Private school enrollment across Canada is up by almost 17 per cent, while public school enrollment has decreased eight per cent, according to a new study released recently by the Fraser Institute.
The study, Where Our Students are Educated: Measuring Student Enrollment in Canada, finds that enrollment increased for independent schools and decreased for public schools in almost every province across Canada between 2000-2001 to 2012-2013.
“I think as a whole, as society gets wealthier, people have more ability to choose,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent for Horizon School Division. “That would be one factor I would think, and if you’re unhappy with something — and I’ll use the metaphor of a vehicle — If you’re unhappy with one vehicle, you jump and change brands. I think in some ways, our previous government in Alberta has often supported the notion of parental choice. Often parents want the ability and the right to choose in terms of what educational opportunities are provided within their child’s educational journey.”
Out of all the provinces, between 2000-2001 and 2012-2013, Saskatchewan experienced the largest increase in enrollment for independent schools (34.2 per cent) followed by Alberta (30.6 per cent) and British Columbia (24.4 per cent). Quebec — which already had the highest rate of private school enrollment in the country — experienced an increase of 18.1 per cent. Currently, all four western provinces and Quebec partially fund the operating costs of independent schools.
Even Ontario (which is one of the five provinces that doesn’t fund independent schools) had a significant bump in its independent school enrollment — an increase of 9.4 per cent over the period.
“It’s interesting, because when you look at other parts of the province, for example, Calgary has a large number of private schools, whereas Edmonton does not,” said Tymensen.
“Sometimes the question comes up, why is that the case? Is it the fact that one school jurisdiction is more flexible in terms of providing what parents want, and therefore don’t see a need for creating their own private schools? Or is that certain communities have stronger desires to move forward in that? I don’t which one it is, but obviously it’s a factor that will determine the choice that parents make.”
Because provinces have autonomy over K-12 education, the level of school choice available to parents varies province by province.
Each province provides both English and French language education within their public school systems while three provinces – Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan – also offer public education through religious ‘separate’ (Roman Catholic) schools. In addition, Alberta is the only province that allows charter schools: schools within its public system that enjoy a fair degree of flexibility with respect to pedagogy, curriculum and management.
“Within Horizon, we don’t necessarily have any private schools. So we don’t necessarily have kids leaving our schools and registering in private schools,” said Tymensen.
“But we do have a large number of parents who are choosing to home school their children. Some of those home schools will form congregated settings associated with their churches, and they’ll make a choice to do that rather than partaking in public education, for a variety of reasons — conservative values, and other values that they feel are more in alignment with their own desires.”
That developing trend doesn’t mean Tymensen’s faith in the quality of education being provided in Alberta public schools has been unduly shaken as the division addresses the challenges of 21st century learning.
“When you look at international education results, Alberta consistently ranks in the top five provinces. Within Alberta, Horizon — if you look at our results — are consistently above the provincial average in provincial achievement exam and diploma exam results. Horizon is in the top of the province in terms of results, and Alberta is in the top five in the world, Horizon is pretty darn high in terms of its quality compared to the rest of the world. I have no fears Alberta is doing a poor job on education,” said Tymensen.