Saturday, April 2, 2011

Where should I enroll my child - Public or Private School?

MHPNHS  Malolos City I was faced with this question four years ago when my son was graduating from elementary. He studied in a private elementary school in our city – historic Malolos. Now it was time for high school. The answer to this question would have been so simple for someone rich or “can afford” – I just had to continue and enroll him in this private school who, just as well, offered secondary education. But is that all it takes to consider? Why an I having second thoughts this time? I weighed my resources against options and experiences and considered a four-year plan in high school in preparation for his future college education.


Private education has been and will continue to be very prohibitive to most. We were not an exception. The times were hard and business was not really booming – well, as far as mine was. What used to cost me an just an arm now demands for my legs and soul as well. I know we can surely find ways but it was going to be a hard climb.

Nowadays, some private schools even compel parents to buy shoes, socks, bags, PE uniforms, etc. and I find that immoral, to say the least. I never looked forward to some notification from school – that will normally mean some cost or contribution.

Books are imperative as well, else, your child will become an outcast in the classroom without it – in a private school – needless to say he will not be enrolled. Private school textbooks do not necessarily equate to quality education. It is just another big business for most.

That is not the scenario in public schools. A couple of shirts and a pair of pants would do. Books are not imperative, some schools provide this as well – on loan to the students – at no cost at all. Uniforms are not strictly imposed more so for those who can not afford it. The Department of Education clarified this already. The uniforms, while they are not enforced, may still be part of the individual school rules and policies and that may just be the parent’s biggest investment in a public school, if ever. Looking back, the only official fee I paid the Marcelo del Pilar National High School was Php 50.00, in our first year. The fee was so insignificant that I could not even remember what that was for. I never had to pay anything to enlist him for the years that ensued until his graduation this year. That could have easily been Php 50,000.00 in a private high school for that year alone!

“What is expensive is not always superior, what is free and affordable is not necessarily inferior.”


Undoubtedly, this is where private education has an edge over public schools. Of course, this is where the tuition fee goes, among others. In most private schools, air conditioned class rooms are provided for the students. Most laboratories are well-equipped. Perimeter is well secured. One might even have a platoon of guards. Without the assistance of the private sector via donations, or the alumni association, or congressmen via their CDF, or local officials via some discretionary funds, most public schools have deplorable states. This gives the wrong impression that quality is poor here. Ingenuity however for some teachers address this apparent lack.

This is more reason to expect the government to pour in more resources and budget and support for public schools. This too is a call for concerned private sector to help, more so for the successful alumnus of these schools to give back a little of what they now reap. Good education is our only hope for a better nation.

“Education is a Right. It should be available to all.”


The foremost consideration for any parent is the quality of education that our child deserves. Public education has had the stigma equating this to poor quality. I an not alien to that. I was raised in a private school. My dad even used to teach at Don Bosco Academy, an institution run by the clergy too, where I am a graduate. My eldest daughter studied in a nun-run institution, also in this city. I am very familiar with the strengths and the flaws of private institutions.

The greatest strength of private schools will be, in most cases, in the english language. This is likely because more affluent families enroll their children here and it is likely that this is their second language at home if not the primary. This creates an ideal environment to practice the language. Values education may also be a strength. This is mainly due to nuns and priests who run a majority of private high schools. This, however, does not necessarily mean also that the public school system is poor in this regard. I have seen graduates from the same out-perform their private-educated counterparts.

It is my opinion also that most private schools needs more improvement in the sciences and mathematics. When my son was graduating from elementary, most of his classmates took the entrance examination for the Philippine Science High School. Only two of them passed the initial screening examination. Both failed to make the cut for the final screen, unfortunately. This was indicative of some weakness in the science and math training that comprised bulk of this entrance examination.

Qualification of Teachers . This is where the public schools have an advantage. State run and public schools will not accept teachers without license credentials. More so, public school mentors will not be promoted if they do not take up post grad studies, masteral or doctoral, or units for that matter. This makes them more qualified to teach, normally updating skills to keep up with the dynamics of this noble profession. This is not strictly enforced in private schools. Some non-education graduates are only asked to take up a few education units to comply, and that is not even compulsory to be given teaching load.

