Education level Definition

Educational attainment of person

was approved as a departmental standard on June 20, 2011.


Educational attainment refers to the highest level of schooling that a person has reached. At the primary and secondary school level, educational attainment refers to the number of grades completed. At the postsecondary level, it refers to institutions attended and certificates, degrees or diplomas obtained.

Person refers to an individual and is the unit of analysis for most social statistics programs.

This variable replaces the current standard for Education attainment. The classification differs from the earlier standard in providing definitions as well as more detailed levels for postsecondary non-university certificates and diplomas obtained. A class that recognises the completion of some postsecondary education without having received a postsecondary certificate diploma or degree is also included. Finally, the class definitions at the secondary school and primary school levels provide equivalencies in the Quebec education system.

Conformity to relevant internationally recognized standards

This standard is compatible with the United Nations (UN) recommendation for measuring educational attainment. The UN states the following in defining educational attainment (Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 2, 2008, p.148-149):

Educational attainment is defined as the highest grade completed within the most advanced level attended in the educational system of the country where the education was received. Some countries may also find it useful to present data on educational attainment in terms of highest grade attended… For international purposes, a "grade" is a stage of instruction usually covered in the course of a school year. Information on educational attainment should preferably be collected for all persons 5 years of age and over.

This standard follows the recommendations of the UN in measuring the grade or programme level completed in educational institutions. The exception being the class "Some postsecondary education (highest)" which includes persons who have received some postsecondary education but, have not received a postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree.

The UN concept of Educations attainment does not include credentials conferred by professional organisations. (Source: Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 2, 2008). Such credentials are excluded from the current standard.

Another relevant international standard is the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED). ISCED classifies educational programmes and includes a classification of the levels of educational attainment. This standard does not use ISCED but, rather, a classification that reflects the language used to describe education levels in Canada.

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