Fraser Forum

Religious schools dominate independent school landscape in Canada

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Many Canadians “know” that independent schools (a.k.a. private schools) are mostly elite preparatory schools. But this is a common misperception since independent schools in Canada serve a wide range of educational preferences and one, in particular, dominates.

Nearly half of all independent schools in the country have a religious orientation and together comprise 48.3 per cent of independent school enrolments.

Public secular schools in Canada may provide students with some general knowledge about major religions, but for parents who choose religious independent schools in Canada this is insufficient. Many parents desire an education for their children oriented in the perspectives, values or practices of their faith. With options for prayer or worship, sacred environments or facilities, curriculum grounded in religious perspectives and perhaps even kosher or halal meal options, independent schools are attractive to many parents in Canada.

Indeed, our recent study A Diverse Landscape: Independent Schools in Canada found that 48.6 per cent of all independent schools in Canada have a religious orientation (based on 2013/14 data). Fully 178,119 students attended 940 independent schools. Considering that no more than one in eight independent school students attends what might be considered a traditional elite university preparatory school, the fact than one of every two independent school students attends a religiously-oriented school in Canada should  make us rethink our perception of private schools.

The diversity of religious independent schools is also instructive. Almost one-third of independent schools in Canada are Christian (non-Catholic) (30.1 per cent), one in 12 is Catholic (8.4 per cent), one in 20 Islamic (4.9 per cent) and one in 20 Jewish (4.5 per cent). The rest are affiliated with other religions.

More specifically, in terms of enrolment, one in every five independent school students attends a Christian school, more than one in seven attend a Catholic school, and more than one in 10 a Jewish or Islamic school.

Indeed, parents of 6.8 per cent of students in Canada chose non-government schools for their children. But the majority of them make this choice, not because the schools are Ivy-clad, urban and elite, but because they offer a religiously-oriented education rarely available elsewhere.


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