Canada's Education System

Education is one of the top priorities for the government of Canada. The country operates a world-class education system which is decentralized and the decision-making is primarily delegated to the individual provinces.
Quality of Canada’s Educational Institutions
Canada continues to be among the top performers in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), with strong performance in Math, Science and Reading skills. The quality of Canadian secondary education is recognized as one of the country's greatest strengths. According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports, Canada’s high school students are among the best educated in the world, ranking 8th in science, 6th in reading, and 12th in mathematics. Moreover, if Canadian provinces entered PISA tests as separate countries, three of them — Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec — would be in the top five places for science in the world, alongside Singapore and Japan. Thus, Canada offers world-class secondary education.
Canada similarly performs well in higher education as well. Measured on the basis of percentage of population with higher education, Canada ranks as the most educated country in the world. 56.27% of adults in Canada have taken some form of higher education.
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Canada also has some of the world's highest-ranked universities. Ten of the top 250 universities in the world are located in Canada. All of these educational institutions welcome international students.

​​For parents looking for quality international education for their children, Canada is a very good choice, with an education system that has a proven track record of excellence.

Access to Foreigners

In 2019, there were a total of 642,480 international students in Canada. In 2020, that number decreased by 17 percent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the number is anticipated to rise in the coming years. More than 70% of the foreign students are studying at the post-secondary level. Others are enrolled in primary and secondary schools. Foreign students can enroll in Canada’s public schools. To be enrolled in a secondary school, a foreign student must have completed a course of study that is equivalent to the entrance requirements for Canadians. A foreign student should also have basic knowledge of English and French. If the student’s competence in English or French is not sufficient, the student may be offered additional language courses for extra fees.

International students usually pay fees to attend public elementary (or primary) and secondary schools. However, there are exceptions; some school boards do not charge fees to foreign students. Contact our team, and we can assist you in finding options that suit your budget and educational goals.

Canada is a multicultural country, so newly arrived students usually integrate rapidly to perform at the same level as their Canadian classmates. Canada has a very good record in integrating its foreign students so that they can operate at their optimal level.

Structure of Canada’s Education System
Canada has a decentralised education system. In all of its 13 jurisdictions — 10 provinces and 3 territories — specialized departments are responsible for the organization, delivery, and assessment of the education system of the jurisdiction. The federal government establishes the strategy and main objectives of the country’s overall education policy. But the implementation of the policy is left to the provinces and territories.
There are several differences among the provinces in curriculum, assessment, and accountability policies. These differences have historical roots but are mainly due to the cultural history, language, and economic needs of  various regions.
Both public and private education institutions exist in Canada. If you select a private institution, you should ensure that it is in the Designated Learning institutions (DLI) list; otherwise, you will not be able to obtain a Study Permit.

However, the basic structure of the education system is similar in all jurisdictions. It is divided into four levels.

Pre-elementary Education

Pre-elementary education includes:

  1. Preschool (pre-kindergarten): This is an optional opportunity for children three to four years old. Preschools offer developmental programs that teach children the basics of English, pre-reading, etc. An alternative to preschooling is daycare. Daycare centers are childcare establishments where qualified staff supervises and cares for children while their parents are at work.
  2. Kindergarten: It is offered to children ages four and five before they start elementary school. There are different kindergarten programs in each province or territory. They can be full-day or half-day, mandatory or voluntary. For example, in the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, attendance is mandatory while in most other provinces that is not the case. The curriculum is not stressful and it provides a friendly supportive environment for a child to learn the alphabet, counting, pre-reading, music, art, and how to interact and communicate with others. Kindergarten is offered free of cost in most cases.

Secondary Education

Secondary education is generally for children 12 to 18 years old. In most provinces, education is compulsory to the age of 16. Secondary education consists of two levels:

  • Lower secondary education (called junior high school) covers Grades 7 and 8; in some regions, this level is known as middle school and covers Grade 6 to 8.
  • Upper secondary education (also known as high school) covers Grade 9 to 12 in most provinces, but Grades 7 to 11 in Quebec.

Students are required to take certain compulsory courses in secondary school. They can also take several optional courses in the later years, to help them prepare for the job market or to meet the entrance requirements of the post-secondary institutions they plan to attend.

