Independent schools in B.C. run contrary to ‘elitist’ caricature

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Appeared in the Vancouver Province, June 29, 2016

Many British Columbians likely believe that private schools are exclusively for elite families in major urban centres. This misperception of independent schools (a more accurate term to describe non-government schools) impedes honest debate about the benefits of independent schools in the province.

A recent Fraser Institute study based on provincial ministry data of every independent school in Canada found that rather than conforming to the dominant stereotype of the traditional private school (St. George’s in Vancouver, for example), independent schools actually come in a wide variety of types and serve many educational preferences.

In 2013/14, British Columbia was home to 340 independent schools with 75,401 students, which accounted for 12.3 per cent of all school enrolment in the province. In other words, one of every eight students attends an independent school in B.C.

Contrary to the “urban” stereotype, more than two of every five independent schools (42.9 per cent) in B.C. are located in rural or small/medium-sized population centres.

And more remarkably, only five per cent conform to the image of the traditional “elite” stereotype, which leaves 95 per cent of independent schools outside the “elite” sphere.

There are two major types of independent schools in B.C.—schools with a religious orientation and specialty schools.

More than 55 per cent of the province’s independent schools have a religious orientation. Exactly half (50.0 per cent) are Christian (non-Catholic) schools, 42.0 per cent are Catholic, 3.2 per cent are Jewish, 2.7 per cent are Islamic and 2.1 per cent have other religious perspectives.

The vast majority of independent school students in B.C. (70.4 per cent) attend a religious-based school—an important fact since government-run schools in the province do not offer any religious alternatives like in other provinces. Subsequently, parents wanting a religious education for their children must rely on the independent school sector.

The other major type of independent school provides a unique approach to teaching (Montessori, for example), an emphasis on special needs students, or a specialized focus on distinct content. Sixty-eight such schools exist in B.C., representing 20 per cent of all independent schools in the province.

Contrary to the “elitist” caricature of private schools, independent schools in B.C. offer diverse approaches to education, particularly religious-based education and alternative pedagogies. It’s time we recognize the “other 95 per cent” of independent schools in B.C. and the value they provide to students and parents across the province.

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