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Education in Canada

A Comprehensive Guide About the Education System and International Schools

Two areas that are not lacking in the Great White North are education and international schools, and both public and private schools. If you are an expat parent, learn all about the different options available for your children in this section.

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If you are a parent, it is only natural that you would want the absolute best for your children — and surely this includes the best schools and higher education. This section makes it easier for you to find and enroll your children in the best schools located across the Great White North.

This section covers topics such as the education system in Canada and how it works, daycare and kindergarten options, best primary, secondary, and international schools, and universities – even language schools. We breakdown costs and tuition fees, so you know what to budget for when moving to Canada. We also provide a list of recommended schools from across the country in major cities.

The Education System in Canada

The public education system in the Great White North is robust, well-funded, and managed provincially. Therefore, some elements of the school system in Canada can vary slightly from province to province. That being said, education is overseen by the federal government and they ensure that education standards remain consistently high across the country.

Facts: Education in Canada

  • Canada has both public and private schooling.
  • Canada is one of the most educated countries in the world.
  • The government subsidizes education from kindergarten through post-secondary.
  • It spends 6% of its GDP on education – higher than the average spending among other OECD countries.
  • School in Canada is divided into three levels: primary, secondary, and post-secondary.
  • Canada has some of the world’s top educational institutions.

What is Education Like in Canada?

One of the reasons why Canada excels in its education is because it selects only the most exceptional teachers for its schools. Teachers’ college in Canada is actually extremely competitive requiring a four-year degree and some outside teaching experience.

Canada has also adopted a vocational education system which encourages students to stay engaged, reducing dropout rates, and prepares students for the workplace. Ontario’s Specialist High Skills Major is an excellent example of this.

The fact that provinces are not expected to follow a centralized, rigid, national Ministry of Education is considered an advantage. Instead, they are able to follow their own Minister of Education and allowed to focus on their own communities’ needs. If a province or school community is underperforming, they are given the necessary resources and additional funding to improve their education.

What is School Like in Canada?

In Canada, teachers will typically have at least a university level of education. Special needs teachers also exist should your child require one while attending school. Boys and girls usually go to school together, but there are private all-girls or all-boys schools as well. Catholic public schools also exist which are open to students of any religion. There are even private religious schools.

An Overview of Canadian Schools

  • Up until secondary school, public schools lend textbooks to students, but they will have to buy their own school supplies such as notebooks, pens, pencils, binders, etc.
  • School buses are available. Your child’s school should have specific information on this including pick up times, bus stops, and routes.
  • Attendance is taken every day, and your child is expected to be there.
  • If your child is sick or needs to miss classes for any reason, a parent must inform the school.
  • Students are expected to follow a dress code and, in some schools, (e.g., Catholic and private schools), students are required to wear a school uniform.
  • English as a Second Language (ESL) classes are offered should your child need it.
  • Throughout the school year, you can expect report cards which will inform you of your child’s progress.
  • Field trips are sometimes organized by the schools to places such as museums, workplaces, cultural institutions, and city neighborhoods.
  • School closures and “snow days” are common. The school, radio, or television will inform you if your child’s school is closed due to a snowstorm or extreme cold.
  • Many schools offer extracurricular actives after classes which include school clubs, sports teams, hobby clubs, study groups, etc.
  • Bullying is not tolerated in Canadian schools. If you suspect your child is being bullied, inform your school’s principal or teacher immediately.

Main Differences Between Private and Public Schools

The biggest difference between these schools is, of course, price. While public schools are funded by the government, private schools in Canada can cost anywhere between 4,000 CAD (2,977 USD) to 26,000 CAD (19,349 USD) in tuition fees annually.

As mentioned before, public schools lend textbooks to students. In private schools, pupils may be required to purchase their own. Private schools tend to be more selective when it comes to their pupils. Students usually have to undergo an interview and pass an entrance exam for admission, unlike in the public-school system.

Private schools tend to have smaller classes, offering more individualized attention. They also tend to be more university-oriented than public schools. Private schools often offer an alternative approach to education such as the Montessori or Waldorf model.

