Elementary and Secondary Education

Parents have the primary responsibility for educating their children. To assist parents, 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. The ministries or departments of education in the province or territory where you live are your main sources of government information on all matters related to education

Overview of 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 (see below) 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 (even in areas where one language is more commonly spoken than the other). 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 enrollment 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.

Additional information and enrolling students

For more detailed information on elementary and secondary education, contact the appropriate ministry or department of education in your province or territory using the information in Table 9.1 above. To enrol your child in elementary or secondary school, contact your local school board. You can get contact information for your local school board in the Blue Pages, 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”).

Since school boards usually manage many schools, you may be able to choose the school that your children will go to. Because there are often waiting lists at popular public schools, make sure to enrol them 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.

Adult secondary education

For adults who have not completed elementary or secondary education, there are many adult education programs available. Some teach literacy (how to read and write) and others lead to secondary school (“high school”) diplomas. Many people in Canada take advantage of these programs. To learn more about adult education options, contact the ministry or department of education in your province or territory of residence.

Source: Welcome to Canada: What you should know

www.cic.gc.caCitizenship and Immigration Canada. Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2013

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