Study in Quebec (Primary & Secondary Schools)
Quebec has the highest proportion of children attending private schools in North America. Seventeen percent of high school students attend private schools, a figure that is even higher in urban areas, such as Montreal, where 30% of high school students attend private school.
One reason is cultural, based in the traditions and the values of the population. Another is because the province provides subsidies to schools based on enrolment. That support is reflected in the quality of the schools found within the province. It has also encouraged the growth of a student population that is one of the most varied in North America and the world, drawing from a broad swath of the socio-economic, academic, and cultural spectra.
The official language of Quebec is French, and Quebec is also the only province in Canada that has just one official language. In other provinces, students can study in either of the country’s official languages—English and French—though authentic French-language instruction is limited and, for the most part, schools operate within an Anglophone cultural context to which French instruction is ancillary.
In Quebec, the opposite is true: most schools provide instruction in French, and English language instruction is limited and ancillary within the public education system. As such, the private schools in Quebec comprise some academic opportunities unique in North America, including that of living and studying in an authentic French cultural and linguistic context. Many families are drawn to schools within Quebec for precisely that reason.
In Canada, the elementary and secondary curricula are set and overseen by the provinces, not the federal government. In Quebec the curricula are set by the Quebec Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sports.
As in all the provincial curricula, the program of study is delivered principally by grade level, and that’s true in Quebec as well. Elementary school is comprised of grades 1 through 6, and secondary school is comprised of grades 7 through 11. Schools teaching to the provincial curriculum are also required to express progress by competencies and cycles, as outlined below.
Competencies are the educational targets specific to each subject. End of cycle outcomes are based in fluency with the core competencies of the subjects taught within the cycle.
Elementary school in Quebec has six grades divided into three cycles:
- Elementary cycle 1: grades 1 and 2
- Elementary cycle 2: grades 3 and 4
- Elementary cycle 3: grades 5 and 6
The cycles are intended to provide opportunities for instruction—allowing topics and concepts to be taught in an arc over the course of two years—as well as more meaningful assessment. The outcomes—termed competencies in the language of the curriculum document—are concrete abilities and understandings that students are asked to demonstrate. All the teaching within a cycle leads to those competencies. Students’ facility with the curricular outcomes are assessed throughout, though most significantly at the end of each cycle. For the student, the end of a cycle can signify a benchmark in their learning, offering a sense of completion and, with the start of a new cycle, a sense of progress and momentum.
The benefits of the cycles extend into course delivery and student experience, in particular in making more longer-term connections with instructors. “It allows us to have teacher teams that focus very much on a specific age group,” says Brenda Montgomery of Selwyn House. “You have the same teachers teaching the same students for two years in a row,” something which allows them to get to know the students better, and to better chart their social and academic growth. “there is a great deal of growth over two years in the life of a child.”
Secondary school in Quebec has five grades (formally given as roman numerals I-V) corresponding to grades 7 through 11. Upon completion of grade 11, students receive the provincial Secondary School Diploma (SSD).
- Secondary cycle 1: grades 7 and 8
- Secondary cycle 2: grades 9, 10 and 11
Quebec is unique in Canada in that it is the only province that requires 11 (rather than 12) years of study in order to earn a high school graduation diploma. Students may apply for college entrance with that diploma. Students who intend to enroll at university must attend two years of college, known as CEGEP, and earn a Diploma of College Studies (DEC, Diplôme d’études collégiales) in addition to their high school diploma.
Due to all of that, the divisions that mark the progression through elementary and high school in other provinces—elementary, middle, high—aren’t reflected in Quebec. That said, some English schools will use those terms when talking about their programs, just as some will adopt those divisions within their student body. In those cases, however, it’s an expression of the culture of the school and student life within it, rather than the delivery of the curriculum. All schools, no matter the terminology, are required to follow the provincial curriculum as it is laid out, and to assess and report on student progress per the ministry template.
Assessment and reporting
Quebec is also unique in that students are required to sit province-wide exams, set by the ministry of education, in order to receive their high school diploma. There are five in total, with students sitting science, history, and math exams at the end of their grade 10 year, and English and French exams at the end of grade 11. They have to pass all of the exams in order to receive their high school diploma. Should a student not receive a pass, they can rewrite the exams, all of which are offered three times each year.
All schools in Quebec are required to report student results in the same way, and using the same report-card template. The report cards can appear quite complicated, as indeed they are. competency and course grades are reported as percentages. Classroom assessments are reported numerically, based on a 1 to 5 scale, much like what is used in many European countries.
Report cards reflect the division of the curriculum into cycles, including two-year reporting periods for the majority of a student’s career. The only variance is in the last years of high school.
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