Required Documents to Enroll in a Canadian School

Required documents vary from school to school, so it is best to contact the institution directly for a list of forms you will need to enroll your child. Generally, for both private and public-school enrollment or transfers, make sure you have the following documentation:

  • Birth certificate
  • Proof of guardianship or custody
  • Proof of residency
  • Record of immunizations
  • Application form
  • Emergency contact forms
  • Former school records and any standardized test results
  • Previous or current teacher recommendation letter

Canadian School System Ages

Depending on the province, children are typically required to attend school starting as young as four up until the age of 18 (at the latest). Here is an overview of the age ranges they are expected to attend:

Level Ages
Primary (kindergarten to grade eight) 4-14
Secondary (grade nine to twelve) 14-18
Post-secondary (college or university) 17+ (optional)

 

What is the School Year in Canada?

The school year usually begins the first week of September until the end of June (ten months). However, you can find some year-round schools or schools that run from mid-August to the end of May.

School Hours

Classes at Canadian schools are from Monday to Friday with no school on the weekends. In primary school, school is from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with an hour for lunch. Two 15-minute recess breaks are also given. High school is from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with extracurricular actives and sports scheduled for after school hours.

Canada’s Grading System

Grades in Canada depend on the province and territory where your child is attending school. Below is a look at the grading system in three provinces.

British Columbia
Grade Scale
A+ 90-100
A 85-89.99
A- 80-84.99
B+ 76-79.99
B 72-75.99
B- 68-71.99
C+ 64-67.99
C 60-63.99
C- 55-59.99
D 50-54.99
I (temporary) or F (permanent) 0-49.99
Ontario
Grade Scale
A+ 90-100
A 80-89.99
B 70-79.99
C 60-69.99
D 50-59.99
R (remedial for elementary school) or F (fail for high school) 0-49.99
 Manitoba
Grade Grade Point Average (GPA)
A+ (exceptional) 4.5
A (excellent) 4
B+ (very good) 3.5
B (good) 3
C+ (satisfactory) 2.5
C (adequate) 2
D (marginal) 1
F (fail) 0

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Daycare and Kindergarten

Daycare, preschool, and kindergarten are the stepping stones to your child’s education, so you want to make sure you have all the information you need when it comes to your child’s early years of schooling.

In Canada, preschool comes before kindergarten and is for children between the ages of three and five. It is also different from daycare/childcare in the sense that it is more curriculum based.

Is Preschool Mandatory?

Preschool is not mandatory for Canadian children.

Is Kindergarten Mandatory?

Kindergarten is only mandatory in three Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick.

What Age Do You Start Kindergarten?

Alberta

Children can start school in September if they are four years old on or before March 1. They can also start at five years old if they turned five on or before December 31.

British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, and Prince Edward Island

Children start school in September of the year they turn five years old.

Northwest Territories, Ontario, Québec, and Yukon  

Children can start school at four or five, and be enrolled in two years of kindergarten (divided into junior and senior kindergarten).

 Saskatchewan

Children must turn five years old by January 31 of the year they begin kindergarten.

School Cost

While kindergarten is free in Canada, preschools, daycare, and childcare in Canada are private. This means they receive little funding, if any at all, from the government.

Childcare fees in Canada can cost an average of 40 CAD (30 USD) per child (or 57 CAD (42 USD) per day) in provinces like Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta.

Preschools in Canada can cost anywhere between 450 CAD (335 USD) to 1,300 CAD (968 USD) per month. The average Montessori preschool can be 750 CAD (558 USD) to 1,000 CAD (745 USD). Religious preschools can be anywhere between 450 CAD (335 USD) and 1,100 CAD (819 USD).

Educational Approach

In preschool and early childhood education, the goal is to promote children development. It can include the following approaches to education: play-based, academic, Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, cooperative, or religious including Christian, Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic.

Primary and Secondary Schools

Knowing where to begin your search for the best primary and secondary schools in Canada can be tricky. As with everything in this country, the best schools depend on the province and city where you live. Then you also need to factor in each school’s teaching methods, enrollment requirements, costs, and your own child’s specific needs. If this feels overwhelming, contact the school search experts at InterNations GO! We will help you find the best school for your child and your family.

School Cost

Unless your child is attending private school, in which case tuition fees will apply, primary school (elementary school) and secondary school (high schools) are free in Canada, but there could be extra fees for extracurricular activities, school field trips, school supplies, or uniforms (if required).

