A Canadian education: how to choose the right school

In international comparison tests, Canada’s school students rank among the best in the world. Given that this is a bilingual country with no integrated national education system and no federal department of education, however, relocating parents will need to navigate different systems across the 13 jurisdictions. We take a look at considerations for families looking for a school.

Meadowridge School
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Canada’s young people rank among the world’s top-performing school students, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an evaluation by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of the skills and knowledge of half a million 15-year-olds across 65 countries and economies.In the 2015 PISA assessment, Canada came equal second with Hong Kong in reading. Only six countries performed better than Canada in science, and only nine in mathematics. It is surprising, then, to learn that Canada’s education system has no overarching federal department and differs across the regions.According to the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), in the 13 jurisdictions (ten provinces and three territories), the local departments or ministries of education are directly responsible for the organisation, delivery and assessment of education at elementary and secondary level.

Language issues

There are, of course, many similarities in the education systems across Canada, but the significant differences in curriculum and assessment will need to be examined carefully by parents looking for a place in the country’s state-funded education system, to ensure that the school they choose meets the immediate needs of their child.Language issues could be one of the barriers to learning in the first instance if applying to state schools. The country is officially bilingual and so in certain provinces such as Quebec, families will find that, in the vast majority of schools, the language of instruction is French.

International schools

For families on shorter assignments and those with older children, fee-paying international schools can offer ease of transferability and even the curriculum of their home country or an internationally recognised programme of learning such as the International Baccalaureate (IB).One example is The York School, in Toronto, the first school in Canada to implement the IB programme from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12. “The duration of most relocations is three to five years,” says Praveen Muruganandan, the school’s director of admission and advancement. “As such it is imperative to identify schools where the transition for children will be fairly easy. One strength of the IB Programme is that the curriculum transcends borders, allowing for children to ease in and out with minimal disruption. Almost a quarter of our community are internationally mobile families representing 30+ countries worldwide. This makes for a truly culturally diverse community which supports the IB vision of developing global citizens.”Meadowridge, an independent International Baccalaureate World School in British Columbia, offers coeducational schooling for students from junior kindergarten (age four) to Grade 12.“Our students are prepared for a future where knowledge is unstable, with a curriculum based on inquiry,” explains Hugh Burke, headmaster of Meadowridge. “This ensures our students are among the most knowledgeable in the world, and that they learn to embrace the complex questions that will shape their lives.“They learn to think and to communicate; to research and to question; to collaborate; and to be independent. We are committed to experiential learning as a way to integrate the learning of the head, the heart and the hands – so that children can learn to live well, with others and for others.”

A welcoming environment

Canada has long had a reputation for being friendly and welcoming – in fact, it took first place in the Reputation Institute’s 2017 ranking of countries by perceived image and in HSBC’s 2017 Expat Explorer survey the top reason expats cited for moving there was to improve their quality of life.The York School’s Mr Muruganandan explains the importance of the York International Parents (YIP) group in welcoming new families to the school. “YIP is an invaluable resource for orienting families to the country, city and school,” he says. “Adjusting to a new city or country can be daunting and we recognise that parents often need support as well as students. YIP works to provide international parents with valuable social connections and practical information about their new home – whether it be looking to meet new people, wondering how to find a family doctor or knowing where the closest coffee shop is.”
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