In Canada, provincial and territorial governments administer and regulate educational systems. There is no federal department of education and no national system of education. Instead, each province and territory has its own system of education. The educational systems are generally similar across Canada, with some variations between provinces and territories.

In some provinces and territories, there is only one ministry or department of education and in others, there are two: one responsible for elementary and secondary education and another responsible for post-secondary education. 

For example, in Ontario, elementary and secondary Education (schools) are the responsibility of 

Ministry of Education (www.edu.gov.on.ca, Telephone: 416-325-2929). Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/tcu, Telephone: 416-326-1600) is responsible for post-secondary education (universities, colleges, etc.).

Elementary and secondary education

Elementary and secondary education are the two basic levels of schooling for children and youth in Canada. Together, these two levels of education include up to 12 years of study. Education usually begins with kindergarten (which prepares children for the school environment), followed by grades 1 to 12 in most provinces and territories. Students go from primary to secondary school between grades 6 and 8, depending on the province or territory. Students who successfully complete secondary school receive a high school diploma.

The school year usually begins at the end of August and finishes toward the end of June. Children attend school from Monday to Friday during the school year (except during holidays). If you and your family arrive in Canada during the school year, contact your local school board to find a place for your children.

All children and youth in Canada have access to free, taxpayer-funded elementary and secondary education at public schools (although age and residence requirements may apply). Most students in Canada attend public schools, but in most areas there are also private elementary and secondary schools that offer an alternative to the government-run public schools.

Since Canada is a bilingual country, English-language and French-language schools are available throughout the country. You should contact the ministry or department of education of the province or territory in which you will be living to learn more about English-language and French-language education options that may be available to you.

By law, children must attend school starting at the age of 5 or 6 and until they reach an age between 16 and 18, depending on the province or territory. Parents have the right, however, to educate their children themselves at home, rather than in a government-run public school or a private school.

School boards

Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for all aspects of elementary and secondary education, but they give “school boards” (sometimes called “school districts”, “school divisions” or “district education councils”) responsibility for managing schools within a particular local area. School boards are  generally responsible for such things as administration, facilities, personnel and enrolment of students. The people who run a school board (called “trustees”) are elected directly by the public. They hold regular meetings where members of the public can express their views on how schools in their area are managed.


To enroll your child in elementary or secondary school, contact your local school board. You can get contact information for your local school board from your provincial or territorial ministry or department of education, or at www.cicic.ca (click on “Education in Canada,” then “Elementary and Secondary Schools in Canada”).

Make sure to enroll your children well before the beginning of the school year at the end of August. If you are enrolling your children in a Canadian school for the first time, the school or school board will assess them to determine what level they should be placed at and whether they need free additional support (such as English or French language classes). Support is also offered through the presence of settlement workers in many schools.

Post-secondary education

In Canada, there are different types of postsecondary institutions and many forms of post-secondary education. Some institutions are “recognized,” which means that a provincial or territorial government has given them the authority to grant degrees, diplomas, certificates or other qualifications. Governments have processes in place to ensure that these institutions and the programs they offer meet their standards. 

Other institutions do not go through government quality control and are not officially recognized. To find out whether an institution is officially recognized, contact the ministry responsible for post-secondary education in your province or territory of residence using the directory of universities and colleges at www.cicic.ca (click on “Studying in Canada,” then “Directory of Universities, Colleges and Schools in Canada”).

At most post-secondary institutions, there are two main terms of study per year: September to December and January to April. From May to August, many students take a break from studying to work. However, most institutions still offer courses during the summer months for those who wish to continue their studies during this period. In almost all cases, you will have to pay tuition fees to receive post-secondary education in Canada. You can expect to pay up to several thousand dollars for each four-month term. 


In Canada, universities are independent institutions that are partly funded by the government although you must still pay tuition fees. Universities offer programs that lead to different types of degrees in many disciplines and subjects. A bachelor’s degree is the basic degree awarded by Canadian universities and generally takes three to four years to complete.

