Dramatic increase in students learning at home, private schools on P.E.I.

The number of Island students being educated outside P.E.I.'s public system has more than doubled in the past five years. 

According to the provincial government, the number of children being home-schooled has jumped from 97 to 193 since 2014, while private school enrolment has gone from 226 to 474 — that's a 110 per cent increase. 

Enrolment in the public system has gone up just four per cent since 2014. 

"Word of mouth is a big reason for the growth we have seen, and I think the other private schools would agree on that," said Tom Deelstra, principal at Immanuel Christian School. 

"I think parents are looking for school choice, and they're looking for alternate programming. They're trying to see what's best for their kids. And at private schools, we each offer a unique pedagogical, philosophical approach."

Parents' right to choose

Immanuel Christian is one of four private schools the province includes in its enrolment data. The other schools are Grace Christian, The Mount Academy, and Montessori School of Charlottetown.

Steve Bruce/CBC

A fifth private school, the Moonlight International Academy, is not included in the figures. Another 185 children are enrolled there. 

Under government regulations, while private schools are licensed and inspected annually by the province, they don't receive any public funding and are free to follow their own curriculums and approaches to teaching. 

Island parents who home-school their children are offered that same freedom. 

"The department respects parents' autonomy ... but is committed to ensuring that a high-quality public school system is in place in the province," a spokesperson with P.E.I.'s Department of Education said in an e-mail to CBC News. 

'Parents have that freedom'

The email added that the department "has a good working relationship with the private schools in the province."

Steve Bruce/CBC

However, Deelstra thinks it could be better. 

"It'd be great for us to work together on things like pedagogy and best practices. We do some unique things at our school with project-based learning that we'd really like to share with public school teachers and deepen their knowledge of that." 

Despite the steady growth of private institutions, 97 per cent of Island students are still in the public system says executive director of Educational Services with the Department of Education John Cummings. 

"It reflects well that people are partaking in the public system," said Cummings. "But there are some things, for either religious or pedagogical reasons that people may choose a different path. And parents have that freedom."

Part of larger trend

The shift to private institutions or home-schooling on P.E.I. is part of a larger trend throughout Canada says Derek Allison, a retired professor in the faculty of education at Western University who has written on the changing nature of school choice in Canada.

Steve Bruce/CBC

"We're looking at a better-educated group of parents than we've ever had before. And it's these parents that are increasingly choosing non-state schools over state schools." Allison said.

The choice to send their children to private schools might not have to do solely with the quality of education — parents seeking what they believe is a preferable environment for their child could be a factor.

"Parents typically see the private school as being a safer place to send their children than the public school," Allison said. "Part of the factor there is the phenomenon of bullying."

Those who enrol their children in private schools also believe they will get more individualized attention than they would in the public system, he said. 

"Choice is important. And we shouldn't deny parents and our students the realistic opportunity to exercise choice. The main barrier to more parents not choosing non-state schools is the cost. They can't afford it. Because it's not cheap."

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