/Secondary 4; 15-16
- Grade 11/Secondary 5; 16-17
- Pre-university program, two years (typically Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, or Arts)
- Professional program, three years (e.g. Paralegal, Dental Hygienist, Nursing, etc.)
- University (Usually requires a College degree (DCS ‹See Tfd›(in French):'DEC) or equivalent)
- Three years for most programs (or four years for Engineering, Education, Medicine, and Law) leading to a Bachelor's degree. Non-Quebec students require an extra year to complete the same degree because of the extra year in college.
- 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 grading 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.
|Elementary||Junior High||Senior High|
| British Columbia
(source)[not in citation given]
|Primary||Intermediate (Primary in Richmond)||Secondary|
|Manitoba||Early Years||Middle Years||Senior Years|
| New Brunswick
|Elementary||Middle School||High School|
| Newfoundland and Labrador
|Primary||Elementary||Junior High||Senior High|
|Kindergarten||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||Level I (10)||Level II (11)||Level III (12)|
| Northwest Territories
|Primary||Intermediate||Junior Secondary||Senior Secondary|
| Nova Scotia
|Elementary||Junior High||Senior High|
|Elementary||Intermediate School||Senior High|
|Quebec||Primary School||Secondary School||College|
|Garderie||Maternelle||1||2||3||4||5||6||7 (Sec I)||8 (Sec II)||9 (Sec III)||10 (Sec IV)||11 (Sec V)||first||second||third|
|Elementary Level||Secondary Level|
|Elementary||Junior Secondary||Senior Secondary|
- 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. British Columbia informally subcategorizes the Elementary level into "Primary" (K-3) and "Intermediate" (4-6 or 7).
- In Ontario, the terms used in French schooling consist of Maternelle in regards to Junior Kindergarten, Kindergarten is then referred to as Jardin. This differs from Quebec's Maternelle which is the equivalent of Ontario's Kindergarten.
- In Manitoba, grade 9 to grade 12 was for a short time referred to as Senior 1 to Senior 4.
- In Newfoundland and Labrador, Level IV is used to collect missed grades that prevented a student from getting their graduation.
- 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 college is two or three years, depending on what a student selects, based usually on what their post-secondary plans are. College in Quebec overlaps what other provinces consider the boundary between secondary education (high school) and post-secondary education (college and university). E.g. "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.
- In Saskatchewan Elementary school is most often from K-8 and high school from 9-12. High school graduation requirements only taken grades 10-12 and require 24 credits to graduate.
Provincial and Territorial Departments and Ministries
- Alberta charter schools – (Alberta Diploma Exam)
- Canada Book Day
- Canadian Education Association
- Higher education in Canada
- Higher education in Nova Scotia
- Higher education in Ontario
- Higher education in Quebec
- Law on the state education
- List of Canada-accredited schools abroad
- List of colleges in Canada
- List of universities in Canada
- Ontario rubric
- University and college admissions
- ^a – Intermediate education may also include the grades 6 and 10, depending on the province. Similarly, some regions may have Grade 9 as the first year of high school.
- ^b – In Ontario, a student may take up additional years of secondary education, commonly known as a victory lap. There is no legal age or time constraint against victory lapping, with "victory lappers" composing on average of 4% of all students enrolled in Ontario secondary schools each year. Many see this as a result of the phasing out of the OAC year.
- ^grade names – 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", or "grade 9". It is presumed that the person asking the question knows that they are referring not to "Grade 3" but "Secondary 3". However, this can be confusing for those who are asking the question from outside of Quebec.
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- Burke, Sara Z., and Patrice Milewski, eds. Schooling in Transition: Readings in Canadian History of Education (2012) 24 articles by experts
- Di Mascio, Anthony. The Idea of Popular Schooling in Upper Canada: Print Culture, Public Discourse, and the Demand for Education (McGill-Queen's University Press; 2012) 248 pages; building a common system of schooling in the late-18th and early 19th centuries.
- Gidney, R.D. and W.P.J. Millar. How Schools Worked: Public Education in English Canada, 1900-1940 (2011) 552pp; additional details
- Harris, Robin S. A history of higher education in Canada, 1663-1960 (1976)
- Bruno-Jofré, Rosa. "History of education in Canada: historiographic 'turns' and widening horizons." Paedagogica Historica (2014), Vol. 50 Issue 6, p774-785