For many Chinese-Canadian parents, the age old question has continued to endure: Should I enroll my child in private or public education? From public guidance counselors, to educators in elite private schools, there is no consensus. Personally, my parents have always tried to provide me with the best education possible. I have been through both public and private education, and while my late private schooling allowed me to excel academically, my public upbringing taught me the value of humility and humbleness.
When I was young, my parents who are first generation immigrants struggled financially and certainly did not have the resources for me to attend private school. Like the vast majority of Canadian students, I was hulled into the public system. My parents, by bending rules and using any loopholes they could find, sent me to the best performing elementary and junior high schools.
But Toronto’s public schools suffer from the same problems--overcrowded class rooms, deteriorating school facilities, and overworked teachers. The highest ranked schools are no exception. But the best ranking public schools all share one same trait—a predominately Asian student populace. It should come as no surprise that in both my elementary and junior high school, at least 90% were of Asian ethnicity.
I found it exceedingly difficult to stand out amongst my high achieving peers. Like most Asian parents, my parents made me learn piano at young age. Personally, I have always had a passion for the piano, but in public school my talents went to waste. Although I won numerous awards at music festivals, I was just one of the many Chinese kids who played an instrument at my school. There were few extra-curricular opportunities for my passions and my other interests for politics and journalism ultimately went unnoticed. .
Perhaps the biggest failure in the public system is the lack of proactivity from teachers. The lack of opportunities eventually carried over to my academics as I became demotivated academically. In grade 7, I failed math, science, and English. My academics would continue to struggle until grade 9. I was lost as a student and yet, my teachers never noticed or contacted my parents. By the end of junior high, I resented my public education and hated my junior high school. As my mom became anxious for my future, she enrolled me in a North York private school.
With only 300 students in my new private school, class sizes were small and the resources were abundant to help each and every student flourish. All the teachers had a close and watchful eye. Gone were the days of crumbling walls and shabby classrooms--I felt blessed that my parents could afford to spoil me with luxuries not found in the public system.
I also became a star at my school as I was the only student accredited with an ARCT diploma in piano performance. In the public system, there were dozens of pianists; yet in private school I was nicknamed the ‘piano man’. Opportunities to shine were abundant, and I exploited every chance to my advantage, from performing at Roy Thompson Hall to even leading our graduate ensemble. My academics rebounded and I excelled amongst my peers.My passions in journalism and politics were also fulfilled as there was a club for any interest.
But as for my private school classmates, they’ve been spoon-fed since they were toddlers; private school is all they’ve ever known. It should come as no surprise that over the years, they became entitled and lazy—nothing motivated them to achieve their highest and utilize all the resource they had available. They consistently criticized the private system and they didn’t appreciate what they’ve been offered. Compared to public schools, private school was a palace, fit for only a king.
But many years of schooling in the public system made me different from them. I learned -- even though not in the traditional sense -- the importance of humility and humbleness.
Two weeks ago, my graduating class from private school held an alumni reunion. During the conversation, one topic in particular kept recurring—university. My underachieving friends were dissatisfied with the program they were studying. They struggled to adjust to public education where you’re just a number.They reminisced how great they had it in private school and regretted not having reached their full potential. It makes me wonder where they would be today if only they had reversed the order of their education.
It’s a shame that most of my private school classmates are doing poorly. Yet, my old academically achieving peers from public school aren’t faring better—their lack of extra-curricular opportunities has impeded their chances at Canada’s top universities. Ultimately, the question of public or private is not clear cut but many shades of grey—sure there are high achievers from either systems, but a combination of both – at least in my experience -- is to the best advantage of students.
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