The Comparative Analysis of Functions of Private and Public Schools

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Elementary education is the first and most crucial milestone in your child’s life. The lingering question over the years has been which of the approaches offered by public or private schools in Canada at this level are best suited to guarantee your child’s social and academic future gets the right kind of stimuli. According to a recent study by Key Insights Research, children begin to develop implicit biases before they reach the age of 5! Now that’s a scary thought! So how do you, as a parent, ensure that your child’s early development is shaped in a way that molds a decent human being, and a critical thinker at both a personal and academic level. That said, it is important to bear in mind that the public vs. private school debate is always settled as a matter of perception. It is for this reason that we have compiled a list of facts and figures to assist you to decide which of the two is best for your child.

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Test Scores

Now if you look at statistics, then you will see a trend that largely favors private schools. First, according to Statistics Canada, Private schools in Canada do indeed have about 10% higher average test scores on standardized tests as compared to their public school counterparts. Now while there is a socio-economic/class factor involved in this debate, it is worth noting that private schools do inherently have more teaching hours and a better teacher/student ratio.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation, however, refutes the claim that private schools themselves are responsible for the improved performance. Instead, the organization argues that there is a very slight difference in performance, if any, between students in public and private schools who operate around the same socio-economic strata.

Single Gender Factor

This has been an area of contention for a while, but according to extensive research by Heather Blair, a language and literacy expert, the focus on single gender grooming that is a constant feature in private schools has been known to be a huge success in terms of building character. This element was based on the premise that girls and boys require different emphasis points. Taking nothing away from the curriculum taught in state-sponsored schools, it is easy to see why private schools perform marginally better. They have a more direct, more gender sensitive and a more hands-on approach towards shaping your child’s future. Granted, there are some single-gender public schools in Canada, but private schools have been perfecting and streamlining this process for decades, so it is infinitely more refined.

Education Quality

Now, for the most part, most of the advantages that people think private schools have over public schools are mythical, and largely based on conventional wisdom. There are, however, indicators that show, to some degree that the curriculum in private schools is more precise and more sound. Stay with me here, this may touch a nerve. According to recent rankings by the Fraser Institute, a vast majority of schools that rank highly are privately funded. Even studies carried out by renowned Institutions such as Harvard all support the conclusion that the level of administration and care taken in private schools outweighs that of public schools significantly. Similarly, the teacher vetting process differs substantially. It is quite common to find teachers with graduate level degrees and various accolades in private schools, while the rules are a bit more flexible in public schools.

Student Population

This is perhaps the most significant point of the lot. Granted, the public school system has had its fair share of bad press, but surprisingly, the differences in school practices and resources are actually within a percentage point! This is meant to get rid of the myth that overcrowding is the real reason why parents are taking their kids out of public school. It is interesting to note, that Statistics Canada indicates that the student to teacher ratio is actually higher in private schools! Resources such as special tutoring and teacher qualification did tilt a bit towards private schools, but overall both sides were pretty much even.

Total Enrollment

Another key factor is the level of average enrollment. It is important to note that this element varies substantially, as the concentration of private schools differs in different areas. The common feature however is, parental beliefs largely influence where they choose to enroll their kids. This is relevant because private schools are predominantly sectarian (affiliated to a religion) compared to public schools. That said, you will notice that in some areas, public school enrollment trumps that of private schools, while in some provinces you will notice the reverse.


The administration and resource allocation of private versus public schools is also a large contributor to the overall quality your child receives. It is worth noting that public schools are state-sponsored, so they can offer lower rates in terms of tuition. Private schools don’t have that luxury and hence the reason why the tuition is inherently higher. On the flipside, private schools actually get several endowments, grants, and donations, and hence are better placed to offer exceptional students more financial aid. So when you put it in perspective, this somewhat reduces the discrepancies in terms of higher tuition.

Educational Options

Although the quality of education is still a bit of a gray area due to the lack of conclusive research, the fact that private schools offer more choices when it comes to educational options is undeniable. Enrolling your child in a private school allows him/her the luxury of choosing from a variety of options, anything from International exchange programs, sectarian courses, or even advanced placement. This is important because your child is allowed the leg room to find something that suits his/her interest, and to stoke that fire by getting specialized training. The short version, public school systems are pretty cut and dry-very little wiggle room.

Bottom Line

Whether private schools in Canada are indeed better than public schools is still a raging debate, the more important, and more immediate concern should be ensuring you find an elementary school that gives your child an open mind, a receptive character, and a critical mind.

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