Canada is a beautiful country occupying the northernmost region of the North American continent. The country, which consists of 10 distinct provinces and 3 territories, extends all the way from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean. With nearly 10 million square kilometers of land space, Canada is the world’s second-largest country by total area, and its southern border, which it shares with the United States, is the longest continuous land border in the world.
Canada is a highly developed country, with an excellent system of education. Below we will take a closer look at that education system, and describe the various levels or stages that comprise it.
Canada and Education: Introduction
Education in Canada is a very high priority of the government. The country boasts a state-run system of public education, one that is provided, funded and administered by federal, provincial and local governments. Jurisdiction of the public education system, as well its curriculum, is overseen by each province. As a result, one can expect to see slight variations in the educational systems of each province (the type of programs offered, minimum and maximum age requirements, etc.), but the similarities in those systems far outweigh the differences.
Education across Canada is generally divided into four stages: pre-school or early childhood education; primary or elementary education; secondary education and post-secondary or tertiary education, which includes college and university programs and vocational/technical schooling.
Education is compulsory up to the age of 16 in every province in Canada, except for Ontario and New Brunswick, where the compulsory age is 18. Canada generally has 190 total school days in the academic year, typically starting in September (after Labor Day) and concluding near the end of June — usually the last Friday of the month, except in some cases in the Province of Quebec, when the last day of school occurs just before June 24, a holiday in the province.
In terms of educational attainment, about 90 percent of all Canadians possess at least a high school diploma, and one in seven individuals hold a university degree of some type. The ratio of high school graduates versus non-diploma holders is changing rapidly in the country, partly due to changes in the labor market that require people to have a high school diploma and, in many cases, a university degree.
In addition to public schools, there are also thousands of private schools in Canada, both secular and religious-based institutions. When Canada was first formed, all the provinces originally had education systems divided by religion, but most provinces have now abolished these “public-religious” systems. The provinces of Ontario and Alberta, the Northwest Territories, and certain cities in Saskatchewan are exceptions to this, as they still maintain publicly-funded separate district school boards (usually Catholic but occasionally Protestant). In Quebec, the Catholic/Protestant divide was replaced with a French/English one in 1998. Quebec students must now attend a French school up until the end of high school unless one of their parents previously attended an English-language school somewhere else in Canada. Likewise, access to French school in most of the other provinces is limited to children having at least one French-speaking parent, or a parent who is a Canadian citizen having received French-language primary instruction in Canada.
Most Canadian education systems continue up to grade 12 (age seventeen to eighteen). In Quebec, the typical high school term ends after Secondary V/Grade 11 (age sixteen to seventeen); following this, students who wish to pursue university education must attend college.
For each type of publicly-funded school, the province is divided into school districts or divisions. For each district or division, board members, known as “trustees,” are elected by voters within that specific district only. Normally, all publicly-funded schools are under the authority of their local school district board. In turn, the school boards typically follow a curriculum set up by the province in which the school district is located. Only Alberta allows public charter schools — schools which are independent of any district school board. Instead, these schools have their own board of trustees, which reports directly to the province.
Structure of Education in Canada
As mentioned above, Canada’s system of education has four general levels: pre-elementary, elementary, secondary and post-secondary education.
Pre-Elementary Education in Canada
Pre-elementary programs in Canada — educational programs offered to young children (4–5 years) prior to that student beginning elementary school at age six — are offered by public, private, and federal schools within the country, as well as schools for the visually and hearing impaired.
Most jurisdictions offer one year of public pre-elementary education (usually called kindergarten), with Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta offering additional years of free preschool. Parents living in jurisdictions that have offer but one free year of pre-primary education have the option of enrolling their children in a private program until those children reach the eligible age.
In most jurisdictions, kindergarten (the pre-elementary program in the year before Grade One) is offered to children who turn 5 years of age by a certain date in the school year, as specified by jurisdictional or provincial legislation. Attendance in these programs is optional in most jurisdictions, although it is mandatory in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The intensity of these programs varies; some jurisdictions offer full-day programs, some have half-day programs, and some offer both.
