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Education and Schools

Canada - Education and Schools


Education is compulsory up until the age of 16 everywhere in Canada apart from Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario, where it is obligatory until the age of 18. In Canada outside Quebec there are four stages of education, beginning with early childhood education consisting of Junior Kindergarten (ages 3-5) and Kindergarten (ages 5-6). This is followed by Elementary Education (ages 6-14) which covers grades 1 to 8. Grades 9-12 constitute the High School years, and cover ages 14-18. Higher education takes place in colleges, universities and graduate schools. In Quebec children begin in Pre-school and then join Kindergarten at the age of 5. Grade School covers grades 1-6 and ages 6-12, and children then go on to High School until the age of 17, finishing in grade 11. After this they can go on to college and undertake either a two-year pre-university program or a three-year professional program. University usually requires a college degree, and undergraduate degrees generally take three or four years, after which they can be followed by a graduate or postgraduate degree.

Schools are province-run and funded in Canada, with there being no federal government-controlled state school system. Therefore policies and curriculum can vary between provinces. More than 90% of children attend government-funded public schools, although there are also private and international schools available. Separate schools (state-funded Roman Catholic and, more rarely, Protestant faith schools) exist in seven of the thirteen provinces and territories, including Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. There are also schools affiliated with different religions but these are not tax-funded and count as private. Around 5.6% of children attend private schools, the majority of which are faith schools. The rest are elite schools with a certain amount of prestige. International schools can also be found, and often offer the option of boarding. These schools allow children from other countries to follow the curriculum from their home countries.

The quality of education is considered to be high in Canada’s public schools, and most English-speaking parents from abroad will enroll their children in state schools. In Quebec, foreign parents are more likely to opt for international schools if their child is already in their teens and knows little French. These schools are mostly based in Montreal but often have stiff competition for places and long waiting lists, particularly in the lower grades. Most schools in Quebec offer bilingual education but the primary language is French.

Public school education is general in nature; children study English (and French in Quebec), mathematics, science, social studies, art, citizenship and physical education among other subjects. At high school there is a wider range of studies which may include a foreign language or a specialisation such as business or economics. In most lower secondary schools education is divided into two streams, academic and general, to match different educational goals. On completion of lower secondary education, students can choose either to leave school or continue onto upper secondary school. Nowadays most schools offer academic and vocational education at this level, so more students stay on than in the past, when mainly students considering a university education continued their high school education to 18.

There are several national assessments which periodically test children’s numeracy and literacy, such as the Pan-Canadian Assessment Programme (PCAP) which assesses the reading, math and science skills of students aged 13-16. A high school diploma is awarded at the end of the 12th grade, dependent on the credits gained. This qualification is necessary for students applying for further education. The quality of education seems to differ dependent on location - while 86% of students graduated high school in Ontario (based on 2011 data), only 35% did so in Nunuvut, where the drop-out rate is 50%. Nova Scotia also boasted an impressive graduation rate of 87% while Alberta came in at 69%. One culprit to blame for Alberta’s mediocre figure is the province’s booming oil industry, which entices many students away to work before they graduate high school.

Admission to schools is usually dependent on catchment area and it is difficult to get a child accepted into a public school in another area. It is a good idea to enroll children quite a while before the beginning of term due to competition for places. In order to register at a school you must provide a document which proves the child’s age such as a birth certificate or passport, proof of address (i.e. bank statement, apartment lease or electricity bill), proof of guardianship if the child is under 18 and not living with the parent, an immunisation record, and often a school report and samples of past school work.

Children of parents who are permitted to study or work in Canada are allowed to attend school without a study permit. However, if neither parent is authorised to study or work in the country then the child must obtain a study permit in order to attend school. Children at pre-school and kindergarten levels are not required to obtain a study permit. In primary school permits last one year and are renewable, while at secondary school level the permit lasts the duration of the intended length of study.

Morning classes generally run from around 8.30 am to 12 noon, followed by an hour’s lunch and an afternoon session running from 1.00pm to 3.00pm, with two 15-minute breaks between classes. The school year traditionally starts on the day after the Labour Day bank holiday which falls on the first Monday in September, and children receive two weeks of holiday over Christmas and the New Year. They also have a ten-day break in spring, and days off for public holidays. The school year normally finishes at the end of June, and children are then off until September.


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