Secondary education in Canada is for children aged from 12 to 18 (grades 7 to 12). It generally takes place in a high school, that may be divided into junior and senior high (held in separate buildings or even at separate locations). Junior high is for those aged 12 to 14 (grades 7 to 9) and senior high for ages 15 to 17 (grades 10 to 12). In Quebec, students attend high school for grades 7 to 11 and then transfer to a general and vocational college (collége d’enseignement général et professionnel/CEGEP) for a further two or three years. Like elementary education, secondary education is mixed.
Secondary schools may specialise in academic or vocational streams or the arts; all include some kind of ‘streaming’ system that’s designed to prepare students for a vocational or community college or university. Mandatory or ‘core’ curriculum subjects must be studied for a prescribed number of years or terms, as decided by each province. These generally include English (French), maths, general science, health, sport (physical education) and social studies or social sciences (which may include Canadian history and government, geography, world history and social problems). In addition to mandatory subjects, students choose optional subjects (electives) that will benefit them in the future.
Electives usually comprise around half of a student’s work in grades 9 to 12. Around the ninth grade, students receive career guidance counselling as they begin to plan their careers and select subjects that will be useful in their chosen fields. Counselling continues throughout the senior high school years and into college. Larger schools may offer a selection of elective courses aimed at three or more levels: academic, vocational and general. Students planning to go on to college or university elect courses with an emphasis on academic sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), higher mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus), advanced English or French literature, composition, social sciences or foreign languages.
The vocational programme may provide training in four fields: agricultural education which prepares students for farm management and operation; business education which trains students for the commercial field; home economics which prepares students for home management, child care and care of the sick; and trade and industrial education which provides training for jobs in mechanical, manufacturing, building and other trades. Students interested in entering business from high school may take typing, book-keeping, computer studies or ‘business’ English or French.
School sports are popular in Canada, although most take place outside school hours (extracurricular). Team sports have a high profile at high school and being ‘on the school team’ is more important to many students than being top of the class. Students who excel at sports are often referred to disparagingly as ‘jocks’, implying that they’re too stupid or lazy to succeed at their academic work. However, if a student’s grades don’t reach the required level he’s likely to be barred from taking part in team sports until his grades improve (and he’s constantly monitored). High school sport is central to school activities and the ceremony that goes with college sport is also found at high-school level.
In addition to sports, many other school-sponsored activities take place outside school hours, including science and nature clubs, musical organisations (e.g. band and choir), art and drama groups, and language clubs. Most high schools have a student-run newspaper and a photographic darkroom is also usually available. Colleges and universities place considerable weight on the achievements of students in high school extracurricular activities, as do Canadian employers. High schools are also important social centres and participation in school-organised social events, such as school dances and the first hockey game of the season, is widespread.