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New arrivals will be pleased to know the standard of education in Canada is high, and the assortment of schooling options is impressive. Given the broad range of choices, expat parents will want to get a head start by researching schools as far in advance as possible. A helpful resource in this regard is the Fraser Institute, which issues publicly-available annual report cards to schools based on academic and overall performance.
Parents should note that Canada has no nationalised system of education, and instead grants the responsibility of execution and assessment to the thirteen individual provinces and territories. As a result, the systems in each region will be largely similar, but not identical. The compulsory education age range is also controlled by the individual jurisdictions and may vary, though attendance is compulsory between the ages of six and 16 in most provinces.
Once expats have decided which province or territory they would like to settle in, they'll need to be more pointed in their research and consider whether a public or a private school will best suit their child’s needs. Both have their pros and cons, but cost and curriculum are often the factors that carry the most weight in the decision-making process.
Public schools in Canada
Public school curricula in Canada’s individual provinces are usually reflective of the territory’s population, language, history and culture. In predominately French-speaking Quebec, for instance, the primary language of education is French. New Brunswick follows a bilingual language policy, while the other provinces are English.
While some public schools may also offer International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) curricula, this is not the norm.
Expat students with a residence permit can attend Canadian public schools for free, while non-residents are liable to pay the tuition fee appointed by their province/territory.
As in most countries, the standards of public schools vary from one to the next, so it’s best to do extensive research. As students attend Canadian public schools based on catchment zones, parents often pick their residential neighbourhood based on the school they’d like their children to attend.
Private and international schools in Canada
Though the majority of Canadian citizens utilise the free public education system, expats who can afford it may also want to consider private or international schools for their children.
These institutions are primarily funded by student tuition and private donors. Generally, they boast better facilities, a more diverse and comprehensive range of extra-curricular activities, smaller class sizes and a higher standard of education.
Each school can establish its own curriculum, some claiming different language affiliations, teaching styles and religious value systems. This point may be important to those expats who'd prefer that their children continue learning in their home language, home curriculum or according to a distinct educational philosophy.
However, such liberties do come with a hefty price tag. Tuition fees at private and international schools in Canada are costly.
Special-needs education in Canada
As is the case with most education-related matters in Canada, each province is largely responsible for how they handle students whose behavioural, communication, intellectual or physical needs can’t be met by the standard education system. The government abides by the principle that children with special needs should be kept in mainstream schools as far as possible, with individualised assistance, concessions or special arrangements made to support students. For those with more severe disabilities that need intensive support, there are special schools available.
Tutors in Canada
Throughout Canada, tutors are widely used, whether for exam preparation or extra help with a particular subject such as maths or science. Expat families may find even more ways to make use of tutors as they can assist with bridging the gap between a child's previous schooling abroad and current education in Canada, especially where a completely new curriculum is being followed. There are also tutors specialising in language who can help expat children develop their English skills, or maintain fluency in their native language.
►For more information on tuition fees and other expenses, see Cost of Living in Canada
"Calgary has an excellent education system and parents will have a wide variety of options when it comes their kids' schooling. Public schools consist of the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School Board schools, and there are also a range of private schools. No matter which option you choose, your kids will get a good education. Our children go to our local public school and we are quite happy with the school."
Read about South African expat, Catherine in her interview to learn more about her experiences with children in Canada.
Are you an expat living in Canada?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Canada. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
If you’re thinking about taking out private health insurance, our trusted partner Cigna Global is very aware of all the difficulties that expats can face when it comes to healthcare in a new location, so they have created a range of international health insurance plans specifically designed for expats, which you can tailor exactly to the needs and ensure access to quality care for you and your family.
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