Education Indicators in Canada: Handbook for the Pan-Canadian Education Indicators Program
May 2013

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Appendix 1:
Structure of education and training in Canada

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In Canada, education is the responsibility of the 10 provinces and 3 territories. While educational structures and institutions across the country are similar in many ways, they have been developed by each jurisdiction to respond to the particular circumstances, geographical situation, and historical and cultural heritage of the populations they serve. This appendix describes the various structures and organization of education and training in Canada.

Pre-elementary programs

Pre-elementary programs—pre-Grade 1 education offered by public, private, and federal schools, as well as schools for the visually and hearing impaired—are available to young children, typically 4 or 5 years of age, in all jurisdictions.

Most jurisdictions offer one year of public pre-elementary programs, with Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta offering additional years (Figure 1). In most jurisdictions, pre-elementary programs in the year before Grade 1 are offered to children who turn 5 years of age by a certain date in the school year as specified in jurisdictional legislation. Attendance in these programs is optional in most jurisdictions, although it is mandatory in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The intensity of these programs varies; some jurisdictions offer full-day programs, some offer half-day programs, and some offer both.

In Quebec, one additional year of publicly funded pre-elementary programming is available to some 4-year-olds who have disabilities or who are from low-income families. In Ontario, the provision of an additional year of pre-elementary for 4-year-olds is dependent on the choice of the local school board, and funding is provided by the Ministry of Education. In Ontario, all school boards offer this program for their students. In Manitoba, one additional year of pre-elementary programming is offered at the discretion of each school division, and two school divisions currently provide this program, which is not funded by the Department of Education. In Saskatchewan, two additional years of pre-elementary programming are funded in schools in communities where a significant portion of pre-school children are not ready to participate fully in the learning opportunities offered to kindergarten and Grade 1 students. These programs are not mandatory and are not universal. Alberta also offers two additional fully funded years of pre-elementary programming, targeted to students with disabilities or to those who are considered talented or gifted.

In addition to publicly provided programs, in all jurisdictions, some private schools also offer one or more year(s) of pre-elementary programming. Private day-care programs or early childhood education programs, however, are not offered as part of the formal education systems and are not included in the data on pre-elementary programs.

Elementary and secondary education

Public education is provided free to all Canadian citizens and permanent residents until the end of secondary school, which normally occurs at age 18. The ages for compulsory schooling vary from one jurisdiction to another. Generally, schooling is required from age 6 or 7 as of a certain date as specified in jurisdictional legislation (age 5 in New Brunswick and British Columbia) to age 16. In New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and Nunavut, schooling is compulsory to the age of 18 or until high school graduation.

In most jurisdictions, elementary-secondary education consists of 12 years of study, Grades 1 through 12 (Figure 1). The only exception is Quebec, where the elementary-secondary system has 6 years of elementary school and 5 years of secondary school. Following a major change in policy, 2002/2003 was the last year for Grade 13 in Ontario. One immediate consequence of this change was the “double cohort” of students who entered the postsecondary system in 2003/2004 (comprising the last graduating class from the old system and the first graduating class from the new system).

The elementary-secondary continuum reflects different grade combinations in different jurisdictions, thus the point of transition between elementary and secondary school varies.

The organization of grades also varies by jurisdiction and can further vary at the local level within a jurisdiction. Elementary schools cover the first four to eight years of compulsory schooling. Afterwards, children may proceed to a middle school or to a junior high or intermediate school; these usually cover Grade 6 or 7 to Grade 8 or 9, or they may go directly to a secondary education program. In many northern and rural communities, one school building may house all levels, from kindergarten to Grade 11 or 12.

Depending on the jurisdiction, a variety of programs —vocational (job-training) as well as academic—is offered at the secondary level. Some jurisdictions offer dual credit courses that simultaneously give students both high school and postsecondary credits.

Secondary school diplomas are granted to students who pass the compulsory and optional courses of their programs.

Public funding at the pre-elementary and elementary-secondary levels is provided either directly via the provincial or territorial government or through a mix of provincial/territorial transfers and local taxes collected by the local government or by school boards that have the power to impose taxes. Private school funding comes primarily from fees and endowments, except in Quebec, which also provides funds for private schools (which have discretion over admission criteria). Manitoba and Alberta provide some provincial funding to private schools that meet specified provincial requirements. The federal government pays the tuition fees for Aboriginal children and for children of its employees who live on Federal Crown lands (e.g., National Defence, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and Transport Canada).

Postsecondary education

Once secondary school has been successfully completed, students may apply to college or university programs. Traditionally, enrolment in trade-vocational programs, such as apprenticeship or other programs geared towards preparation for employment in an occupation or trade, did not require graduation from secondary school. However, requirements have been evolving so that more and more programs, especially in trades dealing with advanced technology or having implications for public safety, now require high school graduation.

Apprenticeship training involves a contract between an apprentice and an employer, registered with the jurisdiction, in which the employer provides the apprentice with training and experience for a trade. Programs vary in length from two to five years, depending on the trade. Registered apprenticeship combines on-the-job experience with four- to eight-week periods of in-class training each year of the program. In most jurisdictions, the in-class portion is usually taken at a postsecondary institution during the apprenticeship training. However, in Quebec, the in-class training is taken prior to beginning an apprenticeship program.

