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Québec has the exclusive power to make its own laws in matters of education. The Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur has a shared mission to promote access to knowledge and education for all those who have the desire and ability to be educated.
The Ministère is in charge of compulsory education at the elementary and secondary levels. It also endeavours to coordinate the orientations and activities of the education community with government policies in general and with the economic, social and cultural needs of Québec society.
The Ministère is also in charge of the postsecondary levels and in this capacity works to improve the level of education of the general public.
The Québec education system
The Québec education system is made up of public and private institutions in both the Francophone and Anglophone sectors. It includes four levels of instruction:
- Elementary education
- Secondary education
- College education
- University education
In the public system, full-time instruction is free for all Québec residents from elementary school through college. Pre-school education is optional, but the vast majority of children are enrolled in pre-school programs. Public elementary and secondary schools fall under the jurisdiction of school boards managed by elected school commissioners.
Languages of instruction
The language of instruction is French in most Québec schools. Under the Charter of the French Language, instruction is to be given in French at the preschool, elementary and secondary levels. However, some students who meet specific requirements of the Charter may receive their schooling in English. As for college and university students, they can enroll in either English or French language institutions.
Preschool and elementary education
The age of admission for first grade is six, and schooling is compulsory up to the age of sixteen.
However, most children start school a year earlier for an optional year of full-time kindergarten. Some special-needs children or children from low-income families can attend part-time or full-time kindergarten at the age of four, if they meet certain conditions.
Elementary education consists of six years of schooling divided into three cycles of two years each. Elementary education focuses on the basic subjects and promotes the general development of the child. Its goal is to foster the progressive development of independence and to prepare students for secondary school.
Secondary school offers five years of general education, divided into two cycles. Cycle One, which lasts three years, enables students to consolidate the learning acquired in elementary school and to begin to think about their career options. As of Cycle Two, i.e. the third year of secondary schooling, students are offered a variety of educational pathways: general education, applied general education, and job-specific training. At the end of the fifth year of secondary education, students are awarded a Secondary School Diploma (SSD) that provides access to college. They may also obtain a labour market training certificate or a vocational training in semi-skilled trades certificate, giving them access to the labour market.
As of the third year of secondary schooling (Cycle Two), students can also enroll in various vocational training programs leading to a trade. The vocational training programs allow young people and adults to earn a Diploma of Vocational Studies (DVS) and then, if they so choose, an Attestation of Vocational Specialization (AVS).
College education is a particular feature of Québec’s education system. It constitutes an intermediary level between compulsory elementary and secondary education and university education.
The general and vocational colleges, known as CEGEPs, offer two-year pre-university programs and three-year technical programs leading to a Diploma of College Studies (DCS).They also provide shorter technical programs leading to an Attestation of College Studies (ACS).
There are some 50 public general and vocational colleges in Québec and around 50 private institutions, half of which receive government subsidies.
A Diploma of College Studies (DCS) is required for admission to university. Pre-university programs lead directly to university, whereas technical programs generally lead to the labour market, but can, under certain conditions, also lead to university.
CEGEPs are governed by a separate, specific law. Each institution is administered by a board of directors made up of various persons from the institution and from the local community. The private colleges are also governed by their own separate, specific law.
There are 18 universities in Québec, including the Université du Québec, which consists of a network of 10 branches. These branches are located in 8 regions, providing all Quebeckers with access to university education. The universities are independent legal entities and enjoy a great deal of autonomy.
Québec universities have faculties in all disciplines as well as professional schools (business, engineering, etc.). The organization of university education in Québec is similar to that of higher education in North America, the exception being that bachelor’s degrees in Québec usually take three years to complete instead of four, which is the result of students’ initial specialization in college.
University education is divided into three levels. The first leads to a bachelor’s degree. The second involves two years of additional studies and leads to a master’s degree. The third, which lasts approximately three years, leads to a doctoral degree. In addition, various undergraduate programs offer complementary non-degree professional training.
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