What You Need To Know About Canada’s School System

Got any children of your own? If not, do you plan on having any? Whether you are a parent or planning to be one, the school will be in your list of priorities. It might even be one of your reasons for immigration.

After all, you do want a chance at better opportunities in life. And, you definitely want the same for your kids. This opportunity comes in the form of a school.

As an immigrant, where to send your little ones gives you much to consider. You are in luck! By enrolling your kids in a Canadian school, you would be placing them in the hands of one of the best educational systems in the world.

They would be the recipients of high-quality education in a country that values learning and integration. This article will tell you everything you need to know about the Canadian educational system. The main focus will be on primary and secondary schooling.

How Good Are Canadian Schools?

This must have been a question for you, at some point. And, to provide you with a detailed answer, it would be useful to mention some statistics.

They say that there is a relationship between the quality of education and the funding a government allocates. In other words, an educational system becomes a good one depending on the government’s spending on it. So how much does the government disburse on its schools?

The Canadian government spends 6% of its GDP to pay for a child’s education from kindergarten to grade 12. Compared to other rich countries, Canada spends more on education. Thus, for residents of Canada, elementary and high school is free of charge! For this reason, the primary and secondary school completion rate in Canada is among the highest in the world. You could tell how good the schools of a country are by the number of high school graduates.

And, Canada produces a lot of high school graduates (as well as university graduates). In fact, a 2015 report found that 90% of Canada’s adult population had passed at least high school. This makes Canada one of the most educated countries in the world. And, this is due to the quality of schools in the country.

We cannot talk about how good schools in Canada are without including teachers in the discussion. If you enroll your child in a Canadian school, he or she will be under the guidance of a highly-skilled and qualified teacher.

All teachers in Canada have a bachelor’s degree. These teachers also completed a year of practical teaching courses. Most of them also continue studying to earn master’s degrees. In Canada, teachers are expected and encouraged to continuously improve their knowledge and skills.

Still, need more convincing? Perhaps this might.

For many educational institutions around the world, the annually-administered Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test is the gold standard for the national ranking of students. It tests students on reading, math, and science. The results determine how much knowledge the students acquired. And, for Canadian middle-school students, their ranks in each are among the highest out of 70 counties. Canadian students aged 15 rank 2nd in Math, 7th in Science, and 10th in Reading!

Overall, the excellence of Canadian schools is the product of the government investment leading to great rankings and graduates. So, to answer your question, Canadian schools are very good!

The Canadian School System (An Overview)

As mentioned earlier, schools get a portion of their funding from the federal government of Canada. Other sources of funding also include local and provincial taxes.

Unlike other countries, there is no national body or ministry of education that directly oversees schools in the country. Instead, schools are managed by the provinces. For instance, a public school in Toronto will be under the management of the local government of Ontario.

Because of provincial management, each province has an educational system of its own. There are some differences. One such difference is high school. Secondary school is mostly from grades 9 to 12 in almost all provinces. However, in the case of Quebec, high school begins in grade 7.

Canadian society is bilingual. For this reason, besides English schools, there are French schools. Students are free to attend either. But, in some provinces, a French school will admit a student if at least one of the parents speaks French. Primary and Secondary School take 13 years to complete.

Usually, children under the age of 6 attend pre-school or kindergarten. Elementary begins at the age of 6 in grade 1. A student’s grade level advances every year. Elementary is from grades 1 to 6. Junior high is from grades 7 to 9 (except in Quebec). And, senior high is from grades 10 to 12 (except in Quebec).

Schools in Canada are mostly non-sectarian institutions. In other words, most schools are not associated with any religion or sect. But, some Catholic and Protestant schools are present in some of the provinces.

As for the grading system, it is pretty similar to that of the United States. A range of scores corresponds to a certain rating. For instance, if your child scores somewhere between 90 to 100, this would be equivalent to a rating of “A”. Also, if he or she were to score between 80 to 89, your child would get a “B”.

Schooling in the Provinces

It was mentioned earlier that schools are not managed by the central federal government. Rather, the local governments of the different provinces do this. Most of the responsibilities in overseeing schools fall on the shoulders of the provincial district boards of education. This means that despite numerous similarities in terms of curriculum, there are some differences among the schools of the different provinces.


