Canadian education

Written by Anita Townsend

Governance and Principles

Canadians are in an enviable position as their education system for students in primary grades through to the completion of secondary school is held in high regard throughout the world.  Education for this age group falls under each provincial government’s jurisdiction except for the education of Aboriginal students.  

Provincial departments of Education have the authority to design curriculum, assessment and accountability policies that take into account the unique factors inherent in local geography, history and language where appropriate. Education for Aboriginal students is funded and governed by the Federal Government of Canada rather than the provinces.  Many of the democratic principles outlined in the Canadian Constitution and those principles of equality and inclusiveness expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can be found in the mission and vision statements of all of the Education systems across Canada.

As reported by the Canadian Council of Ministers of Education, Public and Separate schools systems that are publicly funded (publicly funded Separate schools are only in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta) serve about 93 percent of all students in Canada.  The other 7% of students are educated in a number of accredited private or independent schools across Canada or in a ‘home schooling’ environment.  The high enrolment of Canadian children and youth in Public education systems ensures some measure of consistency and ability to uphold a standard of practice and accountability.  Many private schools across the country are regulated and required to hold to specific standards of practice by Provincial Ministries of Education.  Considering the vast geography of the nation and the diversity of the population, the systemic consistency of basic principles, values and many practices are viewed with interest by those beyond our borders.  Canadian schooling provides fundamentally for:

To learn how the Canadian education system compares with that of the United States and Great Britain, read our guide.

Assessing the Quality and Level of Student Learning

In view of the efforts to establish and maintain a respected education system, Canadian students are measured regularly on international assessments.  These assessments compare Canadian students to those in many other countries at specific ages and on outcomes that are specific to academic or content areas for learning.  The following are the assessments most commonly used and highly regarded for their results in K – 12 education:

Canadian students perform at or above the statistical average on all of the above assessments.  There are many specific areas of strength and some concerns indicated in overall results in both the PISA and the PIRLS assessment.  For more information visit: https://cdnsba.org/  and https://www.cmec.ca/docs/pirls/PIRLS_2011_Highlights_EN.pdf   

Some key findings from both these assessments are:

Only the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Ontario and Quebec are assessed in the TIMMS international assessment of Math and Science.  East Asian countries continue to have a significant lead in the world for mathematics and science achievement.  Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong, followed by Chinese Taipei and Japan, were the top-performing countries in both Grades 4 and 8 Math and Science.

All three of the Canadian provinces produced good results but concerns about areas of decreasing results were noted in this summary of the TIMSS assessment:

Private schools in Canada and around the world are part of the random selection of schools that are included in the PISA study.  Significant findings indicate:

The impact factors in the study seen as supporting the ‘private school advantage' were that private schools:

Behind the numbers, these assessments show that Canada is performing well but results from other countries are improving at a more significant rate than Canada’s, which could result in a relative decline in Canada’s overall ranking.  It was noted in the report by the Canadian School Boards Association that Canada is “well-positioned, but we can’t afford to be complacent,” resulting in this organization recommending a review and analysis of similar educational systems from the top-performing countries to ensure we are focusing on those skills that will enable Canadian students to become global leaders of the 21st century.

Trends in Canadian Education

The review of these international results combined with Provincial and School district assessments and National assessments such as the Pan Canadian Assessment Program enable leaders in education across Canada, to determine the emerging trends and pressure points which are likely to create change in education policy and practice in the short and long term.  Other factors such as worldwide economic trends and the paradigm shift created by the impact of technology on our lives are also included in this analysis.

A sense of urgency is building nationally and internationally about how to educate our students today, to be citizens of a world where countries and communities are and will most likely continue to deal with:

Many Jurisdictions in Canada have started to develop and implement educational strategies which focus on competencies for 21st century learning.  National educational organizations such as CMEC – Council of Ministers of Education, Canada and C21 Canada are providing some consistency on what 21st century learning is and setting a vision for policy development and standards for Canadian educators in this area.  There are still significant differences between provinces with regard to the implementation of 21st century learning.

John Seely Brown, a world renowned innovative thinker known for his ideas for merging digital culture and education, notes what the impact this shift to 21st century learning has and will have on education.

Classroom practices will change with a greater focus on 21st century competencies.
Learning will become more:

As the Canadian education system continues to meet the needs of today’s students other trends emerge to impact the system to ensure that Canadian students are knowledgeable participants in a future that is complex.  These trends put pressure on the Canadian system to evolve and remain relevant to support Canadian students to compete in a global economy.  All or most provincial education systems recognize the need to:

Is Canada meeting expected targets for students in expected timelines?  Is Canada up for the challenge of transforming a good education system to a great one and truly leading the world?  The foundation is in place and it will take the vigilance and courage of educational leaders to make the tough decisions in a timely manner.

About the Author

Anita Townsend is an independent Educational Consultant who has been an educator for over 35 years as a teacher, consultant and principal. She also served at the district level of a large Ontario school board as a principal for K -12 Programs. She was the recipient of several awards for her work in promoting the effective use of technology in learning and using global collaboration to enhance understanding of Global issues. She has travelled extensively in her work and continues to facilitate international leadership programs.

M. Fullan,  ( 2012) Great to Excellent –Launchng the Next Stage of Ontraio’s Education Agenda, Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education Publication
C21 Canada, (2012) A 21ST Century Vision of Public Education for  Canada www.c21canada.org 

Horizon Report 2011 K–12 Edition New Media Consortium Website: https://www.nmc.org/pdf/2011-Horizon-Report-K12.pdf

Learn Canada 2020, (2008)is the framework of the Provincial and Territorial Ministers of
Education, through the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada
OECD (2013), Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing.
PIRLS 2011 InternationalReport, available at: https://timssandpirls.bc.edu/pirls2011/index.html#

OECD (2010), PISA 2009 Results: Executive Summary
OECD (2012), Public and Private Schools: How Management and Funding Relate to their Socio-economic Profile, OECD Publishing.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264175006-en

Find Private Schools:

In the spotlight:

Latest Articles

Regina Christian schools  
Find the top private and independent Christian schools in Regina (May 16, 2024)

Concord private schools  
Find the top private and independent schools in Concord (May 16, 2024)

Kimberley private schools  
Find the top private and independent schools in Kimberley (May 16, 2024)

Riverview private schools  
Find the top private and independent schools in Riverview (May 16, 2024)

Balancing academics and social-emotional well-being  
The art of providing holistic learning environments for teens (May 13, 2024)


By logging in or creating an account, you agree to Our Kids' Terms and Conditions. Information presented on this page may be paid advertising provided by the advertisers [schools/camps/programs] and is not warranted or guaranteed by OurKids.net or its associated websites. By using this website, creating or logging into an Our Kids account, you agree to Our Kids' Terms and Conditions. Please also see our Privacy Policy. Our Kids ™ © 2023 All right reserved.