Elementary school in Canada

Moving to Canada with your family? Our elementary schools will provide your child with an enriching, safe and supportive learning environment with some of the best teachers in the world.

Children in Canada attend elementary or primary school for the first 8 grades of school. School starts with kindergarten at ages 4 or 5, and children move onto high school after completing elementary or primary school.

Quality teachers, high-quality education

Canada ranks 3rd among the world’s wealthiest countries in terms of the quality of education. Our greatest strengths lie in delivering excellent learning programs at the elementary and secondary school levels in reading, math and science[1].

Our primary students are high achievers thanks to our high-quality teachers. Canadian teachers are passionate about their work. They create interactive, supportive learning environments for children and integrate innovative learning methods and technologies to strengthen learning.

Canadian teachers have a bachelor’s degree and practical teacher training before entering the profession. Many go on to obtain master’s degrees. All teachers must maintain and upgrade their skills through regular professional development.

Standards and quality assurance

Canada’s 10 provinces and 3 territories oversee education and each of their ministries of education recognizes the importance of maintaining high standards. Through the Council of Ministers of Education Canada, a national organization, they collaborate to ensure quality and consistency in the education system[2].

Attending elementary school in Canada

Each province and territory decides when the school year starts and ends, although it usually begins in September and ends in June. School hours generally run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., from Monday to Friday.

Education is free for all students in the Canadian public school system. Children must attend school until age 16 or 18, depending on the province or territory.

Public elementary schools

Many Canadian public schools now accept international students into their programs. Publicly-funded primary schools are managed at the local level by elected school boards, which deliver a standard curriculum or program of study. Almost all public schools have male and female students in the same classes. They offer day programs only.

In most parts of Canada, international students can choose to study in English, French or both languages. In Quebec, elementary schooling for international students occurs in French, unless the parents apply to have their child study in English.

Some provinces offer a separate school system that includes classes in religion. This is part of the public school system and is open to all.

Private elementary schools

Private schools in Canada charge fees and they must deliver the same curriculum as public schools in that province or territory. This ensures that students complete the same course of study as students in the public school system.

The legal status of private schools varies across Canada. Most provinces and territories require private schools to register with their ministries of education. The schools must follow the curriculum and other standards set by that province.

The way private and independent schools deliver programs may differ from the public school system. Class sizes are often smaller, and students may benefit from specialized programming. Some private schools will have a religious program, as well as standard school subjects. Sometimes, private schools are set up for boys only or for girls only.

Private schools include boarding schools (with on-site accommodations) such as, Montessori/Waldorf schools, International Baccalaureate schools and Arrowsmith schools for students with learning disabilities.

Cost of elementary school in Canada

Public elementary or primary school is free for residents of Canada. If you’re sending your child to Canada to study, please check with the school to find out if there are fees for international students. Sometimes, schools charge small fees for your child to participate in extra activities, such as sports teams or school outings. Most children bring their own lunch to school, however, some schools offer cafeterias or hot lunch programs where your child may purchase a meal.

Educational requirements

To enter an elementary school in Canada, children may need to show they have:

  • Finished certain grades that correspond to grade levels in Canada
  • Proficient language skills in English or French
  • School results or report cards from their home country

Use this national directory of schools (public and private) to identify a Canadian school and then determine the requirements your school sets for international students.

How to enroll

There may be deadlines for applying to certain schools. This also applies to private schools. Contact a local school board if you want to enroll your child in a public elementary school. These boards often assess new students, so that the student can begin classes in the correct grade. The school may offer free English or French language classes before your child begins academic classes.


[1] Education and Skills Report Card, Conference Board of Canada, 2014.

[2] Top Performing Countries (Canada), Center on International Education Benchmarking, 2018.