By Jubilee Cheung
In recent years, overcrowding in schools has become something of a global issue. The worldwide push for education has perhaps played a role in the increasingly congested public schools that are becoming characteristic. Such is the case in Ontario, Canada. Some of Ontario’s public schools – that is, schools funded primarily by the government – are so full that they cannot afford to enroll new students as they come of age. In these cases, families desperate to educate their students often must resort to Catholic schools, which require at least one parent to be certified by the church as Roman Catholic. However, this isn’t an option for everyone: it goes without saying that not all of the unregistered children come from religious families.
For secular families, options are severely limited. They must often resort to sending their children to private schools, which can cost as much as $35,000 per year. But this cost is obviously too expensive for some, and seeing as these families pay their taxes, the situation hardly seems fair. It makes little sense that they should have to pay tuition fees on top of the taxes they already pay to educate other families’ children.
The exclusivity of Catholic schools, however, isn’t exactly helping to preserve their integrity as a religious foundation either. Families aren’t sending their children to Catholic school because they care about raising their children religiously, so much as they are seeking quality and a convenient location. If they cannot get that education in the public schools, they will find it elsewhere – and if their certification as a Roman Catholic grants them access to strong Catholic schools, why not go for it? As a result, Catholic schools are losing their identity as firm institutions of the faith. Students from families that are not actively religious sometimes go so far as to seek legal exemption from the Catholic activities the schools often require. One particular case is that of current junior Jonathan Erazo, who cited Ontario’s Education Act to escape his school’s religious classes. Erazo’s father, Oliver Erazo, also successfully sought exemption for his son from otherwise compulsory religious services and trips, much to the school’s chagrin.
In order to continue to be eligible for public funding, Catholic schools must technically comply with requests such as those made by the Erazo family. Their exclusivity is meant to act as a buffer against diluting their identity as a paragon of the Catholic community, but Canada’s insufficient public education facilities have worked against not just the country’s students but the Catholic Church as well.
Canada is not the only country struggling where its educational finances are concerned. In Australia, school enrollment is expected to increase by roughly 17 percent. The demand for available spaces in religious institutions is also expected to increase, such that 30 more Catholic schools would need to be established. As the Australian government provides for both private and religious schools, there is currently a push for increased funding overall. It is important to note that while such a request is not unreasonable, it might eventually place Australia in a situation similar to that of Canada, where religious schools, due to their being publicly funded, may become almost secular institutions despite their initial goal of religious purity. Australia would do well to take steps to expand its educational system so as to avoid the current quandaries faced by Canada, if it wants its religious schools to retain their religious identity.
The lack of space in public schools is the simple root of a complicated issue. It is forcing families to pay much more for education than they should ever have to, as well as compromising the religious integrity of the country’s religious institutions. The solution to the problem at large is glaringly simple, but arguably difficult to adopt in the near future. Nonetheless, Canada boasts strong global standing where education is concerned; if this is indicative of anything, one can trust that Canada will be taking steps towards rectification of the situation at hand.
Image by Matthew Paulson