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Overview of the Canadian Education System

Canada ranks highly among the nations of the world in educational spending per capita. However, Canada does not have a national policy for or governing body with jurisdiction over education. Canada is a confederation of ten provinces and three territories, and responsibility for education falls within the provincial and territorial level. As such, each province and territory has a Ministry of Education that assumes the responsibility for the elementary, secondary and post-secondary education. Each ministry develops the policies, standards, and curriculum to support student learning within their province or territory.

Similarities in the educational structure exist between the thirteen regions: The school year, for most provinces, generally operates from September through June. Most provinces have a system that runs from kindergarten to grade twelve (although, up until 2002-03, the Province of Ontario also had a grade thirteen or Ontario Academic Credit (OAC)). In addition, while the province of Quebec only has formal schooling from kindergarten to grade eleven, upon the completion of grade eleven those students who are continuing with their education attend Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel or CEGEP. CEGEP, which translates to “College of General and Vocational Education,” is two years of general or three years of technical education between high school and college or university.

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[1] Then students attend two to three years of CEGEP.

Students in most regions attend kindergarten on a voluntary basis, with formal education beginning at grade one when the students are 5-6 years of age. Most provincial laws mandate that students attend school until the age of 15 or 16.

Most provinces support a public education system where funding is provided through provincial taxes; and every school in the province or territory receives the same basic per-student funding based upon enrollment– usually through their individual school districts – with additional funding made available for special programmes. The student funding is primarily used to pay for consumables within the school, and most provinces and territories have separate funding for the maintenance of the school buildings. All provinces and territories directly pay faculty and support staff salaries based upon collective agreements signed between the government and the professional associations or unions. Several provinces also support a separate public education systems for religious or language preferences (and this is based historically upon the nature of systems publicly supported at the time of Confederation). While the structural similarities exist, the individual Ministries develop their curriculum to respect the unique geography, history and culture of their regions.

In 1967, a Council of Ministers of Education was formed. This council provided a forum for the provincial and territorial ministries to discuss matters of common interest. The council represents the voice of the provinces when in discussion with the federal government. While the responsibility of education is a provincial/ territorial matter, federal government policies influence many aspect of the education system such as official languages, post-secondary education funding, human resource development, and, more recently, information and communications technology.

While Canada has no national or federal department of education, the federal government has been able to maintain a role in provincial and territorial education systems. One way this presence in education is felt is through the funding of federal programmes that schools can take advantage of, such as the Department of Industry’s SchoolNet (see – note that SchoolNet ceased to exist on 20 June 2007 and this link is via the Internet archive) or Community Access Program (see ) programmes. Typically these programmes have focused upon items of national interest or importance, for example, providing Internet access to schools or the general public (particularly in rural and remote areas), increasing students’ use of technology in schools, laying the infrastructure for a national high speed network, etc.. These programmes have also usually been undertaken in partnership with the various provincial and territorial Ministries of Education.

For more information on the structure of education system in Canada and the role the federal government plays through these national programmes, see Barbour (2005).


Barbour, M. K. (2005). Educational Technologies in Canada. In M. Orey, T. Amiel, J. McClendon, & M. K. Barbour (Eds.), The world almanac of educational technologies. Athens, GA: University of Georgia. Retrieved from