Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.


What You Need to Know About Canada’s Education System

Updated: May 31st, 2023

According to the World Population Review, Canada is the most educated country in the world. Approximately 56.2% of Canada’s population has post-secondary education like certificates, diplomas, or academic degrees.

The education system in Canada has a prestigious reputation, with multiple highly-rated schools, colleges, and universities across the country. Among Canada’s higher education system currently, McGill University takes the top spot in Canada.

If you want to study in Canada, you may have wondered: how does the education system work in Canada?.

How is the education system in Canada exactly? To find out, here is everything you may need to know about the Canada education system.

Canada’s Education System

Canada's education system

In Canada’s education system, Each of Canada's 13 provinces and territories runs its school system and follows government standards to ensure high-quality public education nationwide.

School is mandatory from about the age of 6 years old to 18 years old. After that, one can either continue their education in a post-secondary institution/tertiary institution, enroll in a trade apprenticeship or enter the job market. Structurally, this Canada’s education system can be represented as follows:

Primary Education

Children in Canada attend elementary or primary school for the first eight grades, except in Quebec, which has only six grades. School starts with kindergarten at ages four or five, and children move on to high school after completing elementary or primary school. Primary Education in Canada can be classified as either public or private.

Public Primary Schools

Many Canadian public schools accept international students into their programs. Publicly-funded primary schools are managed by elected school boards at the local level and are charged to deliver a standard curriculum or program of study.

Nearly all public schools are co-educational, with male and female students in the same class. Only day programs are offered. International students can choose to study in English, French, or both languages in most Canadian regions..

Private Primary Schools

Private schools in Canada charge fees. They deliver the same curriculum as public schools in that territory or province. This ensures that students complete a course of study that is the same as public school system students.

Private and independent schools may deliver different programs to the public school system.


Public elementary or primary school is free for permanent residents of Canada. Sending your child to Canada to study requires you to check if there are fees for international students. Some Canadian schools charge small fees for your child to participate in extracurricular activities like sports, cultural events, and school outings.

To enroll in a primary school in Canada, children need to have:

  • Finished school grades that correspond to Canada’s grade levels
  • Proficiency in using English or French
  • Report cards or school results from their own country

Secondary Education

Secondary Education runs from grades 9 to 12 in most Canadian provinces and territories, except Quebec, which runs from grade 7 to grade 11. After completing high school at age 17 or 18, students can go to university or college.

Canada’s ten provinces and three territories administer education within their regions. Through the Council of Ministers of Education Canada, a national organization, provincial education ministers make significant policy decisions and create educational initiatives.

Public Secondary Education

Most Canadian public high schools accept international students. Elected school boards manage publicly-funded secondary schools. This school board is assigned to deliver a program of study or standard curriculum. As with primary schools, most secondary schools are co-educational.

Private Secondary Education

Canada’s secondary schools also charge fees for attendance and deliver the same curriculum as public secondary schools. Generally speaking, Class sizes in private schools are smaller than in public schools. This ensures that students can benefit from specialized programming.

Many private secondary schools charge fees for international students. The annual fees can range from approximately 8,000 CAD to 14,000 CAD, according to

Check with the school you want your teenager to attend to confirm any foreseeable costs for international students.

The enrollment requirements for secondary education in Canada is much the same as primary education except that the corresponding grade levels that must be accounted for in your school report and language skills must range from grades 9 to 12 in all provinces but Quebec (grades 7 to 11).

Tertiary Education in Canada (Universities and Colleges)

Tertiary education in Canada is usually categorized into two types: Colleges and vocational schools and Universities.

Colleges and vocational schools

In Canada’s higher education system colleges grant certificates, diplomas, or post-graduate diplomas for post-secondary skills development programs or trade jobs. They also offer university transfer programs, apprenticeship programs, or complete academic and applied degrees.

According to Canada’s official government website, there are over 10,000 programs at 127 publicly funded colleges, institutes, and polytechnics in Canada.

Canadian colleges offer a range of full- or part-time study options in technical and professional fields, both in-person or via online distance education. Their offered programs vary from a few months to 4 years. Some college programs have work-integrated or experiential learning so that can earn you a salary while studying.

Canadian vocational schools and colleges have their admission requirements. Learn more about admission requirements for the program you want to pursue by visiting the websites of the colleges you want to attend.


Canada is home to 10 of the top 250 universities in the world, according to QS World Higher Education Rankings.

According to the data from the Canadian government site, Canada’s 100+ public and private universities have more than 15,000 programs offered at all levels and fields of study, such as:

  • Undergraduate and postgraduate programs
  • Professional designations
  • Certificate and diploma courses
  • Short career-focused programs
  • Co-operative education and internships

Like Canadian colleges, universities in Canada have their requirements for admission. Visit the website of the university you would like to attend to learn more about university admission requirements.

