Education in Canada is for the most part provided publicly, funded and overseen by federal, provincial, and local governments. Education is within provincial jurisdiction and the curriculum is overseen by the province.
Education in Canada is generally divided into primary education, followed by secondary education and post-secondary. Within the provinces under the ministry of education, there are district school boards administering the educational programs.
Education is compulsory up to the age of 16 in every province in Canada, except for Manitoba, Ontario, and New Brunswick, where the compulsory age is 18, or as soon as a high school diploma has been achieved. In some provinces early leaving exemptions can be granted under certain circumstances at 14.
Canada generally has 190 (180 in Quebec) school days in the year, officially starting from September (after Labour Day) to the end of June (usually the last Friday of the month, except in Quebec when it is just before June 24 – the provincial holiday). In British Columbia secondary schools, there are 172 school days during a school year. (2013-2014).
In Alberta, high school students get an additional four weeks off to accommodate for exam break; two weeks in January, and two in June. Classes typically end on the 15th of those two months.
Elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education in Canada is a provincial responsibility and there are many variations between the provinces. The federal government's responsibilities in education are limited to the Royal Military College of Canada, and funding the education of indigenous peoples. 1950 Canadian School Train. Pupils attend classes at Nemegos near Chapleau, Ontario.
About one out of ten Canadians does not have a high school diploma – one in seven has a university degree – the adult population that is without a high school diploma is a combination of both immigrant and Canadian-born. In many places, publicly funded high school courses are offered to the adult population. The ratio of high school graduates versus non diploma-holders is changing rapidly, partly due to changes in the labour market that require people to have a high school diploma and, in many cases, a university degree. Nonetheless, more than 51% of Canadians have a college degree, the highest rate in the world by far. The majority of schools, at 67%, are co-educational.
Length of study
Most education programs in Canada begin in kindergarten (age five) or grade one (age six) and go to grade twelve (age 17 or 18), except in Quebec, where students finish a year earlier. After completion of a secondary school diploma, students may go on to post-secondary studies.
Normally, for each type of publicly funded school (such as Public English or Public French), the province is divided into districts (or divisions). For each district, board members (trustees) are elected only by its supporters within the district (voters receive a ballot for just one of the boards in their area). Normally, all publicly funded schools are under the authority of their local district school board. These school boards would follow a common curriculum set up by the province the board resides in. Only Alberta allows public charter schools, which are independent of any district board. Instead, they each have their own board, which reports directly to the province.
Primary education and secondary education combined are sometimes referred to as K-12 (Kindergarten through Grade 12). Secondary schooling, known as high school, collegiate institute, école secondaire or secondary school, consists of different grades depending on the province in which one resides. Furthermore, grade structure may vary within a province or even within a school division and may or may not include middle school or junior high school.
Kindergarten (or its equivalent) is available for children in all provinces in the year they turn five (except Ontario and Quebec, where it begins a year earlier), but the names of these programs, provincial funding, and the number of hours provided varies widely. For example, the Department of Education in Nova Scotia refers to Kindergarten as Grade Primary.
Ontario offers two years of optional kindergarten (junior kindergarten for four-year-olds and senior kindergarten for five-year-olds). At French schools in Ontario, these programs are called Maternelle and Jardin. In 2010, Ontario increased both years to full-day programs, while BC's single year of kindergarten became full-day in 2012. Quebec offers heavily subsidized preschool programs and introduced an early kindergarten program for children from low-income families in 2013. Students in the Prairie provinces are not required by statute to attend kindergarten. As a result, kindergarten often is not available in smaller towns.
Post-secondary education in Canada is also the responsibility of the individual provinces and territories. Those 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. Compared to other countries in the past, Canada has had the highest tertiary school enrollment as a percentage of their graduating population.
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. Private career colleges are overseen by legislative acts for each province.
For example, in British Columbia training providers will be registered and accredited with the (PCTIA) Private Career Training Institutions Agency regulated under the Private Career Training Institutions Act (SBC 2003) Each province with their own correlating agency. Unlike the United States, there is no "accreditation body" that oversees the universities in Canada. Universities in Canada have degree-granting authority via an Act or Ministerial Consent from the Ministry of Education of the particular province.
About 5.6% of students are in private schools. A minority of these are elite private schools, which are attended by only a small fraction of students, but do have a great deal of prestige and prominence. A far larger portion of private schools are religious based institutions. Private schools are also used to study outside the country. For example, Canadian College Italy has an Ontario curriculum, but the school is located in Italy.
Private schools have historically been less common on the Canadian Prairies and were often forbidden under municipal and provincial statutes enacted to provide equality of education to students regardless of family income. This is especially true in Alberta, where successive Social Credit (or populist conservative) governments denounced the concept of private education as the main cause of denial of opportunity to the children of the working poor.
In the past, private universities in Canada maintained a religious history or foundation. However, since 1999, the Province of New Brunswick passed the Degree Granting Act allowing private universities to operate in the Province. The University of Fredericton is the newest university to receive designation in New Brunswick.
Trinity Western University, in Langley British Columbia, was founded in 1962 as a junior college and received full accreditation in 1985. In 2002, British Columbia's Quest University became the first privately funded liberal arts university without a denominational affiliation (although it is not the first private liberal arts university). Many provinces, including Ontario and Alberta, have passed legislation allowing private degree-granting institutions (not necessarily universities) to operate there.
Each province deals differently with private religious schools. In Ontario the Catholic system continues to be fully publicly funded while other faiths are not. Ontario has several private Jewish, Islamic, and Christian schools all funded through tuition fees. Since the Catholic schools system is entrenched in the constitution, the Supreme Court has ruled that this system is constitutional. However, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that Ontario's system is discriminatory, suggesting that Ontario either fund no faith-based schools, or all of them.
In 2002 the government of Mike Harris introduced a controversial program to partially fund all private schools, but this was criticized for undermining the public education system and the program was eliminated after the Liberals won the 2003 provincial election. In other provinces privately operated religious schools are funded. In British Columbia the government pays independent schools that meet rigorous provincial standards up to 50% of the per-student operating cost of public schools. The province has a number of Sikh, Hindu, Christian, and Islamic schools. Alberta also has a network of charter schools, which are fully funded schools offering distinct approaches to education within the public school system.
Alberta charter schools are not private and the province does not grant charters to religious schools. These schools have to follow the provincial curriculum and meet all standards, but are given considerable freedom in other areas. In all other provinces private religious schools receive some funding, but not as much as the public system.