In structure, the first twelve years are much like those in the rest of Canada. Education begins with kindergarten (maternelle) and grades 1-6 as primary school (école primaire).
High school (école secondaire) is five years, called Secondary 1-5 or simply grades 7-11. High school students who complete Secondary 5 obtain the governmental Diplôme d'études secondaires (DES).
Language of instruction in Quebec schools is sometimes misunderstood. Under the Charter of the French Language, passed in 1977, all students are required to attend French-language schools. However, children meeting the following criteria may attend the publicly funded English-language schools:
Note: the private schools system has, until recently, been excepted from all this.
Formerly, school boards were divided between Roman Catholic and Protestant (called confessional schools). This was originally a part of the Quebec Act of 1774, done to protect the nearly 100% of the Quebec population who were Roman Catholic living in a country where the English population at the time was primarily Protestant. The right to a Religious based education was confirmed when Canada was created as a country under the British North America Act of 1867 which granted power over education to the Provinces.
The separation of the State and the Church took a very long time to occur in Quebec. Many governments failed in their attempts to create a Ministry of Education: Quebec had to wait 1964 to get a modern education system. For more than 100 years, non-Catholic immigrants from outside Canada who settled in Quebec were not allowed to attend French Catholic schools. The Quebec Education Act of 1988 provided for a change to linguistic school boards. This change has only recently finished being implemented. The secularization of education is however not yet complete.
The segregation of catholic and protestant/public schools is still the norm in the other Canadian provinces. The main public schools network offers the choice between moral or religious education while catholics run their own separate schools.
Most students continue to CEGEP, or Collège d'enseignement général et professionel (general and professional education college). These students can specialize in a number of different vocational or pre-university fields. The term of study is two years for pre-university and three years for most professional degrees. Students completing CEGEP earn the Diplôme d'études collégiales. Like primary and secondary schools, both state-run and private CEGEPs exist.
Primary school, secondary school, and CEGEP add up to 13 years of pre-university study, one more than other provinces. For this reason, most undergraduate university degrees are three years in length. Students from outside Quebec have this term supplemented by a freshman year at the beginning of their university career. University education is much like in other North American jurisdictions. In addition to private institutions, the government of Quebec has a network of universities in several Quebec cities, called the Université du Québec.
Quebec subsidizes post-secondary education and is known for the low cost of its university education; Montreal has four universities, and a greater percentage of its population are students than in any other large city in North America.