Education has two main goals: to give individuals the opportunity to develop
themselves, and to provide society with the skills it needs to evolve in its
best interests. Canada's educational system is based on finding a
coordinated approach to the pursuit of these sometimes conflicting goals.
Comprehensive, diversified, and available to everyone, the system reflects
the Canadian belief in the importance of education.
Education in Canada consists of ten provincial and three territorial
systems, including public schools, "separate" (i.e., denominational)
schools, and private schools. Children are required by law to attend school
from the age of 6 or 7 until they are 15 or 16. To make it possible to
fulfill this obligation, all non-private education through secondary (or
"high") school is publicly funded. In Quebec, general and vocational
colleges (CEGEPs, or Collèges d'enseignement général et professionnel)
are also publicly funded and require only a minimal registration fee. Most
other post-secondary schools, however, charge tuition fees.
A Provincial Responsibility
Unlike many other industrialized countries, Canada has no federal
educational system; the Constitution vested the responsibility for education
in the provinces. Each provincial system, while similar to the others,
reflects its particular region, history and culture. The provincial
departments of education - headed by an elected minister - set standards,
draw up curricula, and give grants to educational institutions.
Responsibility for the administration of elementary and secondary schools
is delegated to local elected school boards or commissions. The boards set
budgets, hire and negotiate with teachers, and shape school curricula within
A Broad Federal Role
The Government of Canada plays an indirect but vital role in education.
It provides financial support for post-secondary education, labour market
training, and the teaching of the two official languages - especially
second-language training. In addition, it is responsible for the education
of Aboriginal peoples, armed forces personnel and their dependents, and
inmates of federal correctional facilities.
The Canada Student Loans Program, which assists over 350 000 Canadian
post-secondary students each year, represents the cornerstone of the
Government of Canada's commitment to making post-secondary education
accessible. The program provides loans and pays the interests on the loan
while the student is in school. The Canada Student Loans Program also has a
number of repayment options for borrowers who have difficulty making
payments after leaving school.
In addition, in 1998, the Government of Canada introduced the $2.5
billion Canada Millennium Scholarships initiative to help Canadians gain
access to post-secondary education and reduce student debt. Created in
January 2000, the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, the independent
body created to manage the fund and administer the scholarships, will assist
some 100 000 Canadian students annually through its two scholarship
programs. Bursaries averaging $3 000 are granted to Canadian students on the
basis of financial need and merit; Excellence Awards are granted to
Canadians entering their first year of post-secondary studies who are
committed to the pursuit of academic excellence and innovation, and
demonstrate the capacity for leadership. Individuals can receive up to
$19 200 from the Foundation over a maximum of 32 months of study.
The Canada Education Savings Grant program was launched in 1998 to help
offset the increasing costs of post-secondary education by supplementing
Canadians' educational savings. Its purpose is to make post-secondary
education more accessible to young Canadians. The Government of Canada
provides a grant of an additional 20 percent on top of Registered Education
Savings Plan (RESP) contributions, up to a maximum of $400 annually, until
the child turns 17. This could add up to as much as $7 200 by the time a
child is ready for post-secondary education. More than a million Canadians
have received the CES Grant on their RESP contributions since 1998.
Elementary and Secondary Schools
About five million children now attend public schools in Canada. In some
provinces, children can enter kindergarten at the age of four before
starting the elementary grades at age six. The elementary curriculum
emphasizes the basic subjects of language, math, social studies,
introductory arts and science.
In general, high school programs consist of two streams. The first
prepares students for university, the second for post-secondary education at
a community college or institute of technology, or for the workplace. There
are also special programs for students unable to complete the conventional
courses of study.
In most provinces, individual schools now set, conduct and mark their own
examinations. In some provinces, however, students must pass a graduation
examination in certain key subjects in order to proceed to the
post-secondary level. University entrance thus depends on course selection
and marks in high school; requirements vary from province to province.
For parents seeking alternatives to the public system, there are separate
as well as private schools. Some provinces have legislation that permits the
establishment of separate schools by religious groups. Mostly Roman
Catholic, separate schools, which in 1995 accounted for about one-fourth of
Canada's public school enrolment, offer a complete parochial curriculum from
kindergarten through the secondary level in some provinces.
Private or independent schools have a current enrolment of over a quarter
of a million students, and offer a great variety of curriculum options based
on religion, language or academic status.
Canada's elementary and secondary education systems employ close to 300
000 full-time teachers. Their professional training generally includes at
least four or five years of study (a Bachelor of Education degree normally
requires university graduation plus one year of educational studies).
Teachers are licensed by the provincial departments of education.
For most of Canada's history, post-secondary education was provided
almost exclusively by its universities. These were mainly private
institutions, many with a religious affiliation. During the 1960s, however,
as the demand for greater variety in post-secondary education rose sharply
and enrolment grew, systems of publicly- operated post-secondary
non-university institutions began to develop. Today in Canada, some 200
technical institutes and community colleges complement about 100
universities, attracting a total post-secondary enrolment of approximately
one million students. Student fees, owing to substantial government
subsidies, account for only about 11 percent of the cost of Canadian
Canada's universities are internationally known for the quality of their
teaching and research. Examples include the neurological breakthroughs of
Wilder Penfield at McGill University and the discovery of insulin at the
University of Toronto by Frederick Banting, C.H. Best, J.J.R. Macleod, and
J.B. Collip. Full-time enrolment in Canadian universities stands at over
half a million, with enrolments at individual institutions ranging from less
than a 1 000 to over 35 000. Women are well represented in the universities;
they receive more than half of all degrees conferred.
Canada's School System: A National Asset
The Canadian belief in education is general and deep. And this belief is
reflected in a considerable financial commitment: Canada ranks among the
world's leaders in per capita spending on public education. Canada maintains
this level of investment because it continues to generate healthy returns.
Almost everywhere, the quality of education is directly related to the
quality of life. In Canada, the high educational level (almost half the
population over the age of 15 now has some post- secondary schooling) has
proven to be a powerful contributor to the country's favourable standard of
living, its growth of opportunity, and its reputation as a place where
intellectual accomplishment is fostered and profitably pursued.