Schooling in Canada: A first hand review.

My wife and I are on the tail end of the schooling experience with respect to having children in the system. I wouldn’t rule out either of us taking more post secondary courses but if we put that aside, we are in a good position to write a review of our experience. So for those of you just starting out, here is our report.

When our kids were approaching school age, my wife started to talk to other parents to determine what would be the best approach for our kids. For the first time in many decades we actually had a choice between the public system and the separate/Catholic system. The primary criteria for the selection of a school was the quality of the education full stop. When the results were all in and tabulated, it turned out that the separate schools had a better track record for quality. By that I mean that the graduates learned something and did well in high school and university.

You have to ask yourself how that could be because up until that point the separate system was not publicly funded. I suspect that the public system having had no real competition had settled into a rut that catered to the lowest common denominator. The separate system on the other hand, had to account for every penny and clearly knew what it was being measured against. To this day, the separate school system produces a better product.

That does not mean that there is no room for improvement by any means. If my wife and I were to start over again today, we would make the same choice.

What  about private schools? Well there are a number in the area like Venta and the Kanata Academy that also produce a quality product. They have the resources to cater to special needs like security for the children of high net worth individuals as well as children with challenges learning. I can’t say that the product is significantly better than what the separate schools produce, but it is good.

So now your kids have graduated high school and it’s time for post secondary education. We did the tours and read the articles and discovered that both Ottawa University and Carleton have excellent programs. Ottawa-U appeals to the student looking for a more European campus where Carleton’s campus has the advantage of being completely connected by underground tunnels. Carleton tends to lean more toward engineering where Ottawa-U has an excellent medical and Law program. Housing for students on both campuses is a challenge. Carleton students tend to find housing further away from campus and rely on the bus system to get to school. Ottawa-U has more student housing close to campus and is closer to downtown events. Generally speaking the quality of the housing available was much better than what you would find in the GTA.

Two of our three kids ended up at McMaster University in Hamilton. McMaster is known for both engineering and medicine with plenty of affordable student housing close by. McMaster benefits form the slow economy in the Hamilton area while still being a short train ride from downtown Toronto. Housing tends to be older and rent tends to be 100-200 dollars / month less than the Ottawa area.

During the University selection process my wife and I toured Queens, Waterloo, Western, Carleton, Guelph, McGill, Brock and Ottawa-U. Both my wife and I have attended and graduated from community college and university so realized the advantages of a University education. That said, I am not a fan of a dual post secondary education system.

The most important thing when it comes to an education is that your child selects something that they really enjoy (And will afford them a decent living). Determining what that might be is no easy task and we found that our kids were less prepared to make that decision than we were. Counseling continues to be a problem in the secondary school system, but that is a topic for another post.

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