There are a wide range of options available for parents who wish their pre-school age children to attend some form of education before they legally have to start school.
The types of options available to you will depend on the province in which you choose to live. For example, schools in some provinces offer full-day learning for Junior Kindergarten and Senior Kindergarten aged children (four and five year olds), although as this is still a relatively new concept you will need to research whether this will be available where you choose to live.
All provinces offer things like licensed childcare centres and licensed home-based childcare services, although there will typically be at least a small fee for using these services.
There are government funded places for four and five year olds in provinces which provide Junior and Senior Kindergarten services, although the funding generally only covers half-days. These are also often extremely popular and you will need to register your interest early for your child to stand a chance of being awarded a place at such a facility.
Primary and secondary education
The age at which your child is legally obliged to start and leave school in Canada will be determined by the province or territory in which you live. In some provinces your child will need to have started school by the age of five, in others it will be six, while they will be allowed to leave at either 16 or 18 years old, again dependent on where you live.
Typically, Children tend to stay in primary education (called ‘elementary’ school in Canada) until Year 8 – by which time they are either 13 or 14 years old. That said, some provinces offer ‘junior’ or ‘middle’ schools between Years 6 to 8 which act as a bridge between elementary and secondary school education.
Each individual province is responsible for setting its own education programme, so a national curriculum framework is not really in existence. However, key elements and subjects are shared within each province’s system, so those of you who decide to move from one province to another while their child is at school can rest assured that many similarities will remain.
In secondary schools, also known as ‘high’ schools in Canada, students work towards achieving a high school diploma, which is typically studied for over a four-year period between Years 9 and 12. Again the qualification is awarded slightly differently in each province (it also has its own name, for example the British Columbia Certificate of Graduation in BC) but generally credits are awarded for the successful completion of a course, and by the time a student leaves school the aim is that they will have garnered enough credits to be awarded a diploma. Once again, should you move province while your child is at secondary school, the credits they’ve already earned will be carried over. Therefore their chances of earning a diploma will not be harmed.
In all provinces, aside from Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario (where the legal minimum school leaving age is 18), children can leave school once they turn 16, without having obtained a diploma. It is often possible for those who choose to leave school early to take a General Educational Development exam which is a set of tests designed to determine whether the test-taker has a high-school graduate’s level of knowledge.
The majority of children in Canada attend government funded public schools; although independent and private (fee-paying) schools are also available throughout the country (around 6 per cent of Canadian children are in private education). Likewise, faith-based schools can be commonly found nationwide, although it is dependent on the province in which you live as to whether such institutions are publicly funded or private.
Home schooling is also allowed in Canada – and is becoming an increasingly popular choice for parents, especially those living in small, rural areas – but requirements and regulations vary from province to province,
It’s worth noting that since Canada is a bilingual country, English-language and French-language schools are available across the country (even in areas where one language is more commonly spoken than the other).
Canadian universities are extremely highly rated globally, with four institutions appearing in the top 100 of the 2014-15 world university rankings compiled by the Times Higher Education Supplement. The University of Toronto is the country’s highest ranked university, regarded as the 20th best institution in the world. Generally your child will need to have graduated high school and achieved a high school diploma to stand a chance of attending a Canadian university.
Aside from universities, there are also a range of community colleges which offer one- to three-year diploma programmes in both academic and technical subjects, along with formal training centres which help to prepare students for a skilled trade. Generally, the admission criteria in these types of higher education institutions is not as high as that for universities and your child won’t necessarily have needed to have graduated secondary/high school to continue their education.