Understand Canada
Fresh Life Canada

How the School System Works in Canada?

One of the top reasons given on why people immigrate to Canada is the chance for a world-class education.  This can be education for yourself, or for your children… or both!  We have laid out how the school system in Canada works, and what potential costs there are for you and your family.

First Class Education

According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test that measures the reading, mathematics, and science abilities of 15-year-olds worldwide, Canada ranks as one of the top 10 countries in education. 

The performance of the Canadian teens sampled surpasses the performance of pupils from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, France, and others.

Canada also hosts some of the best universities in the world, with four ranking in the top 100.  The University of Toronto ranks second highest according to the University Ranking by Academic Performance (URAP), beating out Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge, John Hopkins and Yale.

Affordable Education

Public primary and secondary school is taxpayer funded in Canada for citizens, permanent residents, and the children of many temporary residents.  Private schools are also available at a cost, though more than 90% of high school students attend public schools.

Canada’s post-secondary institutions are recognized worldwide for the quality of education, but they are also some of the most affordable.  Universities set their own tuition fees, however many are government subsidized to help keep costs low.  Scholarships and bursaries are often available for applicants with lower means.

Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and some dependents of temporary residents pay domestic tuition fees.  Though the cost will vary depending on the university and chosen program, the average undergraduate program costs $6,500 per year for these students.

International undergraduate students in Canada can expect to pay higher fees, with an estimated average of $28,000 Canadian dollars per year.  This is still lower than the average for the United Kingdom or US.

Canadian Levels Explained

Each province, and sometimes schoolboard, divides their education levels differently.  Check with your child’s schoolboard before enrolling to determine where they will start.

Early childhood education generally starts at 4 or 5 years of age. 

Elementary education starts the school year a child turns 6 years old in Canada and lasts for 6 years.

After elementary school, the general rule in Canada is intermediate education – sometimes referred to as junior high – for 3 years, usually from age 11 to age 14.

Finally, grades 10 to 12 – senior high – complete the secondary education.

A child following the usual education path will get a high school diploma at the age of 17 or 18.  This is the K-12 education system used in Canada, but also in the United States, Australia and other countries.

Tertiary education in Canada includes university and vocational institutions. Vocational institutions offer training for skilled trades and technical careers, while universities offer a Bachelor’s Degree.  In Canada, an undergraduate degree usually takes 4 years to complete and requires 120 credits.

Quebec has a slightly different education system, with 6 years of primary education, 5 years of secondary education and 2 years of pre-university college education or 3 years of technical college education (CEGEP).

In Quebec, a student will enter university one year later than a student from the rest of Canada but will graduate at the same time since most bachelor’s degrees in Quebec take 3 years to complete (90 credits).