A master’s degree is a more advanced degree that usually requires one to three additional years of study. 

A doctoral degree is the most advanced degree offered by Canadian universities and generally requires three or more years of study and research following a master’s degree.

In regulated professions, such as medicine, law and education, students must complete an internship or pass a standardized examination in addition to completing their degree. They must complete all of these steps before they can become licensed to work in their profession.


Colleges in Canada offer post-secondary certificate and diploma programs. More colleges in Canada are beginning to offer postgraduate degree programs.

At the undergraduate level, colleges offer different kinds of program

  • A one-year program called a Certificate.
  • The two-year program is called a Diploma.
  • The three-year program is called an Advanced Diploma. 

At the postgraduate level:

  • A one-year program is called a Graduate Certificate.
  • A two-year program is called a Graduate Diploma.

College programs are more career-oriented. They follow a practical approach, and their goal is to prepare graduates for the job market. They are more career-oriented. They focus on helping students develop a particular skill that will increase their employment chances in the same field. 

Language Learning

Canada has two official languages: English and French. English is the most commonly spoken language in the majority of provinces and territories. Outside Quebec, 82 percent of Canadians speak English.

French is the main language spoken in Quebec and in some areas in Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba. In addition, there are French-speaking communities in most other parts of Canada. 

Quebec also has a large minority of English-speaking residents.

All official federal government services, publications and documents are available in both English and French.

Good English or French language skills are very important to help you settle in Canada. You may choose to focus on learning or improving either English or French. This will likely depend on which of the two languages most people speak in the area where you live.

Taxpayer-funded language classes

In Canada, most newcomers who are permanent residents are eligible for free taxpayer-funded language classes.

For children and youth: the primary and secondary school systems provide English and

French classes for children and youth.

For adults: many programs offer language classes to help adult newcomers improve their language skills. These language programs have many advantages:

  • Classes are taught by qualified instructors.
  • They are often available in a classroom with a small group of other adults or
  • through distance education (that is, on the Internet or through printed materials sent to you at home).
  • Classes can be full-time or part-time, during the day, evening or on weekends.
  • They provide language training and information to help you settle in Canada.
  • Some programs may offer funding to cover the cost of child care while you are studying and the cost of transportation to and from your classes. Child care services are sometimes available on site.

There are a number of different types of language classes available:

  • General language classes at many levels.
  • Classes that teach advanced and workplace specific language skills.
  • Classes that teach literacy and language(for people who have difficulty reading and writing in any language).
  • Classes for people with special needs.

To begin language classes funded by the federal government, you must first get an assessment. This assessment is simply to find out your current language skills. To get an assessment, visit a language assessment centre in your city and say that you are interested in taking language classes. You can contact information for an assessment centre near you at www.cic.gc.ca/english/newcomers/map/services.asp.

After your assessment, staff will help you decide what language class is best for you. They will also provide you with a referral to a school so that you can begin classes.

If you would like to find out your current language level before doing a formal language assessment, you can complete the self assessment test at www.clb-osa.ca.

To find information about other language training programs funded by the provinces or territories, visit the website for newcomers of the province or territory in which you live. 

You can also get information on all taxpayer-funded language training programs available to you from a local immigrant-serving organization ((for addresses and contact information, consult www.cic.gc.ca/english/newcomers/map/services.asp).

Language proficiency tests and certificates

There are some cases in which you may need (or want) to provide proof of your level of proficiency in either English or French (for example, when you apply for a job or entry into a university or college). In such cases, you should always check what type of proof is required. However, several language tests are widely recognized. They provide a certificate of language proficiency that can be used in a variety of situations. These tests and certificates are offered by independent organizations, not the Government of Canada. 

Some of the most widely recognized English language tests and certificates:

  • International English Language Testing System (IELTS). For more information and a list of test centres, go to www.ielts.org.
  • Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP), www.celpiptest.ca.
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL: commonly required by universities and colleges) www.ets.org/toefl.

Some of the most widely recognized French language tests and certificates: