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Sept./Oct. 2002
Volume 15
Issue 5

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Education in Ontario, Canada, Undergoes Changes

Middle East
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The Trade Debate in International Higher Education


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Practical Information

Education in Ontario, Canada, Undergoes Changes

by Robert Sedgwick
Editor, WENR

Education in Canada differs from province to province, owing largely to the country's regionalism and binational (French and English) character. In contrast to the French-speaking province of Quebec, Ontario's system of education has been strongly influenced by the Protestant church and by its historical ties to England. The first universities in the province, for example, were modeled after Oxford and Cambridge. In addition, Canada's close proximity to the United States, the diversity of its population and the influx of immigrants have all shaped the evolution of education in Ontario.

Education in Ontario is compulsory from age six to 16. The school year runs from September to June.

In 1984, a new secondary school curriculum was introduced. The Secondary School Graduation Diploma (SSGD), awarded to 12th-grade graduates, and the Secondary School Honours Graduation Diploma (SSHGD), awarded to 13th-grade graduates, have both been replaced by a single qualification called the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD).

Ontario's first institution of higher education was Kings College (established in 1827), which later became the University of Toronto. In 1841, the Presbyterian-affiliated Queen's University was founded, followed by the University of Ottawa in 1848 and the University of Western Ontario in 1878.

The 1960s brought unprecedented growth to Canada's system of higher education with the establishment of several universities, including Laurentian University, Brock University and Trent University.

In 1967, Ontario's first 19 community colleges of applied arts and technology (CAAT) were founded. Today, there are 25 such institutions.

The provincial government has jurisdiction over education at all levels. Despite cuts in public-sector support and tuition increases, universities remain publicly funded.


Duration: Grades 1 to 8

Curriculum: Reading, writing, arithmetic, science, social studies, music, art and physical education. Second-language instruction usually begins at this level.


Duration: Prior to 1984: Grades 9 to 12
               1984-2002: Grades 9 to 13
               Starting in 2003: Grades 9 to 12

Curriculum: Core/mandatory academic courses in English, French, mathematics, science, Canadian history, Canadian geography, physical education and social studies; plus electives that have an academic, business or technical orientation

Leaving Certificate:

• (Grades 9 to 12) before 1984: Secondary School Graduation Diploma (SSGD) and the Secondary School Honours Graduation Diploma (SSHGD)

• (Grades 9 to 13) 1984 to 2002: Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) and the Ontario Academic Course (OAC)

• (Grades 9 to 12) Starting in 2003: Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) and the Ontario Academic Course (OAC)

For more information on primary and secondary education in Ontario go HERE

Double Cohort in 2003

2003 will be the first year that graduates of the new four-year cycle apply for admission to higher education institutions in Ontario. It will also be the last year of the five-year cycle. Hence, graduates from two classes will be competing for a limited number of university places.

Many students who fear they might not be able to gain admission to the college of their choice due to the double cohort have been taking their OAC credits at a slower pace in order to postpone their graduation dates.


Ontario maintains a binary system of post-secondary education. The province's 18 degree-granting universities are distinct from the 25 colleges of applied art and technology (CAAT) in terms of requirements for admission, programs offered and qualifications awarded. In addition, accredited universities belong to the prestigious Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada while the CAATs do not.

Two new universities are scheduled to open in 2003: the Ontario Institute of Technology and the World Trade University in Toronto.

The province also has 14 private institutions of higher education with restrictive authority to confer degrees, in addition to 300 private vocational schools. The latter are registered with the Ministry of Education's Private Vocational Schools Unit and offer job-oriented courses in such fields as computer training and English as a Second Language.

Religious education tends to be privately funded and is limited in its degree-granting capacity.

Most institutions of higher education offer both undergraduate and graduate programs. Some, however, only offer undergraduate degrees, such as Brock, Trent and Nipissing universities.

The provincial government also supports an extensive open learning system, which includes distance education through Contact North, established in 1986, the Prior Learning Assessment & Recognition Group (PLAR) and the Franco-Ontarian Distance Education Network. Contact North delivers university, college and secondary-school courses to more than 110 communities across northern Ontario. Credit and noncredit programs are available through provincial educational television networks such as TV Ontario and the French TFO.

For a complete listing of distance education institutions in Ontario go HERE


There are approximately 260,000 students enrolled in Ontario's 18 public universities, the Ontario College of Art & Design and the Royal Military College.

Brock University
Carleton University
Lakehead University
Laurentian University
McMaster University
Nipissing University
Ontario College of Art & Design
Queen's University
Royal Military College
Ryerson Polytechnic University
Trent University
University of Guelph
University of Ontario Institute of Technology
University of Ottawa
University of Toronto
University of Waterloo
University of Western Ontario
University of Windsor
Wilfrid Laurier University
York University

Entrance Requirements

Admission requirements vary from institution to institution and from department to department within individual institutions. In general, however, students who plan to attend a university must submit a completed OSSD, and are required to take six Ontario Academic Courses, which are offered by secondary schools. Students must file their applications through the Ontario Universities' Application Centre.

In the tradition of the British Commonwealth, four-year (honors) degree programs in Ontario are specialized and provide more in-depth study in a major subject than most undergraduate degrees in the United States. First professional degrees are also offered at the undergraduate level.

There are different admissions requirements for adult students and foreign students.

Programs and Degrees

Stage I: There are two types of bachelor's degrees in Ontario: a General/Pass Bachelor's degree requiring a minimum of three years of full-time study, and an Honours Bachelor's degree requiring a minimum of four years of full-time study with a prescribed specialization. Undergraduate study programs consist of coursework, and there is no thesis requirement. The University of Toronto is phasing out the three-year General/Pass degree and replacing it with a four-year degree.

In addition to the degree programs described above, Ontario's universities also offer professional education in a wide range of fields. At the more established universities, such programs are fiercely competitive. Although most of these programs are four years in length, others are longer such as the bachelor of architecture degree (5 years).
Other professions require some academic preparation, specific prerequisites and/or a three-year or four-year bachelor's degree. They are:

Bachelor of Laws: 4 years—after 2 years of university
Master of Library Science: 2 years—after bachelor's degree
Doctor of Medicine: 4 years—after 2 years of undergraduate study
Master of Social Work: 2 years—after bachelor's degree
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine: 4 years—after 2 years of undergraduate study
Doctor of Dental Surgery: 4+2 years—after 2 years of pre-professional study
Doctor of Optometry: 4 years after pre-professional study

Stage II: The Master's degree usually takes two years of full-time study to complete. Some programs require a thesis, while others may be comprised entirely of course work (for example, a master's in education).

Stage III: The Doctor of Philosophy/Philosophiae Doctor generally takes three to five years to complete.

For more information on universities in Ontario go HERE


Recent Changes

The CAATs were recently authorized to offer bachelor's degrees in applied programs. The move is intended to provide students with more choices while meeting the needs of employers. Traditionally, colleges have awarded certificates or diplomas to students who complete one-, two- or three-year postsecondary and postgraduate programs. However, 12 new degree programs, including those in business, computing technology and information sciences, will be launched as part of a 24-program pilot project.

Colleges of Applied Art and Technology (CAAT)

Admissions applications to CAATs in Ontario are processed by the Ontario Colleges Admissions Centre. The OSSD is required, and the programs lead to certificates and diplomas in occupational fields.

Credentials offered at CAATs

Certificate: less than 1 year and up to 2 years full-time.

Diploma: 2-to-3 years of full-time study.

Post-Graduate Diploma: 1 year of full-time study.

Post-Graduate Certificate: 1 year of full-time study

For more information on Ontario's colleges of applied arts and technology go HERE


Since 1974, Ontario has had only one teaching certificate, the Ontario Teacher's Certificate (OTC), for all levels and types of education (elementary, secondary, vocational and occupational).

Prospective teachers are required to complete a three-year bachelor's degree, followed by at least one year of study in the Ontario Teacher's Program, leading to a bachelor's in education and the OTC. As an alternative, students can complete a bachelor of education program requiring four years of study.

An OTC in technical studies requires completion of a one-year teacher education program in technical studies. Admission requirements to this program include a combination of job-related experience and education within the field of technical studies.

All education faculties and teacher colleges in Ontario are now affiliated with universities.


Grading scales may vary. Please refer to the grading scale on the transcript.

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