Enrollment Requirements

School boards (sometimes called school divisions, school districts, or district education councils in some areas) are responsible for student enrollment. To enroll your child in elementary or high school, get in touch with your local school board. Make sure you register your children as soon as possible before the school year begins (September).

If this is your child’s first school enrollment in Canada, the school board will:

  • Assess your child.
  • Decide what level your child should be placed in.
  • Determine whether your child needs language support such as English or French classes.

Settlement workers are also available at some schools to help you out with the enrollment process.

Documents Require to Enroll

Documents required for school admission are:

  • Child vaccination record
  • School transfer certificate
  • Birth certificate
  • Proof of residence

Typical Schedule

In elementary school, a typical class schedule will include classes such as math, science, history, geography, and civics. There is a strong focus on “hands-on” learning and creative projects. As pupils get into the higher grades, the subject matter stays the same but with greater detail and stricter standards of grading. The focus also moves from creative projects to more group activities, written assignments, and test-driven learning.

In high school, subjects become much more specialized and specific. For example, instead of general science, students can opt to take courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. Tests and written assignments are longer and more detailed. Teachers are stricter and become more demanding with their pupils’ work. Students must also pass provincial exams to graduate and gain access to a good university.

For those pupils wishing to pursue a university or college education, there are several scholarships, bursaries, and grants available to them. ScholarshipsCanada is a great online tool for researching and the perfect starting point for students.

International Schools

There are plenty of schools in Canada for international students, offering the International Baccalaureate, the UK national curriculum, a US-style model, or the International Primary Curriculum. Below is a list of some of the best international schools you will find across the country.

Alberta
International School City
Lycée Louis Pasteur The International French School Calgary
Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School Okotoks
 British Columbia
International School City
Island Pacific School Bowen Island
Fraser Valley Elementary School Langley
Meadowridge School Maple Ridge
Brentwood College School Mill Bay
New Brunswick
International School City
Rothesay Netherwood School Rothesay
 Newfoundland and Labrador
International School City
Lakecrest Independent School St. John’s
 Nova Scotia
International School City
Sacred Heart School of Halifax Halifax
Halifax Grammar School Halifax
King’s-Edgehill School Windsor
Ontario
International School City
St Andrew’s College Aurora
Kempenfelt Bay School Barrie
Albert College Belleville
Walden International School (French School) Brampton
 Québec
International School City
Alexander von Humboldt Schule (German school) Baie d’Urfé
Saint Bernard College (French school) Drummondville
St. Joseph College of Hull (French school) Gatineau
Antoine-Manseau Academy (French school) Joliette
School Les Mélèzes (French school) Joliette
 Saskatchewan
International School City
LCBI High School Outlook
Luther College High School Regina
Athol Murray College of Notre Dame (Catholic school) Wilcox

International School Tuition Fees

The price of international schools in Canada can vary – and can be very expensive. Apart from monthly or annual tuition fees, keep in mind that registration and application fees may also apply as an added cost.

As an example, the average price of an international school per month in Toronto is 1,977 CAD (1,472 USD).

For tuition fees, it is best to consult the website of your chosen school for this information.

International School Requirements and Admission

Admission to international schools in Canada can be very selective. Children may be subject to an assessment or required to take a standardized test. School reports, a personal profile or statement, and references can also be part of the prerequisites. It is advised parents contact the school for full information on this.

Higher Education

Canada is home to some of the best universities in the world. Some of the top universities are:

  • University of Toronto
  • McGill University
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Alberta
  • McMaster University

The Top Universities for International Students

  • University of Toronto
  • University of British Columbia
  • McGill University
  • McMaster University
  • Université de Montréal

How Much Does it Cost to Study in Canada for International Students?

If you are an international student, university tuition fees in Canada can be quite pricey although it is not nearly as expensive as universities in other Anglophone countries such as the US, UK, and Australia. According to the latest Statistics Canada report, tuition fees for international undergraduate students increased by an average of 6.3% for the 2018/2019 academic year.

Average undergraduate tuition fees per year are 27,159 CAD (20,223 USD). Arts and humanities are the cheaper areas of study, while engineering and medicine are among the more expensive (an average of 30,742 CAD (22,891 USD) annually).

