Private vs Public Education

With drastic cuts in provincial funding to education and emerging criticism of the public system, more parents are turning to private schools than ever before. But what are the real differences between private and public schools, and which is the right choice for your child?

The most obvious difference is cost, which can range from $4,000 to $26,000 per year for private day-schooling in Ontario. In addition, many private schools require students to purchase textbooks, and in some schools, even special computers.

Another difference: many private schools offer an alternative approach to education, whereas public schools are intended to cater to all students. The Montessori model, for example, focuses on respect for the student and the development of self-confidence, while the Waldorf model emphasizes a holistic approach to learning. Parents can choose a learning philosophy that best meets their childís educational needs. And with 885 private schools registered with the Ministry of Education in Ontario, there is plenty of choice. But the alternative education trend is also becoming popular in the public system, which is looking to enhance its competitiveness with the increase in private school enrolment over the past 40 years. A number of small alternative public schools are sprouting within Toronto. For example, the East Alternative School of Toronto, established in 1996, emphasizes the arts, social justice and critical thinking.

Public school boards require stringent qualifications and regular testing for teachers. In the private sector, however, schools are not bound by these requirements. Some teachers in the private system do not have the provincially required bachelorís of education, but may hold masterís or PhD degrees in their area of speciality. While some insist on the importance of provincial standards for teachers, others say private schools have greater freedom to hire "the best person for the job."

Another difference observed by some parents is that private schools have a stronger commitment to ďcustomer service.Ē Smaller class sizes, individualized attention, and openness to parental involvement are benefits that tend to come with paying for tuition.

Some parents also find that private schools tend to offer students a clear value system, which can be missing in the public system. Many private schools pride themselves on shaping students into well-rounded individuals, in addition to ensuring their academic success. Boarding schools in particular are geared toward developing self-confidence, independence and life-skills.

Moreover, private schools can be more university-oriented than public schools. Many parents will choose a private school based on the acceptance rates and post-secondary destinations of graduating students. As a result, private schools take the university counselling and application process very seriously.

According to a recent study by the Fraser Institute, students at private schools experience lower incidences of bullying, fighting, theft, drug use and racism. This may be because private schools get to pick and choose students with entrance exams and interviews, while public schools do not have this option. But it canít be said that these problems donít exist within private schools Ė it comes down in every situation to the individual student and the choices they were taught to make.

A common criticism of private schools is that they can be elitist and homogenous. While it was once true that private schools were the exclusive domain of the white and the wealthy, many now have well-funded bursary and scholarship programs to assist families with more moderate incomes. Private schools now host more diverse student populations, including increasing numbers of students from overseas. Some schools, such as Bayview Glen, even boast multiculturalism as one of their founding principles.

The bottom line is that each student is unique, and all schools, public and private, have unique strengths and offerings. Itís important to explore the many options, and to closely examine curriculum, extra-curricular opportunities, career counselling and student body, in order to make the right choice for your child.