In the province of Quebec, one additional year of publicly-funded pre-elementary schooling is available to some 4-year old children who have disabilities or who are from low-income families. In Ontario, the provision of an additional year of pre-elementary for 4-year- olds is dependent on the choice of the local school board, and funding is provided by the Ministry of Education. In Ontario, all school boards offer this program for their students. In Manitoba, one additional year of pre-elementary programming is offered at the discretion of each school division, and two school divisions currently provide this program, which is not funded by the Department of Education. In Saskatchewan, two additional years of pre-elementary programming are funded in schools in communities where a significant portion of pre-school children are not ready to participate fully in the learning opportunities offered to kindergarten and Grade 1 students. These programs are not mandatory and are not universal. Alberta also offers two additional fully funded years of pre-elementary programming, targeted to students with disabilities or to those who are considered talented or gifted.
The curriculum offered in kindergarten and other pre-elementary programs is far from rigid. Students are introduced to the alphabet, pre-reading and mathematics skills, music, art, and play. All kindergarten and early child hood education programs in the country are designed to prepare students for success at the next level of education (primary school) by teaching them how to participate and act appropriately within the group setting and cooperate with both the instructor and the other children in the class.
Primary (Elementary) Education in Canada
Primary education in Canada is compulsory for all children, usually beginning at age 6 or 7 with Grade One. Students receive six years of primary education — Grade 1 through Grade 6 — typically broken down in the following manner:
Grade 1 (ages 6–7)
Grade 2 (ages 7–8)
Grade 3 (ages 8–9)
Grade 4 (ages 9–10)
Grade 5 (ages 10–11)
Grade 6 (ages 11–12)
Students in the primary grades of education typically study under only one instructor for the entire school year and receive that instruction in a single classroom. Special education programs may also have one to four instructional aides present, depending on the type and severity of the students’ disabilities, to assist the teacher throughout the day.
The curriculum at the primary stage of education encompasses a number of subject areas, including mathematics, reading, language arts (usually English language, but French in Quebec), social studies, history, geography, science, music, art and physical education. Naturally, the difficulty of said curriculum increases somewhat with every passing grade, as students learn to master new skills.
Secondary Education in Canada
Secondary education in Canada consists of two distinct levels: intermediate or junior high school; and high school.
Once students have successfully completed the final year of elementary or primary education, or Grade 6, they are promoted to intermediate or junior high school. Intermediate school is a two-year educational stage, broken down into the following two grades:
Grade 7 (ages 12–13)
Grade 8 (ages 13–14)
In Grade 7, at the age of 12 or 13, students are introduced to the process of attending different classrooms throughout the day and having different teachers for every class. These teachers are considered experts in the subject they teach and must obtain a single-subject teaching certificate indicating that expertise.
The basic goal of intermediate education is to prepare students to enter the next phase of secondary education, or high school. They are taught many of the same subjects in which they received instruction in primary school, although the difficulty increases substantially. Other subjects are also added to the curriculum in intermediate school, most notably foreign language instruction — French, Spanish, English (for Quebec students), etc.
High School Education
Once students successfully complete the 8 Grade, they are promoted once again, this time to high school — a four year program that breaks down in the following way:
Grade 9 (ages 14–15)
Grade 10 (ages 15–16)
Grade 11 (ages 16–17)
Grade 12 (ages 17–18)
In the Province of Ontario only, students can take advantage of a fifth year of high school, usually referred to as Grade 12+. By law, students must remain in high school until at least the age of 16, regardless of their grade. This rule applies to every province except for Ontario and New Brunswick, in which students must remain in school until age 18 or until they successfully complete high school and are awarded a diploma. Approximately 90 percent of students in Canada successfully complete high school and are awarded a diploma for their efforts.
Secondary education in Quebec continues to Grade 11 (Secondary V), and is typically followed by college, a two year pre-university (university for Quebecers is three years, except Engineering), or three year vocational program taken after high school.