For international postgraduate students, tuition fees are an average of 16,497 CAD (12,284 USD), increasing 1% from the previous academic year.

Top Faculties to Study in Canada for International Students

The following areas of study are the most likely to help an international student in Canada land a job afterward. They are also the top subject streams to study in Canada for immigration prospects.

MBA

While still a pricey area of study, getting an MBA in Canada is usually cheaper than in other countries. The average cost for an international student getting an MBA in Canada is between 30,435 CAD (22,662 USD) and 31,856 CAD (23,720 USD).

Computer Science and IT 

Software engineers and IT project managers were among the most in-demand jobs in Canada in 2018. Other potential career opportunities following this area of study include information analysts and consultants; database analysts and administrators; software designers; computer programmers and interactive media developers; web designers and developers; Dev-Op and cybersecurity professionals.

Business and Finance

A degree in economics is very beneficial in Canada. Some of the most sought-after jobs in this field of study are asset management; broking; investment management; banking; insurance; and accounting.

Core Engineering and Engineering Management

The number of engineering jobs in Canada continues to grow each year, with Ontario and Québec being the best markets for engineers due to their strong manufacturing presence.  The top cities for engineers in Canada are Toronto, Montréal, Edmonton, and Calgary. The most in-demand jobs are mechanical, civil, electrical-electronics, chemical, engineering management, industrial and manufacturing.

Physical and Earth Sciences and Renewable Energy

Graduates with a background in Earth Sciences are in high demand in Canada. Renewable energy jobs and careers in this sector are growing and gaining popularity. The best subjects to study in this faculty are physics and astronomy; medical physics and nanotechnology; geoscience and oceanography; oil and petroleum engineering; mining, geology; geo-informatics; and renewable energy.

Agricultural Science and Forestry

The chances of landing a job in agricultural science and forestry are excellent for a student with a degree in this field. Typical jobs could be agricultural scientists; agronomists; and forestry and agricultural consultants.

Biosciences, Medicine, and Healthcare

Only the most dedicated of students should pursue this field of study as it will be arduous work. The most in-demand jobs in Canada for students with this educational background are nursing, biological sciences, biotechnology, pharmacy, nursing, medicine, and dentistry.

Media and Journalism

Digital media, social networking sites, and online marketing have taken over virtually everywhere around the world – including Canada. Therefore, many sectors are looking for creative digital talent. Open positions for a student with this educational background include digital media, advertising, marketing, public relations, journalism, interactive media, UX/UI design, visual effects and animation, and creative and graphic design.

Mathematics, Statistics, Actuarial Science and Analytics

Quantitative and analytics experts are also very much in demand in Canada. Potential jobs for graduates with a degree in this field could be in the following sectors: FMCG, financial services, retail, healthcare, travel, media, education, and manufacturing  – even sports!

Psychology and Human Resources (HR)

Career advisors, counseling and industrial psychologists, and HR professionals are just as in-demand worldwide as they are in Canada.

Architecture

Jobs that could also help immigration prospects are urban and landscape architects.

Hospitality

If you are an accommodation or restaurant manager, this could also better your chances with immigration.

Education

Finally, teachers and education counselors are excellent career opportunities for international students and graduates in Canada.

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Language Schools

Canada has two official languages: English and French. If you are an expat in Canada, it would be a good idea to enroll in a language school and learn one or both as being able to speak and communicate with locals, colleagues, and new friends will only make your expat experience easier and more enjoyable.

There are various language schools and intuitions across the country you can enroll in to fit your schedule, budget, and learning style. No matter where in the Great White North you choose to settle, you are sure to find a school close by.

Top Rated Language Schools in Canada

School City
OHC English Vancouver, British Columbia
English Encounters Inc. Burlington, Ontario
Access International English Language Centre Toronto, Ontario
ILAC – International Language Academy of Canada Vancouver, British Columbia
OHC English Calgary, Alberta

Language School Fees

The costs of language schools in Canada vary greatly depending on different factors, such as the type and length of classes you wish to take. A two-week English course, for example, can cost a student anywhere between 604 CAD to 873 CAD (650 USD). It is best to contact your school of choice for information on fees and course cost.

The Government of Canada also offers free language classes for permanent residents.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: August 12, 2020
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