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Education In Canada: Which School And Curriculum Suit Your Children Best

As the second-largest country in the world, Canada is no stranger to high-quality education. It is well-established internationally and is a popular destination for many students wishing to study overseas. Out of Canada’s ten provinces, the most popular choices for international students are Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. In fact, in 2020, there were more than half a million international students furthering their education in Canada. As a culturally diverse country, you should have no worries or qualms about your child getting one of the best educations in the world. 

Many international students are attracted to Canada because of its high quality of life, internationally recognised education and welcoming culture. It’s also one of the world’s most developed countries, making studying in Canada an ideal situation for students worldwide. Three of Canada’s universities found themselves spots in the world’s top 50 universities, with 11 more positioned with the world’s top 300 universities. Find out more about Canada’s universities here.

Different schools in Canada are run differently since each university is managed by the government of the province. A school in Quebec would be run slightly differently than a school in Ontario since they have different provincial governments. If you’re moving to Canada and looking to enrol your child in the Canadian education system, it’s important to know a few things.

Education in Canada is compulsory until the age of 16 (or 18 for those living in Ontario and New Brunswick). School usually starts in September and finishes near the end of June. It’s also important to note that since public education is provided, funded and administered by both federal and provincial governments, there may be slight variations in the education system for each province.

So, if you’re an expat looking to enrol your child into the education system in Canada, it’s important to understand the fundamentals so that you can weigh the best options for your child. From public schools to international schools, this guide will explain education in Canada so that you can make informed choices.

Types of schools in Canada

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If you’re unfamiliar with Canada’s education system, here’s a brief breakdown:

  • Early childhood education (Pre-school)
  • Primary school education
  • Secondary school education
  • Post-secondary school education

Besides public schools funded by the government, there are also private schools in Canada, both secular and religious-based institutions.

Government schools

Public schools in Canada are provincially accredited, follow a national curriculum (that can vary depending on the province) and employ only government certified teachers. These schools are publicly funded. Primary and Secondary schools are free for Canadian residents. However, many schools still charge fees for international students, which range from $8,000 to $14,000 each year. Check with schools before application to confirm the costs for international students.

If you’re thinking about applying to a government school, here’s what you need to know:

  • The parents or legal guardians must prove the minor child will have the care and support they need during their stay in Canada. Minor children under the age of 17 must either: come with their parent or legal guardian or have a custodian in Canada
  • You or your child will need a valid study permit to study in a government-owned school. Find out how to apply for a study permit here.
  • You also need an acceptance letter from your designated institution before applying for your study permit. See the designated learning institutions list here.
  • Each post-secondary school has its own set of rules on how to apply, including the level of English or French you need to be accepted.
  • Ensure that you apply 6 months in advance before studying at a primary or secondary school, and 1 year in advance for a post-secondary institution such as university or college.

Curriculum in Canada

National curriculum

While the national curriculum in Canada is generally the same throughout the provinces, each province may have its own variations or differences.

Primary (or elementary) school

Primary education is generally for kids 5 to 12 years old. This usually includes

  • preschool
  • kindergarten
  • grade 1 to 6

The Ontario government has introduced full-day Kindergarten for children aged four to five years old. This early learning programme is a two-year programme aimed to create a cohesive, coordinated system. It has six principles to guide practice in early years settings:

  • Positive experiences that set the foundation for lifelong learning, behaviour, health and well-being
  • Partnerships with families and communities
  • Respect for diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Intentional, planned programme
  • Play and inquiry being lerning approaches that capitalise on natural curiosity
  • Knowledgeable, responsive and reflective educators

Ontario schools provide all children in Kindergarten and all students in Grades 1 to 12 with a safe and healthy environment for learning. Taking French as a second language is also available for students entering primary schools. Find out more about French as a second language here. Find out more about primary school here.

Secondary (or high) school

Secondary education is generally for kids 12 to 18 years old. This group usually includes Grades 7 to 12.

  • Runs from Monday to Friday during the school year (except during holidays)
  • Give high school diplomas to students who successfully complete secondary school (high school)
  • Lessons can be either English or French-language focused, even in areas where the other language is more common

As the parent or guardian, it’s up to you to choose a school system. Depending on where you live, your options may include

  • free public schools
  • paid private schools
  • at-home education
  • English or French schools

Post-secondary school

After primary and secondary school, students can choose to go to post-secondary schooling. Some options include universities, colleges and institutions.

At most post-secondary schools, the school year is divided into 2 main terms and an optional summer term.

  • Term 1 is from August to December
  • Term 2 is January to May
  • Optional summer term: May to August

Find out more about universities here. If you’re interested in Canada’s top universities, head over here.


Does Canada have standardized testing? Canada has standardized tests that can vary by province.

Much like the US, standardized tests in Canada vary by province, but almost every province has some sort of standardized test. Most of these tests are multiple-choice and include questions about reading, writing, and math.

There is no national or standardized exam required for admission. Canada has the second-highest attainment rate in post-secondary education among OECD countries: 61.8 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds in Canada have postsecondary credentials compared to 44.5 percent in the same age group on average across the OECD in 2018.

All in all, many international students are attracted to Canada because of its high quality of life, internationally recognised education and welcoming culture. It’s also one of the world’s most developed countries, making studying in Canada an ideal situation for students worldwide.

Feeling ready to make the big move?

Head over here to begin your journey
Or start ticking off your relocation checklist here

Still unsure?

Learn more about Canada here
Explore more destinations here 

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