Languages of Instruction

The languages of instruction in Canada are English or French. Canada’s language schools offer English or French courses and study programs. Language skills are a crucial requirement for entry into a post-secondary course in Canada. You may have to take an approved English or French language test for academic purposes before you’re allowed to study in Canada.

Special Needs Education in Canada

special needs education in canada

If your child is struggling in school and needs some extra attention, many programs in Canada can assess and assist children and parents. You may pick this issue up as the parent, or by a teacher, but usually, the best way forward is to undergo an assessment.

Individual Education Plan

The Individual Education Plan was created to assist educationally struggling students with a formal laid-out plan of study. This would be conducted in conjunction with the parent’s consultation. The struggling student doesn’t require a formal assessment to qualify. Learn more about what needs to be included in the IEP here.

Please note that IEPs must be completed within 30 school days after the student has been placed in a special placement. You must ensure that you receive a copy of it from the principal.

Educational Counselling Services in Canada

educational counselling services in canada

Schools in Canada consider a holistic approach when dealing with students, from their social well-being to learning capabilities. Providing a support system at school is encouraged and many programs have been implemented to assist students. Learn more about the comprehensive student support systems.

Extracurricular Activities in Canada

Active kids who attend after-school sports and cultural activities can often develop skills and talents that can assist them in the future. Organized by schools and private companies, these activities usually take place after school.

The major Extracurricular activities in Canada include:

  • Cultural Activities
  • Sporting Activities
  • Entertainment Activities
  • Youth Development Activities
  • Family Recreational Activities
  • Community Activities

Studying in Canada

studying in canada

Studying in Canada offers the international student an affordable alternative to other major education immigration destination countries. It also provides more post-graduate work and options for immigration for students intending to settle in the country permanently.

List of the Top Universities in Canada

According to QS Rankings, the top ten universities in Canada are.

Learn more about the top universities in Canada through this helpful guide.

How to Choose the Right Canadian University or College to Study at

Making this decision can often be confusing and stressful. However, you may consider choosing a study program approved for the Post-Graduate Work Permit Program (PGWP).

A few factors can help you choose the right designated learning institution for you. In the video below, learn about factors and how to choose the right Canadian university or college for yourself.

The Cost of Studying in Canada

Aa Canadian qualification can give you priceless opportunities, but how much will it cost you? Your annual tuition fees will vary depending on the province, city, chosen program, and which of the many colleges or universities in Canada you decide to enroll in. According to, these are the average tuition cost in Canada:

  • For international undergraduate students 49,252 CAD per year
  • For international postgraduate students 28,792 CAD per year

Tertiary Education Admission in Canada

There will be different application processes for each university, college, or trade school with various requirements set by the institution so you should start your application as soon as possible.

Check the application dates of your chosen university or college, and it’s recommended that you start applying at least 12 months before the application date to allow enough time for your study permit application process that can run for a few months. Foreign students from certain designated countries can qualify for the Student Direct Stream, where, you can obtain a study permit in as little as 20 calendar days.

Study Permits

A study permit is a document issued by Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for international students who want to study at Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) in Canada. Foreign nationals require a study permit to study or conduct any academic, professional, vocational, or other educational activity in Canada for more than six months.

Learn more about how to apply for a Canadian study permit.

Where Can You Get Your Qualifications Verified if You Studied Outside Canada?

If you studied outside Canada, you must validate your educational qualifications to demonstrate how they compare to corresponding Canadian qualifications.

To do this, you must obtain an Educational Credential Assessment (ECA) which can be acquired from an organization like the World Education Services (WES). Other organizations that you can use include:

Enlist the services of one of our Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants (RCICs) to assist you with the process of choosing the right organization to accredit your qualifications along with the process of applying to immigrate to Canada.


What is the Best Tertiary Education Institution in Canada?

According to QS Higher Education Rankings, Mcgill University is the highest ranked tertiary institution in Canada. However, the best university in Canada is one that caters best to your educational needs.

Many of Canada’s educational institutions provide services that specifically cater to international students. These services cover a broad spectrum of topics of immigration, health, cultural, religious, and entertainment programs.

Do you Need a Study Permit to Go to School in Canada?

Most foreign nationals need a study permit to study in Canada. However, if your course of study is less than six months, a study permit is not needed to study in Canada. Other prospective learners who may not need a study permit to study in Canada include:

  • Family or staff of foreign representatives
  • Members of foreign armed forces
  • Registered Indians in Canada
  • Minor children in Canada
  • Emporary residents and asylum seekers taking French language and culture courses
  • Temporary residents taking settlement and integration courses

Learn more about who needs a study permit here.

Want to learn more about Canada? Subscribe to our newsletter and get an e-book on Canadian immigration filled with mesmerizing sights of Canada!

Please enter a valid phone number. is a private recognized immigration agent and is not affiliated with the Canadian Government.
Privacy policy