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Canadian education system

An overview of the Canadian education system is helpful if you are moving to Canada with young children. Newcomers often say that they want to move to Canada to provide their children with greater opportunities and access to education. And Canada has one of the best school systems in the world to help your children grow and prosper.

You will have to enroll your children in school as soon as you arrive. In Canada, all children including children with disabilities, are guaranteed an education. Depending on individual needs, children with disabilities will either be:

  • integrated into regular classrooms and receive additional help, or 
  • placed in special classes or schools. 

To help your children prepare to attend school, here’s what you need to know.



An Overview of the Canadian Education System

Each province and territory in Canada develops its school curriculum and policy. And, because of this, school policies and curriculum may be slightly different across the country. However, there are common elements within the Canadian education system such as the levels of education and enrollment requirements.

In Canada, there are three school systems:

  1. Public schools

2. Private schools

3. Homeschooling.

You can choose which school system your child will attend. To learn more about the provincial school systems follow the links in the following section: Provincial and Territorial Ministries of Education.

Public School System:

Public schools are funded by the government, and most children attend public schools. You do not have to pay for your child to attend public school. However, you will have to pay for school supplies and extracurricular activities such as field trips.

District school boards manage how public schools operate and are responsible for activities such as hiring teachers and opening new schools.

Private School System:

If you choose to send your children to a private school you will have to pay tuition and other fees. Private schools usually don’t receive government funding. So, it can be expensive to send your children to a private school. However, private schools may provide a focus that is not available in public schools.  For example, the private school you choose may focus on a specific area such as:

  • a specialized or challenging academic program
  • faith-based learning
  • cultural-based learning, or
  • elite sports academies.


Homeschooling is acceptable in every province in Canada. If you want to teach your children at home, you will have to meet certain legal requirements. Each province has its own requirements, so you have to research laws to ensure you meet the provincial regulations.

Many settlement agencies in Canada can help you to enroll your children in the education system.

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Education Levels in the Canadian Education System

There are different levels within the school system that generally follow this structure:

  • Pre-school (or nursery school)
  • Kindergarten
  • Elementary school (or primary school)
  • High school (or secondary school)


Pre-school programs are like daycare programs for children aged two to four. You are not required to send your children to preschool. Most preschools in Canada are run privately and you will have to pay a cost. But, preschool can help young children develop social and emotional skills that are important to help them adjust to school. Preschool can also help your child to develop language skills if they don’t speak English or French (Canada’s official languages).

Each school has a catchment area, (an area that determines which school your child will attend). Usually, children attend a school that is closest to their home and within the school’s catchment area.


Most children attend kindergarten at age five. Kindergarten is free and you can register your child at the school that is located closest to your home. Children are required to attend kindergarten in most provinces.

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Elementary School: Grade One to Eight

Children attend elementary school in September in the year that they turn five years of age. But, if you arrive after September you must enroll your child as soon as you arrive. For example, if you arrive in Canada in October, you must register your child in October. You can contact the School Board (see links below for provincial ministries of education) when you arrive.

Children in elementary school attend from grades one to eight. Some school districts may have a middle school for grades six to eight. It really depends on the structure of the school district.

While the provincial school curriculum may be different, generally it covers the following subjects:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math
  • Geography
  • History
  • Science
  • French (may be required in some schools)
  • Art
  • Music
  • Physical education

High School: Grade Nine to Twelve

After children complete elementary school, they attend high school from grades nine to twelve. The high school system prepares students to attend either:

  • A vocational school (typically two-year programs that focus on fields such as  plumbing, welding, or esthetics. Vocational schools are also called trade schools)
  • Community College (typically two-year programs that offer a combination of academic and industry-centered opportunities), or

University (typically four-year programs with a focus on academic or professional programs such as medicine, dentistry, law, and engineering).

The government does not fund post-secondary education in Canada. So many parents save for years so that their children can attend post-secondary education. Investing in a Registered Educations Savings Plan is a common way that parents in Canada save for post-secondary education for their children.

Elementary and secondary education

In high school, students can meet with Guidance Counselors who can help your child to: 

  • make career choices
  • achieve better grades, and 
  • handle personal or social issues that they may experience.

How to Register Your Child in the Canadian Education System:

You will need to provide the following information to register your child in the Canadian school system:

  • Your child’s birth certificate or passport to show proof of age
  • Proof of address: copy of a bank statement, telephone or electric bill, or apartment lease with your name and address
  • Proof of guardianship: this is required if your child is under 18 years of age and is not living with a parent
  • Immunization record: proof that your child has been immunized.
  • Proof of student’s immigration status: with one of the following:
  • Birth certificate
  • Passport
  • Permanent Resident Card
  • Confirmation of Permanent Residence (IMM 5292) or Record of Landing (IMM 1000)


When to Register Your Child for School

The school year in Canada starts in September, but students can start school at any time during the year if they arrive after September.

Education Assessment

Newcomer students may have to complete a math and English language skills assessment. The assessment will identify what level your child is at and what support your child may need to achieve success in school.

Your child’s teacher will receive the assessment results. This will help teachers to understand what your child has already learned. If you have any questions about what level your child is placed, you can discuss it with their teacher. It’s helpful if you can provide your child’s previous report card or other school information that may be helpful for the assessment.

English as a Second Language (ESL) in Schools

Newcomer children who don’t have strong language skills that match the grade level will have to access ESL programs to help them learn English. These classes are often regularly scheduled courses, or in place of English taught to those who already speak the language.

Your move to Canada can provide your children with access to one of the best education systems in the world to help them prosper. Many settlement agencies can also help you to understand the Canadian education system and even help you enroll your children in school.

Provincial and Territorial Ministries of Education

For more information, check out the ministry of education for the province where you plan to settle.

Elementary and Secondary Education (schools)
Alberta Education

British Columbia
Elementary and Secondary Education (schools)
Ministry of Education

Elementary and Secondary Education (schools)
Manitoba Education

New Brunswick
Elementary and Secondary Education (schools)
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development

Newfoundland and Labrador
Department of Education

Northwest Territories
Department of Education, Culture and Employment

Nova Scotia
Department of Education

Department of Education

Elementary and Secondary Education (schools)
Ministry of Education

Prince Edward Island
Elementary and Secondary Education (schools)
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development

Éducation, Loisir et Sport Québec

Elementary and Secondary Education (schools)
Ministry of Education

Department of Education

For more information, tools, and free webinars about living in Canada visit our Settling in Canada resource page. We’ll help you to settle in Canada successfully!