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Private Religious Schools: Faith-Based Education Costs Big Money, So Why Do Families Do It?

2012/06/04

This feature was produced by Asher Greenberg, a student in Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, in partnership with The Huffington Post Canada.

I’ve been in the building less than five minutes and I’ve already committed a cultural faux pas.

My hand extended in greeting, Zainab Hasan apologetically refuses to take it. I should have known better. I’m familiar with modesty laws from elements of my own tradition.

Canadians navigate delicate cultural differences like this each day thanks to an open, multicultural society and the freedom of religion rights enshrined in our Charter.

What the Charter doesn’t guarantee is the right to religious education, unless you’re Protestant or Roman Catholic, two groups with unique constitutional status in Canada.

Parents who seek a minority religious school experience for their children must spend big money — as much as $10,000 a year or more — on private institutions. Elementary school costs can rival, and often exceed, the annual undergraduate tuition at Canada’s biggest universities.

Enrollment in private schools — both academic and religious — doubled between 1960 and 1975 and more than doubled again by the turn of the century, according to a 2007 Fraser Institute study.

While there are no comprehensive statistics on tuition rates in Canada’s private school markets, parents say they are struggling to cope.

I sought out three Ontario families — one each from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions — to find out why they choose religious education for their children, despite the financial burden.

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