In Alberta, if your child is younger than 16, you must register them with the local school board of the province. You can expect your child to be in school until he or she is 18.

Here, you can opt for a public school or a charter school. Charter schools are not publicly-funded. So, you need to pay a yearly tuition fee. But, charter schools have a wider variety of courses your child could take.

School for elementary and high school is from September to June, with March or April as spring break. Other holidays include Christmas and New Year’s Day.

British Columbia

Parents need to register children under the age of 16. Here, students are in school until 18. Public schools are free throughout the entire duration of their student lives.

School terms begin in September and finish in June. In between, there are breaks like Christmas and New Year’s Day. Spring break is in March or April.


Children 16 and below need to be registered with the provincial school board. In the province, education until the age of 18 is free of charge. Parents may have to pay tuition for private schools otherwise known as “separate schools” in Canada.

Students begin to go to school in September and will have finished a term by June. The days for vacation are similar to other schools throughout the country.

New Brunswick

You need to register a child under the age of 16 with the local school board. And, education in public schools until the age of 18 is free of charge. In this province, there are English and French schools. A child may be enrolled in a French-speaking school if at least one parent speaks French.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Parents of children aged 16 under need to register their children. Just like the provinces previously mentioned, public education is free. Also, terms commence in September, ending in June.

And, just like the provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec, there are French schools along with English schools.

Schools in Newfoundland and Labrador belong to one of 5 school districts. To register, you must do it in one of these districts. And, it has to be your district.

Nova Scotia

You need to register a child younger than 18 with the local school board. Schooling could begin at 4 to 5 years of age. With the full school subsidy of the government, your child is expected to attend school until the age of 18.

The school term is from September through April with breaks in December, January, March, and April.


In Ontario, all children under the age of 16 must be registered with Ontario’s provincial school board. Public school education until high school is free in the province. This is true whether the school is an English school or a French one.

Parents may enroll their children in a French school in the province. This is an option open to mainly French-speaking parents.

Prince Edward Island

Parents need to register children under the age of 16 in the province. Public school is free. Terms begin in September and end in June. And, except for religious holidays, there are breaks in December, January, March, and April (spring break).

This is the only province that supports language training. In Prince Edward Island, the local school board pays for up to 60 hours of language instruction. This is for young students who may have difficulties with either English or French. So, this is free of charge.


The age of registration is the same in this province. English and French schools are equally available and cater to students from elementary to high school.

Two things set this province apart from the other provinces.

In other provinces, a student could move on to college or university after high school. But, in Quebec, there is another level of education between high school and university. This level offers students vocational training before proceeding to university education. Lessons or courses here are in either English or French.

Also, high school commonly begins in grade 9. However, in Quebec, it starts in grade 7.

Nevertheless, despite these differences, educational standards are still consistent with that of many other schools in other provinces.


Students under the age of 16 need to undergo registration with the school board of the province. Terms run from September to June. And, breaks are in December, January, March, and April.

Schooling in public schools until high school is free of charge.

Northwest Territories

Here, school could begin at 4 to 5 years of age for learners. For learners in the age group (along with others under that age of 16), local registration is very important. Public school is free. And terms last from September to June.

For children under the age of 12, the province has an early childhood development program. Lessons under this program appear both in school and out-of-school settings. For more information on this, visit their official website.


Similar to most provinces, children under 16 need to be registered.

Likewise, 9-month school terms for elementary, junior high, and senior high school start in September. Education until high school is free.

In the province, besides French and English, some schools provide learning resources in Inuit. Teachers can access resources in these languages from the Nunavut main site.


The local school board in the province requires children under the age of 18 to register. Because of the subsidy for education, public schools in French and English are free until high school.

More on Registration and Enrollment

Looking at the details in the previous section, you must have noticed a pattern. For each province, it is necessary to register your child for school. The place to do this is your local school district office.

Before registering, it is important to inquire about the necessary documents. It is generally similar across public and separate schools. But, of course, certain additional documents might be needed.

To enroll your child into any school in Canada, one of the most basic requirements is a report card. A report card from your home country will help determine the grade level of your child in Canada. Other certifications from the previous school could serve as supporting documents. So, you should present these upon registration and enrollment.

