Which is better for kids? Public vs Private Education
Through a series of lucky circumstances, I’m teaching at a brand new independent school. Our school is tiny. Our largest classes have 10 students at a time. We play badminton together on Fridays. One of the teachers is personally going over every graduating student’s applications for university. Our ESL program facilitators are myself, and the Principal (I also cover Social Studies and Planning).
In many ways, this was what I always wanted. I wanted to work in a small school, I wanted to teach Social Studies and English Language. I wanted to work with teachers I liked and respected, and I wanted flexibility and trust from my administrators.
I originally really wanted to work in a public school. But that wasn’t in the cards – there just weren’t any jobs available when I graduated from my teaching program.
So now I teach in an independent school.
I field questions regularly on public vs private education. I get asked where I think parents should send their children (provided that they have the means and ability to make that choice) between the public and private or independent school system.
These are some things I would think about:
Private and Independent schools cost money. Anywhere from $4000 – $100,000 per year. Public schools are paid for by everyone, and while they aren’t necessarily free, they are not at an extra cost.
This already eliminates a significant number of classmates from more diverse socio-economic backgrounds from spending time with your child at school.
English Language Learning
British Columbia does not have a standard for teaching English as an Additional Language. If your kid is in Richmond (an area with a larger non-English speaking population), there are 5 levels of ESL classes that a student will take. They will start at an ESL 1 and 2 Science and English – and hopefully progress to a pull out (leaving the classroom for extra support) level 5 before they graduate.
If a student is designated as ESL they can have an extra year of public tuition and finish high school at 19.
From my brief practicum experience, I think this system works to a varying degree. Based on numbers, Richmond is able to offer classroom courses in ESL 1 and 2. This is not the same in other parts of the province. One of my colleagues, who immigrated to Canada at 12, and went to school on Vancouver Island, explained how he did nothing in class for most of his ESL learning experience. Teachers were too over-worked, the students that were learning English quiet enough and good enough at pretending to do work, that they were looked over. My colleague learned to speak English because he had to. He wanted to play basketball with the other kids.
At UBC, one of my professors in the ESL teaching faculty bemoaned the meaningless worksheets given to ESL students – so that the students had something to do, because the teacher didn’t know and wasn’t trained what to do with the students, etc. Busy work. It doesn’t help.
Private schools are not obligated to take every student. Many don’t admit English Language Learners. This keeps test scores high, and eliminates the need to hire specialist teachers.
However, if a private school does take on English Language Learners, they will likely support teaching and learning that will lead to the student’s ability to take advanced courses and to get into university. When parents are paying for school, there is definitely an impetus that students will be “successful” – whatever that definition of success may be.
Private schools hire specialist ESL teachers. This is one of the reasons that I work where I do. It’s well recognised in the independent school system that there are specialists in English Language teaching. In the public school system, ESL or ELL is still largely considered something on the periphery, something that any “native speaker” teacher can teach, or something that can be dealt with by immersing kids in an all English environment, and handing them some adapted worksheets.
Mentioned previously in the cost. Despite scholarships and funding, most students at private or independent schools are from a socio-economic background that can afford it which significantly reduces the diversity of the school.
I moved from a Catholic elementary school in rural Alberta, to a public school outside of Vancouver at age 10. My parents did this, in part, to give my brother and I the experience of learning with kids from backgrounds different from ours. I credit my parents for this. The skills I learnt growing up where I did and going to school where I went, made me more compassionate, empathetic, and able to see my own privilege. I learned to communicate and work effectively with diverse groups of people.
There are public schools that do very well with academics, and there are private schools that do very well with academics. Private schools have the funding to run Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) Courses – which can translate into first year university credits. Teachers often need special training to teach this coursework and it can be expensive. Many public high schools are not able to afford it, whereas a well funded private school can.
Private and Independent schools are results-driven because funding from parents depends on it. Funding is made available to hire good teachers and train them.
It can be difficult to facilitate student achievement in a classroom of 30. A lot of the time it is simply crowd control. When the BC teachers went into job action this past year, a lot of this was discussed in the media. I would personally invite anyone to go into a classroom of 30 kids and try to teach them about Canadian Confederation, or Algebra, or Earth Science while also keeping in mind that teachers are feeding kids, counselling kids, using limited resources to make learning as engaging as possible, working with at least one or two or three kids that have a learning disability, and also trying to support academic achievement.
A lot of teachers are miracle workers, a lot of teachers are also very tired and stretched very thinly
My family did contemplate private school education for my brother and I, but they decided to send us into the public school system instead.
Sometimes I wonder what I would have done with more AP or IB courses, if I’d been in a more academically oriented environment. But, would I have developed the same social skills? Would I be as aware of difference and privilege? Would I be happier or more successful?
It’s a different decision for every family.