Public vs. private schools

Sleeping aside, kids spend a third of their lives at school! It's not only where they are taught (and sometimes also learn) stuff but at school is where they make friends and master social behaviour. We all know that public schools aren't perfect and private schools are almost always better. But what about the other two-thirds of time that is spent with family and friends? Are private schools a substitute for great parental examples? Will public school educated kids grow up to be successful and happy if they live in good families? What is success? What is happiness? What is a good family?

"The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms", so let me confirm what I mean by:

  • Success: Being able to do in life what we feel aspired to do. (not the same as rich)
  • Happiness: Being able to sleep well at night. (not the same as famous or rich)
  • Good family (from an educational perspective): Where parents strive to create ideal conditions for their kids. (not the same as owning the biggest house in the city)

Better test scores, more money

Statistically speaking private schools produce kids who do better at standardized tests and will go on make more money than kids from public schools. If we measure success in test results and salary then private schools are undisputedly better than public schools.

According to a StatCan report the reason for this is not because private schools are that much better. It's because of socio-economic backgrounds: kids who go to private schools are more likely to live with both biological parents, have better access to supplies and activities at home (better computers, games, tutors, etc.) and parents tend to be more involved in their education - not because they are better parents but because they don't need to worry about bills and chores. Someone paying $10K (as a very minimum) for school every year likely has a cleaning lady and doesn't worry about utility bills. This extra worry-free time can be spent to teach kids at home after school - not math or physics but to teach life skills and good values. Also, kids at private schools do better because their classmates are from wealthier families who are less likely to have issues with addiction, finances, crime, etc. In other words they have more friends that set good examples.

Thirst for knowledge

Children - and adults - need motivation to succeed. Private schooling offers more motivatation. This motivation is not just from teachers but also from friends: kids want to keep up with their peers. Motivation also comes from parents: they expect their kids to do better and go great lengths to ensure their kids do well at school. After all they pay a lot of money for school and don't want the money to be wasted.

Another key ingredient to success is challenge. Adequately challenged kids can flourish and realize their full potential. Private schools offer more challenges as they are able to more closely tailor their curriculum to students' needs. Why? Because of selective admission: they only take smart kids to begin with. Public schools must take anyone and often classes need to focus on a few kids who don't do well and in the meantime kids who are ready to learn are bored because they aren't paid attention to and they aren't engaged. It's the "lowest common denominator" effect.

Bored kids in turn lose their thirst for knowledge over the years and become uninterested and indifferent.

So...if private schools are better at motivation, challenges and retaining kids' thirst for knowledge then are kids going to public school doomed? I think not.

Firstly, public schools aren't horrible places - they just aren't as good as private schools. (Canadian public schools generally rank ahead of Germany, France, US and UK but behind Finland, South Korea and Japan.)

Secondly, much can be done at home to fill in the gaps. (See: the gap school) For example, parents can enrol their kids in extra curricular activities: have them go to dance or acting classes, learn an instrument, sports or a foreign language, etc. These activities can provide the stimulus that's missing from pubic school classrooms and via these activities kids can realize their full potential and pursue their talents.

Life skills and values

A set of core values kids learn (by example) or taught (from textbooks) is the key to their advancement in life. Do they have self-discipline and respect for one another? Do they appreciate their belongings, are they capable of delayed gratification? Can they tell apart needs from wants? Do they understand the value of knowledge? Can they set their own goals? Can they collaborate and also work independently? Do they have emphaty and are they good communicators? Are they grateful? Are they critical thinkers? Are they perseverent? These skills and values are more prominently and deliberately taught at private schools but many of them are learned at home. And many of these values that are learned at home are more important to happiness - the ultimate goal - than anything a school can teach.

Friends / peers

Peer pressure - negative and positive - is not to be underestimated, it greatly influeces kids. Putting aside all else, private school kids in general set better examples for their friends. While parents can control what happens at home and they can choose a school for their kids they can't pick their friends for them. But my intuition is that kids who learn proper values at a young age will be able to tell apart good friends from bad ones and stay away from troublemakers.

Successful people I know

Of the few successful people I know, none of them went to private school, in fact, there isn't much in common in their education. What they do have in common, however, is that they are perseverent, hard-working, adaptable and resourceful. They can do great things with few resources. Some of these successful people had parents who gave their kids what they needed: not more money but more challenges. Others didn't have family backing and learned to overcome difficulties the hard way. But one way or another they all learned how to overcome hardship. Perfect math scores don't make successful people, overcoming challenges do.

Catholic schools as an in-between solution?

If you are a devout catholic then you're in luck because catholic schools are better funded than public schools and from what I heard they are "better" than public schools, whatever that means. If you aren't catholic then your kids are going to public school - even though catholics and non-catholics pay the same taxes. Although some non-religious kids do go to catholic schools because their parents had them baptized for show so they can take advantage of better funding, meanwhile they stick to only four or five of the ten commandments, if that. So, other than the fact that these kids one day will realize that their entire time at a nicer school was beacuse their parents lied for years, they will likely get a better education.


Private schools are out of reach for most people but in Canada this isn't a huge problem because public schools are "pretty decent".

A supportive and caring family, not being spoiled and good relationships (friends) are more important than school, public or private.

It's a set of core values, motivation, friends and overcoming hardship what make kids grow up to be successful in life. Someone can go to the best private school and be a spoiled brat and learn horrible values at home and go nowhere in life. Someone else can go to a plain old public school, endure and overcome difficulties and learn great values at home and go on to do great things with their lives.

Public vs. private school

If you are attentive to your kids' needs and teach core values by example and also have the money then sure, send your kid to private school. Private schooling in this case will be the icing on the cake.

If you don't have the money but you're otherwise attentive to your kids' needs and teach core values by example then don't take a loan to send your kids to private school. Send them to public school and take comfort in knowing that they will do just fine because your family will fill in the gaps and teach them what public schools don't.

There is more to consider

What about uniforms, the school building itself, driving vs. walking to school (private school students are more likely to be driven), curriculum, dealing with snobs (you know who you are), financial burden, school hours and class duration, striking teachers and so on. What if you run out of money and have to switch from private to public? What about private pre-schools, elementary schools and high schools? Is it best to keep kids in public school when they are younger and switch to private school later? Or private first then public later? The army of people commenting on this page I'm sure will address these questions :-)

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