While the thought is promising, trying to understand the differences in the Canadian school system and curriculum may be confusing and sometimes stressful.
Katarzyna Jeziorska, her husband Jakob and their two young sons immigrated to Vancouver from Poland in 2014. Getting their children settled in schools in Canada proved to be more difficult than they expected. Part of the challenge was the steep learning curve when it came to understanding how the Canadian school system works. She was anxious about how to navigate the Canadian school system, “It was stressful because you’re new to a country and there are so many things that need to be taken care of all at once.”
To help you and your family navigate the Canadian school system process, here are some tips and information to consider while reviewing your search.
Choice of School
In Canada, public schools are regulated at the provincial level, so your choice of school depend on the province you live in. Most people in Canada send their children to public schools, although there are many great private school options.
Canada’s two official languages are English and French and both languages are taught in schools. You have three options when it comes to language:
- An English school, where most of the curriculum will be taught in English.
- A French Immersion school, where the curriculum will be in both French and English.
- A French school, where almost all of the instruction will be in French.
Across Canada, all provinces offer French Immersion schools, English schools, and French schools, but they aren’t always open to all students. For example, in British Columbia you can only send your children to a French school if you speak French at home or if you went to a French school yourself, but anyone can go to an English or French Immersion school in that province.
Also, in Quebec there are rules around who can go to an English school. The rules allow students to go to an English school if certain relatives have attended an English school in Canada. For that reason, most immigrant families would not qualify to send their children to English schools in Quebec.
The cost of private schools in Canada differs greatly. While some schools start under $4,000 a year, typically schools vary in price from $6,000-$12,000 annually.
In Canada, there are public schools, which are free to attend, and private schools, which charge tuition. Public schools include both secular public schools and, in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, ‘separate’ Catholic schools that offer students a publicly funded religious education. Private schools also break down into two categories – those that are unaffiliated with religion and parochial schools which teach both religious subjects and secular subjects and sometimes have lower fees than secular private schools.
The cost of private schools in Canada differs greatly. While some schools start under $4,000 a year, typically schools vary in price from $6,000-$12,000 annually. If you want to send your child to a boarding school, it could cost over $40,000 per year. Some schools offer scholarships to help offset the costs.
When you enroll your children in a Canadian school for the first time, the school board will generally assess your child’s grade level from their country of origin, and assess their academic progress before deciding what grade to place them in. They will also determine whether your child needs English or French language support classes.
Registration and School Calendar
In order to register your child in a new school, you should contact your local school board. Some school boards allow parents to have some choice or preference about which school to send their kids to, but most dictate what school your child will attend based on where you live. If you want to get into a particular school, the earlier you enrol your children the better. School registration opens at different times depending on the school board and so you should contact your board to find out.
Jeziorska was lucky that the school that she wanted to send her son to wasn’t a school where there was a lottery held to decide which students get to attend. In Vancouver, the school board allows parents to choose which school to send their kids to and the school is oversubscribed, the uses a lottery to decide who gets to attend.
The school year in Canada starts the day after the first Monday in September and continues until late June. Students usually get one or two weeks off over Christmas in December and one or two weeks off in March for a vacation known as March Break. Schools are closed on all bank holidays and also on professional development days – days during the year when schools are closed so that teachers can attend additional training.
Settling Into a New School Takes Time
Starting a new school can be difficult for children. There are new teachers to get used to, new kids to meet. It can be especially hard to adjust when kids move to a different country. If English isn’t your children’s first language, that can make adjusting even more difficult.
Jeziorska stopped by her son’s class to do a show-and-tell presentation about Polish fairy tales so her son’s classmates could learn more about Polish culture. She immersed her sons in English and set up playdates for them. After four months, Jeziorska says her oldest son started to feel much more comfortable, learned to speak English fluently and made lots of new friends.
While it can take time to get settled into Canada and a new school system, kids are remarkably adaptable and Jeziorska now finds that her children love Canada and speak English better than she does. Pretty soon, your kids will also be coming home from school with stories of new friends and all of the fun things they’ve learned.
For more advice for newcomers to Canada, visit the RBC Newcomers Hub.
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.