The Basics: Learning in Canada and Ontario

Each year, about 317,000 students come to Canada for educational purposes. You may be wondering why they choose Canada as their study destination. It’s because studying or learning in Canada means investing in your future. Canada’s post-secondary diplomas and degrees are recognized worldwide. This means that after completing a degree/diploma in Canada, you can go anywhere in the world to excel in your field. Canada also has some of the cheapest tuition rates of all English speaking countries.

Canada has five out of the world’s top 100 student cities to live in and ranks number one for the highest quality of life. This contributes to students’ overall well-being and happiness. Canada’s world-class colleges and universities offer over 15,000 programs across hundreds of campuses. There are many online services to help people find a school and program that fits their requirements. Friendly people, four seasons, indigenous culture, multilingual communities and abundant wildlife also make Canada an amazing place to live, work and study.

English and French as a Second Language (ESL & FSL)

The first important factor to consider when learning in Canada and Ontario is learning English or French as an adult. Improving your English and French skills can help you with the following: 

  • your day to day life
  • finding a job
  • entering a bridge training program 
  • preparing for post-secondary education
  • completing your high school education

Many English and French school boards in Ontario offer English as a Second Language (ESL) and French as a Second Language (FSL) classes for adults. Improve your English or French with classes at your level–whether you’re a beginner or a pro. Classes are available during the day, at night and on weekends.

Language training at work

Some Ontario school boards offer job-specific language training classes. These classes cover a wide range of job sectors and provide training in a classroom or in the workplace. You can ask your local school, public library, settlement agency or local language assessment centre for more information.

Canadian credentials  

According to an article by Al Parsai, most of the students entering programs start at the tertiary level. This means the student already completed a high school or secondary diploma in their home country and wants to continue their post-secondary training through a Canadian university or college. Canadian colleges and universities offer the following academic credentials to international students.

  • Post-secondary diplomas (also known as associate degrees)
  • Post-secondary certificates
  • Post-graduate diplomas or certificates
  • Short-term training and crash courses
  • Skills trades training 
  • Prep courses for professional licencing exams
  • Bachelor’s degree programs
  • English as a Second Language (ESL) training
  • French language training

Community vs. Private College

Canadian provinces financially support some of the colleges in their province. Publicly-funded colleges, also known as community colleges, receive funds from the federal government of Canada and other sources. Community colleges are able to reduce their tuition fees after receiving funding.

Private colleges do not receive funds from the federal or provincial governments. They rely solely on tuition fees to run their business. Most provinces use rigorous procedures to accredit these colleges. Private colleges are usually smaller than community colleges and more expensive for local students. Private colleges in the province of Ontario are called Private Career Colleges (PCC) as they are focused on skills development for specific career opportunities.

For more information on community and private colleges, read the following article:

Entering a college program 

Ontario has 24 colleges of applied arts and technology. These colleges prepare students for careers in business, applied arts, technology and health sciences. These colleges receive funding from the Ontario government. Many colleges have more than one campus and provide a wide range of full and part-time programs at more than 100 locations across the province. Ontario’s community colleges have partnered with the government to make it easier for internationally trained applicants to find and enrol in the right courses without repeating what they have already learned. There are five key improvements:

  • clearer, easier to understand admissions process
  • standardized credential assessment process
  • improved advisory services 
  • standardized language assessment tools 
  • improved employment preparation services 

Entering a university program 

Ontario has about 24 publicly-funded universities including 9 bilingual English/French universities. 

Ontario universities offer a wide range of programs including:

  • undergraduate programs leading to a bachelor’s degree 
  • graduate programs leading to a master’s or doctorate degree 
  • continuing education programs and certificates, including distance and part-time programs 
  • programs offered by colleges and universities, sometimes, in a special partnership, give their students a university degree and a college diploma at the same time. 
  • cooperative education programs provide work experience related to a field of study

Other programs

In addition to university and college, there are a few kinds of educational programs (listed below) that will provide you with the skills you need to excel in your field.

  • Apprenticeships: An apprenticeship is formal training for those who want a career in the skilled trades. It combines training on the job and in the classroom.
  • Adult Learning: Adult learning programs are for Ontario residents ranging from 19 years old through to seniors of any age. These courses are meant to improve reading, writing and math skills, English or French language skills or to help people get their high school diploma. ESL and FSL are adult learning programs.
  • Second Career: You can get new skills – those needed for jobs in demand now – and financial support when you qualify for Second Career. Apply for up to $28,000 for costs including tuition, books, manuals/workbooks or other instructional costs, transportation, basic living allowance (maximum $410 per week), child care and more. 
  • Bridge Training: Bridge training programs are for immigrants who have international training and experience. These programs are designed to “bridge” your international training, education and experience with what you need to work in Ontario. They help you get fast access to training and support so you can get a licence or certificate and find employment. Global Experience Ontario (GEO) is an information and referral centre. They can help you learn how to become licensed or certified to work in a regulated profession or skilled trade if you’ve been trained in another country.
  • Employment Ontario helps people get the training, skills and experience they need to achieve their goals. Employment Ontario connects people looking for work with employers looking for workers with locations across the province to help people find jobs, employment and training opportunities.

Choosing your program

The first step to choosing a program is choosing the school. Ask yourself if you want to travel from home or if you want to move closer to the institution you wish to study at. This decision is entirely personal. Some choose to move away from home for commuting purposes or maybe it’s a better financial decision. The next step is to start looking for schools you are comfortable to study in. You can then narrow down your options by selecting the schools that offer programs that you are interested in. 

Once you find an appropriate institution and program, check out the admission requirements. If everything works out, book a campus tour and get to know the area you’ll be studying in. If you’re moving away from home, it’s advised to spend a night in the city you plan to live in. It’s also crucial to ask a lot of questions so that there aren’t any surprises. 

