What is a private education worth in real terms?

Reading yesterday’s post, you probably wondered why anyone would send their child to a private school in Australia. After all, the average class size in Australia is half that in Asia. Most prep classes have a teacher aide to help out in class; higher grades get the occasional student teacher, making the rounds to chock up workplace experience.

When I asked the guy I had spoken to while waiting for Amanda to finish Jiujitsu about this, he said, “Oh, it’s the connections you build through school. It’s not just about going to school. If my son were to apply to medical school they might ask him where he studied.”

“I’ve never heard about this in medicine but in law, yes,” I confessed. Two of my closest friends, both lawyers, had told me the same thing. Believe what you will about equal opportunity and non-discriminatory hiring laws but where you went to school, what suburb and which side of the tracks you lived at, are all important in getting your foot through the law office door. “What do you say to the guy interviewing you when he spent his school holidays at his father’s Swiss Chalet while you were working in your father’s restaurant?”

“Funny you should say that,” said the guy. “My wife was working in her father’s restaurant throughout law school and she said the same thing too. That’s why I’m putting my kids through grammar. That way they’ll have the right background for whatever job they want.”

Except perhaps, work as a tradesperson. Then again, most grammar graduates make it to university. Those who don’t do so well at grammar, get expelled; I’ve heard the school takes its academic track record very seriously, so it’s not enough for you, as a parent, to be able to afford the $30k per year for however long your child is there, your child has to make good grades as well.

There are other options along the private school route. You can go for less-reknown Anglican schools, which cost roughly $20k per year or you can go for Catholic schools which cost half of that. Catholic schools give discounts for siblings; in some cases, the fourth child gets to study for free. Anglican schools as a rule, don’t allow for a reduction in tuition fees. Most have a scholarship programme, but if I were you, I wouldn’t bank on that.

The criticism levelled toward public education is that it caters only for the brightest or the dumbest of the lot. If you are in the middle, then you are on your own. Some parents whose children make similar grades to Amanda call their offspring “smart” and “brilliant”, but I prefer to be realistic about my child’s ability. I see smart and brilliant every Wednesday when Amanda goes for Mandarin tuition – her teacher’s daughter was reading in 2 languages at 3 and doing division by 7 years of age – so I know my child is not either.

At best, she is “bright.” But I won’t even burden her with the expectation of achievement arising from that; I’ve told His Royal Highness that this is our child and we must do our best to help her make the most of what she’s got. That might include a stint at grammar where she’ll receive all the scholastic support she needs to lift her out of that dreaded middle zone. She already reads and does math above the average, but like most Asian mothers, I think my child can do better.

His Royal Highness is still considering my proposition. He went to Trinity Grammar for Year 12 and is of the opinion that the experience added nothing to what he already was or had. He was already at the top of his class even before he went there. There, his classmates were more interested in comparing penis sizes than they were studying. Perhaps we’re zoned to the best high schools in Victoria and Queensland. Both outperform almost all private schools.┬áBut these schools are very academically competitive. If you aren’t zoned to them, then you must sit for an entrance exam. Houses within the zone fetch a premium.

Regardless of where Amanda winds up going, her father and I both tell her that anything worth having is worth working for. We insist on her putting a 100% into everything she does because even the best educational opportunities in the world can’t make up for a lack of desire to succeed, or can it substitute pure hard work.