Special Programs for Public Schools. Apart from the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) there are several special programs available for public high school like the Philippine Science High School System (PSHS), Regional Science High School (RSHS) and the Engineering and Science Education Program (ESEP), Special Program for Sports (SPS), Special Program for Arts (SPA), and Laboratory High Schools. Most of these programs are not only FREE but some programs even offer scholarship, stipends, accommodation inclusive. The selection process for these programs is however very competitive and intensive.

BEC is normally what is offered in most secondary schools including private schools as prescribed by the Department of Education curriculum. The BEC program offered by the public school system is the practically the same in private education. Some privates schools however have adapted a hybrid curriculum similar to the science high school program of ESEP and PSHS.

MHPNHS Rondalla- Champion, Rondal Awit, Tagum The decision to move my son to the public education system was made easy because of his acceptance to the ESEP Program. The program accepts only eighty (80) students then – call them the “cream of the crop”. A good portion of them also came from private elementary schools. This was in fact part of our four year plan to prepare him for college – specifically - the University of the Philippines (UP) System.

The ESEP curriculum gives more focus to math and the sciences and this should lay the groundwork for college. Is the ESEP only for geeks? On the contrary, the ESEP program of the MHPNHS did not only inspire the competitive spirit of their students in the various fields of academics but also in the arts. They were trained and well-supported by their mentors to compete in various academic and non-academic contests including the arts. This, in my humble, personal opinion would not have been possible in the private school where I took him out. Why? Private education has been so “commercialized” and “highly politicized”. Call it biased opinion but we were, in many instances, a victim of such. I almost sued the private school when we were denied enrollment, despite the reservation fee we were charged at the end of the prior school year only to be denied enrollment since we failed to enlist him at the day prescribe for that grade level despite having a “regular enrollment” period a week after. We had no money at the time prescribed but should have made it a week after. To my disgust, the slot I graciously paid for suddenly disappeared for no apparent reason. We were later told we should have made a “promissory note” instead. I think that was very demeaning, to say the least. It was my belief that such reservation was good until the school year opens unless I withdraw this right. It took the school’s founder to intervene when the incident was relayed to him. Our family, despite our modest resources, had been constantly supporting programs of this institution and their allies.

As a parent, how do you feel when a school will have to subject their own elementary graduates to a high school entrance exam, for a “fee”? Is it because they do not trust their own graduates or do not themselves believe in their own quality of education?

I may be sour griping but deep inside, I am thankful for such eye-opening experiences. These experiences in a private school has led me to rethink my position and direction.


The best benchmark for any high school program will likely be the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT). This test is administered to applicants for the UP System.

“The University of the Philippines College Admission Test, commonly known as UPCAT, is part of the admission requirements of the University of the Philippines, administered to graduates of Philippine and foreign high schools. The UPCAT is considered to be the most competitive college entrance exam in the country” (Source: Wikipedia).

Why do I think this is a good benchmark? The UPCAT does not care if you are the son of the President or a congressman or the street sweeper or carpenter. It is administered fair to everyone. Grades are not even important.

The MHPNHS ESEP, turned out 32 passers or a very convincing 40% pass rate assuming everyone took the exam, BEC turned out 7 passers from among the top 3 sections or 6%. I know of a private school in our city that barely turned out 3%.


Four years in retrospect – the decision to transfer my son to the public education program was among the best decisions I ever made. He will graduate this week as salutatorian of his graduating class of 2011 for ESEP. This feat will almost be impossible in the private setting. We would not have the resources to sustain that quest. The training he got from the public education system was balanced and fair to make him a well-rounded individual. I can only be thankful to his mentors at the MHPNHS for being such great partners in his education and parenting.

The choice where to enroll your child is a matter of preference for any parent. This will depend on your priorities, considerations, and resources. Public education, while it is free is not necessarily inferior, it may even be an advantage. Private education, while it has some advantages, has its own flaws too and is now very expensive. In the final analysis, it will be up to the student to determine how he does at school. Parents and teachers are only there to guide them and provide the necessary environment for such.