The Canadian Education System
Canada is home to some of the world’s top educational institutions.
Canada has a strong and well-funded system of public education, largely managed provincially. Consequently, some aspects of the education system can vary between provinces. However, as education is overseen by the federal government, the standard of education remains consistently high throughout the country.
There is both a public and private education system in Canada. The Canadian government heavily subsidizes education from kindergarten through to the post-secondary level, spending on average almost six percent of its GDP on education. This means Canada spends proportionately more on education than the average among OECD countries.
Generally speaking, the education system is divided into three levels:
Private education and other schooling systems — for example, religious schools — are also available at all three levels.
Did you know?
Canada is one of the most educated countries in the world. In 2015, 90 percent of people in Canada aged 25 to 64 had at least completed high school, and 66 percent had obtained a post-secondary educational credential. These figures are both above the OECD averages of 78 percent and 40 percent, respectively.
Education in Canada is available to children the year they turn five (except in Ontario and Quebec, where children may start a year earlier). Depending on the province, kindergarten may be optional. The table below shows, generally speaking, the ages between which children are required to attend school (note that requirements may differ for homeschooling, which is legal across Canada).
Also known as elementary school, this level runs from Kindergarten or Grade 1 (ages six to seven) and runs through to Grade 8 (ages 13 to 14). The school year normally runs from September through to the following June.
Also known as high school, this level runs from Grade 9 (ages 14 to 15) to Grade 12 (ages 17 to 18). Ontario has a Grade 12+. In Quebec, students attend high school until the age of 16. They may then proceed to CEGEP, a publicly-funded two-year college where students may pursue either a university preparation diploma, or a vocational diploma.
Canada has a wide network of colleges and universities, offering some of the best post-secondary education worldwide.
Learn more about post-secondary education in Canada.
Canada has many internationally recognized university programs located in both urban and rural regions throughout the nation. Degrees awarded from Canadian universities are generally recognized as equivalent to those from other universities worldwide.
The university year usually runs from September to April or May, and is comprised of two semesters, or terms. Many post-secondary institutions offer the option of taking courses in a third semester during the summer months. Generally speaking, students may begin a study program at a university in September (in most cases), or in January.
College programs may run throughout the year, and students may be able to begin a course at various points during the year.
Education in English and French
International students may choose to study in either one of Canada's two official languages. Some institutions may offer instruction in both languages, although students do not need to be fluent in both languages to attend school at any level in Canada.
Across most of Canada, the main language of school-level education is English. However, French-language education is widely available throughout the country. Regardless of the main language of instruction, French or English as a second language is generally taught from an early age.
In Quebec, students are generally required to attend school in French until the end of high school. There are some exceptions under which a child may obtain a certificate of eligibility to receive instruction in English:
- If a child’s mother or father pursued elementary studies in English in Canada;
- If a child, or a child’s sibling/s, has received the major part of their elementary or secondary school instruction in English in Canada (if the child’s mother or father is a Canadian citizen);
- If a child’s mother or father attended school in Québec after August 26, 1977, and could have been declared eligible for instruction in English at that time (if the child’s mother or father is a Canadian citizen).
In addition, children whose parents are in Quebec temporarily (for example, on a work or study permit), may attend school in English.
However, generally speaking, when newcomers to Canada settles in Quebec, their children are required to attend public school in French. However, private schooling options in English may be available.
Learn more about education in specific provinces and territories:
- Education in Alberta
- Education in British Columbia
- Education in Manitoba
- Education in New Brunswick
- Education in Newfoundland And Labrador
- Education in Nova Scotia
- Education in Ontario
- Education in Prince Edward Island
- Education in Quebec
- Education in Saskatchewan
- Education in Northwest Territories
- Education in Nunavut
- Education in Yukon