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The Education System in Canada

Figure A-4. Levels of education in Canada, by age and year of schooling: 2013

Levels of education in Canada, by age and year of schooling: 2013

NOTE: Education levels are defined according to the 1997 International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED97). Ages represent the typical age at the beginning of the school year.
Numbers in bold print indicate ages of universal enrollment (i.e., an enrollment rate of over 90 percent). Numbers highlighted represent the age at which compulsory enrollment begins through the age at which compulsory enrollment ends. No meaning should be inferred from width of subdivisions. Duration of first university degree program is generally 4 years in Canada.
SOURCE: Miller, D.C. and Warren L.K. (2011). Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-8 Countries: 2011 (NCES 2012-007). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

NOTE: There is no federal educational system across Canada; rather, education falls under the jurisdiction of Canada's 10 provinces and three territories. While these 13 education systems share similarities, there are differences across the education systems in Canada because responsibilities and oversight for education take place at the regional or local level. However, the purpose of this document is to present a brief, general summary of education in Canada. The sources cited at the end of this section provide more specific details.


  • Common name: Preschool, pre-elementary, kindergarten
  • Ages of attendance: As early as age 4 to age 5
  • Number of years: 1 to 2
  • Start of universal enrollment: Does not begin in preprimary; see below
  • Compulsory: Generally no, but yes in some provinces

NOTE: All provinces and territories have some form of pre-elementary (kindergarten) education, operated by the local education authorities and offering one year of pre-grade 1, noncompulsory education for 5-year-olds. In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, kindergarten is compulsory for 5-year-olds. In some jurisdictions, an additional 1 year of pre-elementary programs is offered.


  • Common name: Elementary school
  • Ages of attendance: 6 to 11
  • Number of years: 6
  • Start of universal enrollment: Age 6
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes, begins at age 6

NOTE: Elementary school can begin at age 6 or 7 in Canada, depending on the jurisdiction. Based on the ISCED97, the firs 6 years of formal schooling are considered primary school, although in some jurisdictions primary school can last for up to 8 years.

Lower secondary:

  • Common name: Middle school, intermediate school, junior high school, secondary school
  • Ages of attendance: 12 to 14
  • Number of years: 2 to 3
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes
  • Entrance/exit criteria: No

NOTE: Based on the ISCED97, the 2 to 3 years of schooling following primary school are classified as lower secondary school in Canada. Students may attend 2- or 3-year junior high schools or middle schools, or they may go directly to a secondary school that includes both lower and upper secondary school.

Upper secondary:

  • Common name: High school, senior high school, secondary school
  • Ages of attendance: 15 to 17 (graduation generally at age 18)
  • Number of years: 3 to 4
  • Universal enrollment: Through age 17
  • Compulsory: Until age 16 in most jurisdictions, although it extends until age 18 or graduation from secondary school in others.
  • Entrance/exit criteria: Some provinces have what could be considered an exit exam (e.g., Ontario administers a grade 10 literacy test and Quebec requires that students take core subject exams, which are a significant part of the graduation requirements).

NOTE: Based on the ISCED97, the last 3 years of schooling prior to receiving a high school diploma are classified as upper secondary school in Canada. Senior high schools may be up to 4 years in length, and many students attend secondary schools that include both lower and upper secondary school programs.

Postsecondary and tertiary:

  • Common name: College, community college, regional college, university college, university
  • Ages of attendance: Varies
  • Number of years: Varies according to degree
  • Universal enrollment: No
  • Entrance criteria: Graduation from a secondary school academic or university preparatory program—or, in the case of Quebec, completion of a 2-year pre-university program— is typically the minimum requirement to be eligible for admission to undergraduate degree programs. However, most institutions and/or departments set their own admissions standards, often with more rigorous requirements.

Common degree programs:

  • Pre-university programs: 2-year programs that students in Quebec are generally required to complete before they are eligible to attend university.
  • Certificate: 1-year programs offered at universities, colleges, regional colleges, community colleges, institutes, and colleges of applied arts and technology (the name depends on the jurisdiction). These programs are vocational and are oriented toward preparing students for the labor force in semi-professional and technical fields
  • Diploma: 2- to 3-year programs offered at community colleges, regional colleges, etc. These programs are vocational and are oriented toward preparing students for the labor force in semiprofessional and technical fields
  • Bachelor's degree: 3- to 4-year academic programs at a university college or university. (University bachelor's degree programs are usually 4 years, while university college programs can be 3 or 4 years.)
  • Master's degree: Graduate programs at a university requiring 1 to 2 years beyond the bachelor's degree. This degree is designed to prepare students for professional careers.
  • Doctorate: Academic graduate programs at a university requiring 3 to 5 years after the bachelor's degree. Doctoral programs prepare students for careers in research.


Canadian Education Statistics Council. (2007). Report of the Pan-Canadian Education Indicators Program, appendix 1. Ontario, Canada: Statistics Canada. Retrieved March 22, 2013, from

Marlow-Ferguson, R. (Ed.) (2002). World Education Encyclopedia: A Survey of Educational Systems Worldwide, Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (1996). Education at a Glance 1996: OECD Indicators. Paris: Author.

Robitaille, D.F. (1997). National Contexts for Mathematics and Science Education: An Encyclopedia of the Education Systems Participating in TIMSS. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.