Tertiary Education

Tertiary (or post-secondary) education is available in both public and private institutions. These institutions offer degrees, diplomas, and certificates — depending on the nature of the learning institution and the length of the study program. There are three main types of post-secondary educational institutions in Canada:

  1. Universities: These are the higher education institutions that are allowed to grant degrees.
  2. Colleges: Various types of diploma or certificate-granting colleges are recognized in Canada: career colleges, community colleges, institutes of technology or science, etc. They provide career-oriented programs in various industries such as agriculture, health care, automotive repair, trades, social services, etc.
  3. Vocational or tech schools: These institutions often do not require a high school diploma before enrollment. Vocational programs teach students the technical skills required to enter directly into the workforce.

To learn more about the differences between universities and colleges in Canada, visit this link.

Educational institutions can grant:

  • Degrees: Degrees can be obtained only from universities. There are three types of degrees:
    • Bachelor’s degree: This is the first level of degree in Canada. It takes three or four years to complete.
    • Master’s degree: It usually takes from one to three extra years of study after obtaining a bachelor’s degree.
    • Doctoral degree (Ph.D.): It is the most advanced degree in Canada. It takes from three to five additional years of study and research following a master’s degree.
  • Diplomas: Instead of degrees, colleges issue diplomas that qualify graduates to do specific jobs in particular fields. Diploma programs usually require two years or more of full-time study.
  • Certificates: It generally requires one year of full-time study at a college or vocational institute to obtain a professional certificate.

Please note that Quebec manages its education system differently from other provinces and territories.

General Admission Policy

To study at post-secondary education institutions in Canada, foreign students must have their current level of education assessed. The Education Credential Assessment (ECA) verifies that a student's foreign degree, diploma or certificate (or any other proof of credentials) is valid and equivalent to a Canadian one. This is one of the main requirements for foreigners who wish to study in Canadian schools. International students must also meet language requirements in English or French. A foreign student must meet the minimum requirement of language proficiency for obtaining a Study Permit. However, an educational institution can establish additional requirements. Note that not all Canadian universities and colleges are allowed to admit foreign students; only those that are indicated in the Designated Learning Institution (DLI) list are acceptable for foreigners. So you should confirm that your selected institution is on the DLI list.

In contrast to higher educational institutions, admission to a Canadian primary or secondary school is quite straightforward, and the list of documents required is short. Additionally, all primary and secondary schools in Canada can enroll international students. Students must have completed equivalent grades to those in Canada. Students also must have an ECA. Language requirements are not as strict as they are for post-secondary education. In our other article, you can find out more about the application process for admission to Canadian schools.

Please note that each educational institution has its own admission requirements, so contact them directly before applying for admission, or contact us and we can provide you with the relevant information and assist in the application process.

Quebec's Education System

The Quebec education system is significantly different from other Canadian provinces and territories. Here are the characteristic features of the Quebec school system:

  1. Pre-elementary education becomes available for children when they are four years old.
  2. Primary and secondary education consists of 11 years (11 grades), instead of 12, as is the case elsewhere in Canada. Successful completion of the general secondary program is recognized by the Diploma of Secondary Studies.
  3. From the third or fourth year of secondary school (Grade 9-10), the student can choose to take vocational training to learn a trade. Upon completion of this training, the student receives a Diploma of Vocational Studies.
  4. Upon completion of secondary school, students go on to study at a General and Vocational College (known as CEGEP). A CEGEP usually offers both (a) pre-university and (b) technical programs. Pre-university programs, which last two years, serve as a preparation for university. Technical programs, which last three years, can lead to employment as a technician or technologist. These two types of programs lead to a Diploma of College Studies.
  5. In addition to degrees, universities in Quebec also offer one-year certificate programs. The combination of three certificates can lead to a bachelor’s degree.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions that our client ask; if your question is not covered here, please contact us.

We Can Help

Canada offers many educational opportunities for foreign students. In a Canadian school, you (or your children) can learn with some of the smartest teenagers in the world. Or you can get top-tier higher education in one of the Canadian universities or colleges. Contact our team, and we will connect you with our student advisors. We can help find a suitable designated learning institution that matches your budget and career aspirations. We can help with the application process and provide guidance that will improve your chances of admission to the institution of your choice. After your admission, our team can facilitate all of the visa formalities so that we can welcome you to Canada.