Besides showing that your child has completed grade levels similar to that of Canada’s, you should also show proof of language proficiency. After all, lessons will be delivered in either English or French. The document does not have to be in English. French is also acceptable.

An Example of proof of English language proficiency would be a CELPIP result. It may even be an IELTS result. It is up to you. Other documents include your child’s birth certificate, any proof of status, and comprehensive medical history.

Here is something worth considering. As immigrants or new residents, your child will most likely attend a school that is near your place of residence. In other words, if there is a school within your vicinity, that will most likely be your child’s school. For this reason, another document for registration and enrollment is any proof of residence.

It is possible to enroll your child in a school in a different area. But, this may be difficult. So, decide where to live based on the school. You may have to buy or rent a home near the school.

Yes, this may seem like a huge investment now. However, doing so leads to the convenience and accessibility that will definitely pay off in the long run.

Are There Any Fees?

It is true that, for residents, public schools are free. Yet, there are certain instances where you may have to pay a little extra.

Public schools may not require you to pay a tuition fee. But, you may have to do so to private or “separate” schools. In terms of curriculum, there is no difference between public schools and separate schools. Both need to teach the same curriculum.

The advantages of a separate school include smaller class sizes and specialized programs or courses not offered in the general public school curriculum. In separate schools, there are fewer students in a class. Also, private schools provide specialized programs for students with learning disabilities. So, for parents of children with special needs, a public school may not be an option.

Gender-specific schools are separate schools.

International students are not residents. So, they need to pay a tuition fee. For an international student in high school, the costs could range from $8,000 to $14,000 a year. However, high school students on an international exchange program may benefit from a discount or total coverage. For more information on this, go to their official website.

On top of the usual costs, you may need to set aside a small amount of money for extracurricular activities. Fortunately, some schools include this in the tuition fee coverage. 

Nevertheless, regardless of the price tag, Canadian education is of high quality.

What You and Your Child Could Expect

So what is a typical school experience for a Canadian elementary or high school student? Well, ask different children, and you will get different answers.

Enrolled, your child will be in school for the duration of 9 months. School terms for elementary and high school students begin in September. In between, you and your child could schedule a vacation sometime in December, January, March, or April. For additional holidays, you could expect your child’s school to make announcements in advance.

Transportation is not a big problem for most students. Again, you will most likely find students enrolled in schools close to their homes. For those who live more than 2 miles away, the school provides a school bus. So, as long as you do not choose a school too far from your home, your child will be able to easily make it to his or her first period.

The health of children is very important to the Canadian government and schools. So, at the beginning of every school year, children receive immunizations. The vaccines protect students from diseases like tuberculosis, Diptheria, polio, measles, and mumps. This is why you need to bring a medical report for registration (as mentioned earlier). In addition, health education is provided in elementary and secondary schools.

If you have an elementary school child, you could expect him or her to be in school for not more than 7 hours from 8:30 AM. Of course, there are some breaks as well as a 1-hour lunch break. This is the same for high school students.

But, for these students, a day in school lasts only 6 hours. Classes are conducted on weekdays. And, lessons are typically 45 minutes to an hour-long.

After school hours, schools conduct extracurricular activities and sports.

If you want your teenager to learn a third language, you have chosen the right country! In high school, English is the main language. But, due to Canada’s bilingualism, your son or daughter will have the opportunity to learn French.

And, in a country where it is spoken, he or she will have chances to practice! This is an advantage of Canadian high schools. Yet, schools have recently begun to introduce French in the last years of elementary school.

Ready for School?

For many migrating parents, the education of their children is one of the most important considerations. In fact, many parents choose to come to Canada due to the number of high-quality schools in the country.

In this article, you have read what makes the Canadian educational system stand out. We also went over the similarities and differences in schools in different provinces and territories. On top of that, you now have an idea of the possible location of your child’s school. We went over your options apart from public schools. And, you now know what a typical day in school might look like in Canada.

So, worry not, dear parent. For, in choosing Canada, your child’s education and care are guaranteed.

Choose Canada Magazine

Each member of our team at Choose Canada Magazine has been in Canada for over five years, and has helped dozens of people worldwide find their life in Canada.

Related Posts

Sign up today!

There are some tips, guides and job opportunities that we only share with our newsletter community.

Please wait...

Thank you for signing up!