NZ vs Canadian secondary education

Does anyone have experience as a parent, educator or student in both the New Zealand and Canadian secondary school systems, specifically public (as good private schools can be found in both countries), and is able to provide some generalized insight into how they compare; the curriculum, how this is taught, academic achievement (in NZ this seems to depend a great deal on school decile), teacher quality, sports programming, cultural aspects, etc.

Our children are currently in Canadian elementary schools. We are considering returning to Auckland for high school, and are reviewing the more general question;

Should we choose not to send them to private school, in which country is the possibility for a strong education higher? Of course a lot will depend on the city/school, not to mention the child, parental support, but if there is any general insight as to how some of the aspects mentioned above compare, I would be keen to hear these.

If we decide to return to Auckland, the next question will be whether to go private or public (is $100K+ per child really worth the investment), and then which school. But that’s another topic.

I’m aware that academically, Auckland’s top schools are mostly the private ones, the best seem to have highest fees. And going private is a consideration. But should we choose not to go down the private path and send our children to a state school in NZ, I am wondering how the education they may get there, will generally compare to one from a public school in Canada.

Any insight, no matter how generalized, will be helpful at this point.

Hi Anonymous119

As you’ve noted, there are many factors that would be considered in making this comparison. Before we can give you a more comprehensive response, it would be important to understand 1) Where in Canada are you now? and 2) What country do you hope they will receive their tertiary education in?


I am a New Zealand secondary student, but my best friend lives in British Columbia and although I have never experienced the Canadian curriculum, I might be able to tell you some facts.

The first thing is that the New Zealand education system and also NCEA heavily modelled the British system. In New Zealand we have 13 years of education and NCEA is taken in your last 3 years of high school. In Canada you have 12 years of education. Some schools might offer Cambridge A Level and IGCSE syllabuses or International Baccalaureate as alternatives, but the majority of students take NCEA.

Whereas the Canadian system is very different. The first thing it is different is that each province runs a different education system, there is no national high school system in Canada like NCEA or UK A Level. However, I think the difference between curricula between provinces are not a big problem. My friend is an Ontarion, but her parents have jobs in Vancouver so they moved there a couple of years ago, and she found no difficulty in adapting to the new BC curriculum. However, I guess this might be because she moved before her 11th and 12th Grades, which are the two most important years to start preparing for university. Also, I heard that the curriculum is very different in Quebec where most people speak French. Another thing the Canadian system is different from the NZ one is that it models the American system, so their high school diploma is just equal to GCSE/IGCSE or our NCEA Level 1, unless you take honours and AP classes (which do not exist in New Zealand).

The NCEA runs from Year 11 to Year 13, whereas I know that Canadian high schools preparatory programmes for university levels only run from 11th Grade to 12th Grade which is two years. Before your children enter this levels, I think it would be fine because both systems do not differ greatly.

I believe that NCEA is more widely recognised because it is harder - although NCEA is not an international qualification, your children can apply to universities in the UK, Ireland, Asia, the EU, the United States, Australia and Canada with NCEA. Whereas if you study the Canadian system, your knowledge will not be enough for entrance into UK universities unless you take Advanced Placement courses. However, if you only think that your children will only study in Canada or New Zealand or the States, a Canadian high school diploma would be fine.

Another thing to take into consideration is that in Canada, the curriculum is also available in French. You can study subjects in French, and of course I believe it has better French classes as well. Most high schools in New Zealand do not offer French, but Japanese, Spanish, and Chinese. My school has a French club and it attracts a number of students, but I am not interested.

Finally, we use the British spelling for everything! Travelling, analyse, recognise, labour, defence, licence, practise! Your children might still use Canadian English here since there are not lots of differences and the -ize spelling is still correct in New Zealand English, but the teachers might find English from other regions/countries confusing!

Oh and the final of final - there are some Maori words that are used in English

  • Whanau means family
  • Kia ora means hello
  • Haere mai means welcome
  • etc.

I hope you can have some ideas of how high schools in Canada and NZ might look like now after reading this!