Understanding Québec’s education system

If you're recently arrived in Québec with your little ones, you're no doubt wondering which school to send them to. While they’re thinking about their new favourite teacher or what team they’re going to play on, keep reading to learn about Québec’s education system and to help you make an informed decision.
The education system in a nutshell
Education is a top priority in Québec and the foundations of its system reflect this. Mandatory up to the age of 16, school is free for everyone from primary to secondary school (except for some school supplies). Not only that, but tuition fees for higher education are among the lowest in North America. Québec’s school network is made up of public and private schools, with classes offered in French and English (with certain exceptions) from kindergarten to university. No matter which school, college or university your child attends, they’ll be in good hands in Québec. Known for its open, inclusive culture and quality of education, Québec is the perfect place for young people to grow, thrive and integrate into society. Who knows … they may even come home with a Québecois accent!
The education system in Québec compared to other countries
In Québec, there are four distinct levels of study, designed to prepare children and young adults for the future. In general, the age groups for each level are as follows:

Level 1
4-5 years old: preschool (optional). Also known as kindergarten or “maternelle” in Québec. 

Level 2
6-16 years old: elementary and high school (general and professional training). 

Level 3
College: pre-university or technical training.  

Level 4
University: 1st, 2nd and 3rd cycle and postdoctoral studies

Is your little one too young for school bags and homework? From the moment they’re born up to age 5, you can send them to a private, public or family-run daycare with the lowest rates in North America. Learn more.
Does your child have a disability? They can access the pre-school education system as soon as they are four years old. Learn more about the services specially designed for disabled children.
Public schools, education for everyone
Québec is committed to giving children from all walks of life the tools they need to thrive and succeed. Public schools are administered by school boards, and access to them is determined based on different geographical zones. So depending on where you live, the government will allocate the best school for your little one.

If you’re a newcomer to Québec, contact the school board office in your region to enroll your child in a local school.
Here in Québec, many government-run public schools offer alternative teaching programs and approaches—from alternative and international schools to schools focusing on athletics, the arts or science. Do your research to find the best fit for your child! 
Some regular public schools welcome children with special needs to participate in regular or adapted classes. Québec also has a range of specialized schools for children with special needs, whether they have a physical or mental disability, if they’re on the autism spectrum or if they have any other specific challenges.
Private schools, an alternative option
If you’d like to choose where your little ones learn instead of being allocated a school based on where you live, you can send them to one of the many private schools in Greater Montréal. To be accepted into one of these independent institutions, your file will be evaluated and your child may need to take an admissions test.

In the private sector, you can find several schools designed for children from other countries. Just a few examples include the Collège Stanislas and Collège International Marie-de-France (French high schools) and Alexander von Humboldt (a German school).
Many private schools in Québec are supported by significant government subsidies, lowering the tuition fees for parents. On average, it will cost you a few thousand Canadian dollars a year per child.
Post-secondary education, plan ahead for the future
If you have a teenager at home, it’s time to start looking into study permits! Mandatory for Québec newcomers over the age of 16, a study permit will allow your child to continue his or her academic career in Québec.
If your child can’t wait to get out of the classroom and into the workforce, Québec offers a wide range of vocational training programs. Open to all high school graduates, vocational schools are a direct stepping stone to the job market. Taking between six months and two years to complete, these programs attract a high volume of young people looking for a dynamic and practical learning experience every year. For more information on vocational training, visit the Accès études Québec website.
Unique to Québec, the Cégep (collège d’enseignement général et professionnel) is where most young people land after graduating from high school. Cégeps are designed to offer a direct link to the job market (after three years of technical training) or to higher education (after two years of pre-university training).
Visit the Ministry of Higher Education website for more information on the programs offered at every academic level.
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