Funding/financing available through government financial aid 

  • Student loans: There are three types of student loans in Canada. There are provincial student loans, Canada student loans and part-time Canada student loans. The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) is a provincial financial aid program that offers grants and loans to help Ontario students pay for their post-secondary education.
  • Grants and Bursaries: There are several grants and bursaries available in different provinces. These grants and bursaries are not loans and do not need to be repaid. These awards are based on financial needs, grades and other criteria.
  • Scholarships: A number of scholarships are available in different provinces and are awarded based on various criteria such as grades, academic achievements and community/school involvement. 
  • Second Career Funding: This funding is available in the province of Ontario for laid-off unemployed workers for which skills training is the most appropriate intervention to transition them into highly-skilled, in-demand professionals in the local labour market. The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities will grant each student up to a maximum of $28,000 to cover tuition, books, transportation and living expenses for up to two years. Students are also expected to make a financial contribution to their training. There could be similar funding available in other provinces. Contact local settlement agencies to find out if there’s similar funding available in your province. 
  • Programs for students with permanent disabilities:  If you have a documented permanent disability and will be studying at a designated post-secondary institution, there are financial aid programs available that you may be eligible to receive.
  • Programs for students living with dependants: If you have dependents and will be studying at a designated post-secondary institution, there are available programs that you may be eligible to receive.

Steps to receive government funding

There are a few steps to receive government funding. The first one is that you need to submit your student loan application. Work with your school’s Financial Aid Office in order to fill out and submit your Online Student Loan application. 

The second step is to wait for your Notification of Assessment to arrive in the mail. This will basically asses how much funding you are eligible to receive through provincial and federal funding. 

The next step is to fill financial aid gaps if needed. Sometimes, students don’t receive enough funding through grants, scholarships and government financial aid to be able to afford the overall cost of education. These students can consider looking into different financial aid options and using a combination of funding sources to cover the gaps in their funding. 

The next step is to write-off student loan interest on your income taxes. This step is very important and can help reduce the amount of taxes you have to pay.

If you’re struggling to make your student loan payments, there are solutions available to help you. Check with your college’s financial aid office for suggestions such as loan repayment programs. Chances are they’ve seen it before and can offer useful information. Just be proactive.

Other forms of funding/financing

  • Check with your school’s financial aid office for upcoming opportunities in your area related to available local scholarships, bursaries and awards. Most of the time, colleges will have a list of available opportunities for students to apply for.
  • Direct loans from banks and credit unions could be another option for those who find themselves in a difficult situation.
  • Financial support from community organizations and service clubs.
  • Part-time employment while you attend a college or university. 
  • Family resources such as cash contributions for your education regardless of the amount.  Every little bit helps. If your family is not in a position to offer a cash contribution, they may be able to help you in other ways such as letting you live at home while attending school, helping with living expenses such as groceries, bus passes and other similar things. Anything that will help you reduce your expenses will be helpful.

Kindergarten to grade 12

  • Early education: This is education for children under five. It can include nursery school or preschool. Early education isn’t compulsory in Canada.
  • Elementary school: Elementary or primary school normally runs from Grades 1 to 12. In many provinces in Canada, it also includes Kindergarten. In Ontario, elementary school includes 2 years of Kindergarten—Junior Kindergarten (JK) and Senior Kindergarten (SK). Kindergarten isn’t compulsory anywhere in Canada. There is full-day kindergarten and half-day kindergarten available. 
  • Middle school: Middle school is sometimes also called “junior high school” or “senior public school.” It’s offered in most provinces. In some provinces, elementary school goes from kindergarten or grade 1 to Grade 8 (and so may include middle school). In most provinces, middle school runs from Grades 6 to 9 (age 12-15). Although in Ontario, it normally only includes Grade 7 and 8.
  • High school: High school, also sometimes called “senior high school” or “secondary high school,” marks the end of compulsory education in Canada. It normally runs from Grade 9 to 12. It ends in Grade 12 in all provinces except Quebec. In Quebec, after Grade 11 students instead proceed to a pre-college or university program such as CEGEP.

School curriculum 

The subjects taught in our elementary and secondary schools and the achievements expected from students. The term curriculum refers to the lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program. In dictionaries, the term curriculum is often defined as the courses offered by a school, but it is rarely used in such a general sense in schools. Depending on how broadly educators define or employ the term, curriculum typically refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, which includes:

  • the learning standards or learning objectives they are expected to meet
  • the units and lessons that teachers teach
  • the assignments and projects given to students
  • the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course
  • the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning.

An individual teacher’s curriculum, for example, would be the specific learning standards, lessons, assignments, and materials used to organize and teach a particular course. In Ontario, we have an elementary curriculum as well as a secondary curriculum. 

School year calendar

Different provinces may have different key dates in the school year. In Ontario, a regular school year begins on September 1 and ends June 30. The school year calendar must be completed in accordance with the education act and regulation 304. School takes place from Monday-Friday and a regular school day in Ontario lasts about six hours. Times and dates may vary across different Canadian provinces. This usually applies until students have reached the end of their compulsory education. 

Skilled trades in Ontario schools

Ask about school programs that can help students discover the skilled trades and explore them as careers of choice. Ontario schools have a wide range of programs to help students explore different careers in the skilled trades as well as other fields. This initiative helps guide students to fill labour market gaps across Canada in the skilled trades.

Child care

Before you choose a childcare provider, ask questions about costs, health, safety, nutrition and more. There are questions available in different languages. Learn about what programs are available, how to get funding and how to know if a program is licensed.

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Doha Hanno