The curriculum in all of Canada’s high schools is designed to prepare students for a college or university education and/or provide them with the skills to succeed vocationally once they graduate. Depending on the jurisdiction, a variety of programs — vocational (job- training) as well as academic — is offered at the high school level. Some jurisdictions even offer dual credit courses that simultaneously give students both high school and postsecondary credits.
Post-Secondary Education in Canada
College and University
Once students successfully graduate from high school (Secondary V in Quebec) they are free to apply to the college or university of their choice. In Canada, the term college usually refers to a community college or a technical, applied arts, or applied science school. These schools are post-secondary institutions that grant vocational certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees. Many students use college as a way to prepare further for a university education, gaining transferrable credits that can be applied once they transfer. Other students use college to prepare for a trade or vocation, earning a diploma or certificate that would allow them to immediately pursue employment opportunities following the completion of the program.
A university in Canada is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university is a corporation that provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education. The degree structure at Canadian universities is very similar to that of the United States:
·Bachelor’s Degree. A Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science is an undergraduate degree that typically takes three, four or five years to complete (depending on the province and class availability) for full-time students.
·Master’s Degree. A Master of Arts or Master of Science is known as a graduate degree, one that typically takes two years to complete.
·PhD. The Doctorate or PhD degree is a specialized post-graduate degree that can take anywhere from 3–6 years to complete.
University students can also pursue any number of advanced specialized degrees in fields such as Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Veterinary Medicine, and the Law.
All college and university education in Canada is the responsibility of the individual provinces and territories. Provincial governments provide the majority of funding to their public post-secondary institutions, with the remainder of funding coming from tuition fees, the federal government, and research grants. Nearly all post-secondary institutions in Canada have the authority to grant academic credentials (i.e., diplomas or degrees). Generally speaking, universities grant degrees (e.g., bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degrees) while colleges, which typically offer vocationally-oriented programs, grant diplomas and certificates. However, some colleges offer applied arts degrees that lead to or are equivalent to degrees from a university.
Although the college and university system of Canada is very similar to that of the United States, unlike the U.S., Canada has no accreditation body that oversees its universities. Institutions of higher learning in Canada have degree-granting authority via an Act of Ministerial Consent from the Ministry of Education of the individual province.
In Quebec, post-secondary education begins with college, right after graduation from Grade 11 (or Secondary V). Students complete a two or three-year general program leading to university admission, or admittance into a vocational professional program that leads directly into the labor force. In the majority of cases, bachelor’s degree programs in Quebec span three years instead of the usual four; however, in many cases, students attending a university in Quebec that did not graduate from college must complete an additional year of coursework.
Only one federally-funded university in Canada possesses degree-granting power: The Royal Military College of Canada (RMC). The RMC is the military academy of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Vocational Schools and Apprenticeships
In addition to community colleges, which offer some vocational training, students can also learn a vocation or trade at one of the many private vocational and technical schools scattered throughout the country, or via an apprenticeship program.
In prior years, enrollment in a trade or vocational program, including any school or program geared towards preparation for employment in an occupation or trade, did not require a high school diploma. However, the requirements for these vocational programs have been rapidly evolving in recent years, and now an increasing number of programs, particularly in trades dealing with advanced technology and/or public safety, require students to graduate from secondary school prior to enrollment.
Apprenticeships in Canada allow students to learn the skills they need for a given trade by working hands-on in that environment under a qualified supervisor. Apprenticeship training involves a contract between an apprentice and an employer — registered with the province or jurisdiction — in which the employer provides the apprentice with training and experience for a trade. Programs such as these vary in length depending on the type of trade or program, ranging anywhere from two to five years. Registered apprenticeship programs combine real-world experience with classroom education. In most provinces, the classroom portion of the course is conducted during the apprenticeship training, although in Quebec, classroom instruction must be taken prior to beginning an apprenticeship program.
There are over 200 registered trades in Canada, each with specific standards and training requirements outlined by the provinces. In some of these trades, apprenticeship training and certification is compulsory to enter into and to practice the trade.
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