Overview of Education System
In Ontario, Canada, education is governed principally by the Education Act and its regulations, which set out the duties and responsibilities of the Minister and Ministry of Education, school boards, school board supervisory officers, principals, teachers, early childhood educators, parents, and students.1 By law, the Ministry of Education has overall responsibility for developing curriculum; allocating funds to school boards; setting policies and guidelines for school trustees, directors of education, principals, and other school board officials; and setting requirements for student diplomas and certificates. Policy and program requirements are set out in Ontario Schools: Kindergarten to Grade 12: Policy and Program Requirements, 2011.2
Primary and secondary public education is free to all individuals who qualify as resident students. With the passage of the Education Amendment Act (Learning to 18) in 2006, students now are required to continue their education until they graduate or turn 18.3
Approximately 94 percent of Ontario’s students are enrolled in publicly funded schools. Ontario has 72 district school boards: 31 English public school boards, 29 English Catholic, 4 French public, and 8 French Catholic. In 2013–2014, the publicly funded education system had more than 2 million students enrolled in approximately 4,000 primary and 900 secondary schools. Approximately two-thirds of Ontario’s students were enrolled in public schools and one-third in Catholic schools. Approximately 5 percent of Ontario’s students were enrolled in French language schools. In addition, there are five provincial schools and four demonstration schools for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, are deaf-blind, are blind or have low vision, or have severe learning disabilities. There are approximately 950 ministry-recognized private schools that do not receive government funding. In Ontario, there are approximately 73,000 full time equivalent primary school teachers and 41,000 full time equivalent secondary school teachers.4
Ontario has a full day kindergarten program that is child-centered and developmentally appropriate for 4- and 5-year-olds. The purpose of the program is to establish a strong foundation for learning in the early years in a safe and caring play-based environment that promotes the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of all children.
While kindergarten is not mandatory, more than 90 percent of eligible children are enrolled.
Children are required to begin school when they turn 6 years old. In Ontario, there are four education levels: primary (Grades 1 to 3), junior (Grades 4 to 6), intermediate (Grades 7 to 10), and senior (Grades 11 and 12). Grades 1 to 8 comprise the elementary level, and teachers at this level typically teach all subjects. At this level, students receive 25 hours per week of instructional time, and there is no mandated percentage of instructional time for subjects such as mathematics and science. Decisions regarding the amount of time spent on any particular area of the elementary curriculum (with the exception of French as a second language in English language schools only and daily physical activity) are made at the local level to allow educators choice in integrating subject content. Grades 9 to 12 comprise the secondary level. At this level, students earn credits through successful completion of courses, which are a minimum of 110 hours in length.
In Grades 9 and 10 science and mathematics, there are three course types: applied, academic, and locally developed compulsory. Students focus their pathways in Grades 11 and 12 according to their intended destination—university, college, or the workplace. Students working toward a secondary school diploma must complete three compulsory credits in mathematics, with at least one credit taken in Grades 11 or 12, and two compulsory credits in science, with an elective credit in science (taken in Grades 11 or 12), technological education, computer studies, or cooperative education.
Languages of Instruction
Ontario is multilingual and multicultural and has approximately 13.4 million inhabitants, representing 39 percent of Canada’s population. The languages of instruction in the province are English and French, with Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing Francophones the right to a French language education.5
According to 2011 Census data, approximately 68 percent of Ontarians have English as their mother tongue, 4 percent have French, and 26 percent have a first language other than English or French. First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples comprise slightly more than 2 percent of the population.6
In the English language system, more than 22 percent of Ontario’s elementary school students have a first language other than English. The government provides policy direction, programs, and funding support to school boards for students to acquire proficiency in the official languages of instruction, and Ontario has policies to support students in English as a second language and in English literacy development.7
In the French language system, 44.7 percent of Ontario’s elementary school students have a first language other than French. The government provides policy direction, programs, and funding support to school boards for students to acquire proficiency in the official languages of instruction.a,8