There are over 200 registered trades in Canada, each with specific standards and training requirements outlined by each jurisdiction. In some of these trades, apprenticeship training and certification is compulsory to enter into and to practice the trade. In others, apprenticeship certification is not necessary, although an individual may voluntarily obtain it to indicate a certain level of competence in the trade. Compulsory and voluntary trades vary by jurisdiction; however, there are similarities across jurisdictions in that compulsory trades commonly include those with advanced technology or that involve public safety. As of 2009, the provinces and territories had agreed on interprovincial standards for 50 of the registered trades. In these 50 trades, candidates who achieve an agreed-upon standard qualify for a Red Seal endorsement and are allowed to work anywhere in Canada without further training or examination.

In Quebec, data relating to trade-vocational programs that are administered at the secondary level are reported at that level.

Postsecondary education is available in both government-supported and private institutions, some of which award degrees. A major distinction at an institutional level across all jurisdictions is made between “degree-granting” and “non-degree-granting” institutions. Degree-granting institutions—both public and private—have authority under provincial legislation to grant degrees, and include universities, university colleges, and some community colleges.

Universities typically offer four-year undergraduate programs leading to bachelor’s degrees. Advanced degrees include master’s degrees, generally requiring two years of study after a first degree, and doctoral degrees, which require three to five years of postgraduate study and research as well as a dissertation. Not all universities offer advanced degrees, particularly at the doctoral level. In addition to universities, university colleges are recognized degree-granting institutions that offer three- to four-year bachelor’s programs. Both universities and university colleges also offer programs leading to diplomas and certificates, but the primary emphasis is on degree programs. A number of jurisdictions have also begun to give limited degree-granting authority to community colleges. These institutions, which still offer diploma and certificate programs, may also offer two-year associate degrees or three- to four-year applied degrees in an area of specialty particular to the institution.

A university or other institution may also be affiliated or federated with another university. Federated institutions are degree-granting institutions responsible for their own administration; however, under the federation agreement, the granting of degrees rests with the parent institution. Affiliated institutions have limited or no degree-granting authority, and the granting of degrees rests with the parent institution. A number of colleges have the authority to offer divinity degrees, but these colleges are not fully recognized as degree-granting institutions.

While the majority of degree-granting institutions are public, private institutions exist in a number of provinces. For many years, some private institutions have offered programs in divinity. Furthermore, private institutions that offer degree programs in liberal arts, business, and trades have become more common.

For the most part, the systems of public non-degree-granting institutions in Canada were created by provincial and territorial governments in the 1960s to provide labour market preparation programs as alternatives to the more theoretically oriented programs of universities. Depending on the province or territory, they are called colleges, regional colleges, centres, colleges of applied arts and technology, community colleges, institutes, schools, or, in Quebec, collèges d’enseignement général et professionnel (CEGEPs).

Public non-degree-granting institutions offer vocationally oriented programs in a wide range of semi-professional and technical fields, leading to diplomas and certificates and, in the case of Quebec, to diplomas and attestations. Diplomas are generally granted for successful completion of two- and three-year programs (three year programs in Quebec), while certificate programs usually take up to one year. In Quebec, attestations are awarded for the completion of shorter technical programs, and are generally viewed as the equivalent to certificates awarded in other jurisdictions.

In Quebec, students wishing to go on to university are generally required to successfully complete a two-year pre-university program offered by CEGEPs. In some circumstances, students with a technical-stream CEGEP diploma of college studies may undertake university studies.

Several college systems offer university transfer programs, typically the first two years of a university undergraduate program. These transfer programs are usually offered in conjunction with a university, where the remainder of the program would be completed.

Private non-degree-granting institutions are subject to varying degrees of government regulation and can be classified in terms of the extent of government oversight. “Recognized institutions” are those that have been given authority to grant academic credentials by provincial or territorial governments through charters or legislation that provide mechanisms to ensure institutional and program quality. “Non-recognized, but licensed, institutions” are primarily monitored by governments with a view to consumer protection rather than institutional or program quality. Finally, “non-recognized, non-licensed institutions” are private institutions that are not regulated by government.

Private non-degree-granting institutions may be called “colleges”, “institutes”, “schools”, or “academies” depending on the jurisdiction. Credentials issued include diplomas and certificates, and these programs tend to be much shorter and more intensive than programs in public institutions. In Quebec, private subsidized institutions may also offer two-year pre-university programs and three-year technical programs.

The source of funds at the postsecondary level will depend on the nature of the institution. For universities and public non-degree granting institutions, public funding comes directly from the provincial/territorial government (mostly in the form of operating and capital grants) and from the federal government (mostly for sponsored research). Private funding for those institutions is made up of tuition and other fees, donations (including bequests), investment, and non-government grants and contracts. Private non-degree-granting institutions receive very little or no public funding, except indirectly through support to students; funding for these private institutions comes mostly from tuition fees.
For a more detailed overview of postsecondary systems in Canada, see the Web site of the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (

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