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Useful Notes / Canadian Education System

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This page is about the Canadian educational system.

The Canadian education system is largely public, with some private schools. Generally speaking, it resembles the American model, though this can vary heavily, depending on the province, Quebec being the most notable exception. One of the most significant differences between the American and Canadian model are French Immersion schools and programs throughout several provinces, which provide education in French.


Most Provinces and all Territories

There are fourteen grades in all, divided into two or three categories depending on the region. Elementary starts with Junior Kindergarten to Senior Kindergarten (although smaller school boards may not offer Junior Kindergarten, and school is not mandatory in most areas until grade 1), then goes on to grades 1 to 6 or 8; middle school, usually in larger cities, is grades 7-9; secondary or high school goes from grades 9 or 10 to 12. The particular breakdown of middle school/junior high grades, or even if there is a middle school/junior high at all varies between school boards sometimes even within the same city. Ontario used to have a grade 13/OAC in secondary school designed to prepare students for post-secondary education, but that got axed in 2003.

Each province sets a curriculum that schools must follow (though there is quite a bit of collaboration between provincial curriculum creators to maintain standards and ensure students who move provinces aren't too lost), with the territories using modified versions of these (for example, the Northwest Territories uses the Alberta curriculum). Standardized testing is common, but not as rigorous as in the US, and not nation-wide. Test results also tend to be incorporated into the grade for that particular class. (For example, teachers will often use the results of the Ontario's grade 9 standardized math test as the equivalent of a mid-term mark. Standardized tests in Ontario being primarily used to determine school funding)


Admission requirements for post-secondary institutions is generally determined by the institution in question. They usually determine this through Grade 12 marks, so unless the program they apply to asks for one, students don't write essays to get in.


Quebec has 12 mandatory grades instead of the 14 seen in Anglophone Canada. An optional preschool year also known as pre-kindergarten (French: prématernelle) is available in select inner-city areas at age 4. Next comes a year of kindergarten (maternelle), available province-wide. Elementary (école primaire) goes from grades 1 to 6, with secondary school (école secondaire) goes from grades 7 to 11 (also called "Secondary 1–5", abbreviated "Sec" in both languages). High school graduation is at the end of grade 11/Sec 5, unlike grade 12 as in Anglophone North America.


The province operates French and English schools. All students are required to attend French-medium schools through Sec 5 unless at least one parent is a Canadian citizen AND:

  • the citizen parent has been educated primarily in Anglophone Canada, or in English-language schools in Quebec, OR
  • the student has already done most of his or her education in Anglophone Canada, or a sibling has done so.
Note that if a parent who had the right to receive an English education did not do so, his or her children no longer have the right to English education in Quebec (unless the child can claim the right from the other parent).

"College" education is different in Quebec from the rest of Canada, or the States. In the rest of Canada, a "college" is a vocational/technical college that offers specialized career training (roughly equivalent to a U.S. "community college"). In Quebec, the college level covers both vocational education and pre-university programs, similar to a Sixth Form in the UK. A school occupying this level is most often referred to as CEGEP (originally a French acronym meaning "general and vocational college", but now a word in itself). Officially, only public institutions (tuition-free to Quebec residents) are known as CEGEPs, although many private institutions also operate, and the term "CEGEP" is informally used for both. Students can choose one of two general programs:

  • Pre-university: Runs two years. Graduates receive a "Diploma of College Studies" (Diplôme d'études collégiales, or DEC) from the province. Quebec high school graduates cannot enter university without a DEC (unless they are 21 and meet other educational requirements).
  • Technical: A three-year program in a skilled trade. Graduates also receive a DEC; they will usually enter the workforce, although they will have the necessary credentials to enter a university should they choose to do so at another time.
In addition, CEGEPs offer one-year adult continuing education programs. Graduates receive an "Attestation of College Studies" (Attestation d'études collégiales, or AEC) from the college's continuing education department.

Unlike elementary and secondary school students, college students can attend either a French- or English-language institution without restriction.

The use of CEGEP for the first year of university studies means that the typical bachelor's degree program at a Quebec university runs for only three years, instead of four as in Anglophone Canada or the States.


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