Thursday, January 22, 2015
Is a $500,000 private school education really worth it?
A point overlooked below is that in choosing your son's school, you are choosing his friends for life. Except for the army, men rarely make new friends far into adulthood, and even if they do, their old school friends will still usually predominate in their friendship circle. So choosing a school is choosing a lot for a son. What sort of friends do you want your son to have? He will tend to have smarter and more socially competent friends if you send him to a private school. And if you send him to a sink school ....
All parents know that having children is like firing up a backyard bonfire but you substitute wads of cash for kindling and wood, but this week's study about the cost of private schooling would give anyone pause.
The Australian Scholarship's Group's research showed that a baby born in 2015 would cost over half a million dollars to be educated in Sydney's private schools.
Forget the six-million-dollar man, we have the half-million dollar kid – and we two of them!
But you are only going to get sticker shock if you insist on putting your kids into a private school and I don't plan on doing that. There are a number of factors at play here, not least the cost of the schooling and my inability to pay for it.
One problem is that "private schools" often seem to come under an umbrella brand that brings with it a belief of quality when, just like public schools or even hospitals or restaurants, quality varies quite significantly. For some private schools you may be getting top quality, out-of-the-box education, but at others you are just paying a lot more for a fairly standard education.
Many people send their kids to private school in the belief it comes with more advantages than the quality of teaching, that it can help one muscle in on the old boys' network.
There is little doubt that this network can be of some assistance. As an inexperienced twentysomething my friend, a former Geelong Grammarian, got us a face-to-face meeting with a member of the Fairfax family to discuss our fledgling men's magazine and there was little doubt that his school contacts were instrumental in getting that meeting. It certainly wasn't our business plan for the magazine, because we didn't have one.
But it is not the shortcut to nepotism many in the Comments section of school news stories like to believe, our would-be patron was polite but firm about our need to go and get our shit together before bothering to sit down with him or anyone else again (and quite rightly so).
There is also a fairly irrational fear of public schools. Just like the private equivalent these vary greatly and you need to do your research but we are lucky in Australia to not have to worry about our kids having to pass through metal detectors.
After spending the past two years in Singapore, paying a private school fee for a public school level of schooling I am readily embracing the amazing offering that is a virtually free education in this country and more of us should do the same. If more of the families that wanted their kids well educated put their efforts into the public system it would surely improve. Perhaps this huge hike in private schools fees is actually a boost to the public system, making their elite nature even clearer and sending the upper middles back into the arms of the state.
Other downsides for me include the fact many private school kids have to travel further to get to school (we know one mum with a nearly two hour school run between two far-flung male and female private schools) and the fact that you often have to select these school so far in advance that you can't know they are a good fit for your kids.
The question of what school to go to is more than a Naplan score or a natty blazer, it is the people, the community, the proximity to friends and after-school play. There are so many variables that you can't be sure you will achieve the desired result you had pictured when they were an infant – no matter how much you pay.
And what about the opportunity cost to a $500k education? Few of us will be able to pay such bills without forgoing certain things, things like the mind-opening world of international travel. I would not trade my kids Cambodian road trip for private schooling, if you can have both knock yourself out but at these projected rates that will not be a large slice of the population.
Far too many assumptions are made about schooling choices. We recently met a family from the US on a trip through Indonesia. When they said their kids – four of them 17 through to 11 – were home schooled our first instinct was to inch slowly away from them on our tiny boat. But spending a few days with these caring, erudite kids was a great reminder or our inbuilt prejudice as they were some of the most calm, well-rounded young people we had ever come across.
Now home schooling is not for us. And it's not the cost that is putting us off, it's the fact that we might have to reintroduce the cane for it to work. But private school is something I know is not the right fit for us either. I want my kids to have diverse range of fellow pupils, of races, of backgrounds. I do not want the common unifying factor to be the almighty dollar.
This is a very emotive debate but it is often framed in the reductive cry of wanting "the best" for our kids. We all want to give our kids a great start and, with some budgetary axing and a second job, I could probably send my kids through the private school system, but like a lot of things – as a not-particularly wealthy parent – it comes down to value for money.
And, at a half-million-dollar price tag, I do not see the clear and overwhelming benefits of a private school education.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).