Private school, public school or Islamic school? – that is the question.

By: Sr. Nussrat Masood

For parents getting ready to send their kids to school, here are some words of wisdom from Omair Hamid, a former Winnipegger who did very well for himself masha Allah. I contacted him via email and got these responses to my questions.

Which high school did you graduate from?

Shaftesbury High

Was that a public school or a private school?


What is your current occupation?

IT Security consultant

How do you think your private/public education helped you become accomplished?

I do not think there is much difference between public and private school… but entering a top Canadian university, I did notice that the students that were exceptional were the ones that took on the heaviest course loads in high school. These are the students who went through the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, or did 4 or 5 AP (Advance Placement) courses in their senior year. Both these programs are available in both public and private institutions. I suppose the resources available in a private school may make accessibility to these programs easier.

What kind of student is suited for public school?

A student who is self motivating and can get extra work done will do fine in public school. As long as they don’t measure themselves against the standards set by public schools, which is far too low, or by the majority of their peers, they will be fine.

What kind of student is suited for private school?

A student who requires constant pushing, or needs to compare himself to others to be motivated to do more work will find it more helpful to be in a private school because the standards and quality of students will be slightly higher.

What kind of student is suited for full time Islamic school?

Full time Islamic schools are good for those students that have a lack of Muslim friends. The best way to stay strong in iman and deen is to surround yourself with encouraging, like-minded people, which is the greatest benefit of Islamic schools. If the parents can ensure that their children are supplementing their school work with higher standards (AP or IB or whatever), but are worried about the environment and social circle of their kids, then Islamic school may be the best option.

Looking back, what advice would you give students?

Marks are not everything. Do as much work in the community as possible from an early age, even if it eats into your study time. Learn to study more efficiently, so you have more time to be an active member of your society. You will be a better Muslim, make more friends, learn about the world, be smarter, be better prepared for life.

What advice would you give fellow parents with regards to their child’s education?

Reward your children’s effort (and punish their laziness), not their results.

Here are some rough guidelines to keep in mind. These are my own opinions after having been raised in Winnipeg and graduated from high school here as well:

  1. Not all private schools are created equal. A good private school will cost around ten thousand dollars per year per child. That is a significant sum of money and should not be wasted on a bad private school. If you have the financial resources (masha Allah) to invest in your child, then here are the schools to consider: St. Mary’s Academy, Balmoral Hall, St. Paul’s College, St. John’s Ravencourt and the U of W Collegiate.
  2. Not all public schools are created equal. When I was young students were only welcome in the schools in the area in which they lived. That is not the case everywhere in Winnipeg. Students have the option of going to many schools now. That may mean extra travel time, car pooling, or even moving, but consider it. It is worth it. Unfortunately there are many instances of drugs, violence and teen pregnancies in schools. Make sure your kid is going to schools with lower occurrences. The province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg are divided up into different school districts. There are good schools in each school district but you will need to visit the schools, talk to the principals, talk to the teachers and make a very great and concentrated effort to decide which school deserves the honour of educating your child. Consult parents of students who were educated in Winnipeg or Manitoba for further opinions. Pembina Trails school division should be considered.
  3. Every child is different. Every child has different needs. Make sure your kid gets what he/she need from the school. If your child needs ESL programs (English as a Second Language) make sure the school offers it and has many qualified professionals so that your child is getting as much attention as possible. Teacher to student ratio is important. The better the ratio the better the opportunities for your child. If your child needs sports, make sure your school offers many different teams and make sure the teams are actually good and win often because that’s a sign they have good coaches. If your child likes a particular subject (Physics, Math, English, Art, etc.) make sure the teachers are qualified to teach that subject. If your child has a gift for carpentry or other trades, make sure those programs are available. All teachers need a Bachelor of Education to teach but they don’t need an undergraduate degree in the field they are teaching. Try and find gifted teachers. This will be difficult.
  4. School can be horribly boring sometimes. There is a lot of material to get through and if your teacher doesn’t love and I do mean love teaching, then it will be difficult for your child. The school system has in many cases bleached the fun out of learning. For this reason, you will need to supplement your child’s learning with educational outings to spark their curiosity from time to time. Malls, movie theatres and amusements parks are okay but also consider going to the zoo, the planetarium, the museum, the library, the bookstore, take art classes, go camping, watch a live play, etc. Try and find job shadow opportunities for your child as well.
  5. Turn off the tv. A television is not ever meant to give your child companionship. Your child certainly doesn’t need a tv in their bedroom either. There should be a limit to the amount of tv that is watched per week. Internet usage should be supervised as well. Your kids will watch what you do. If you would like your kids to read more, then make sure you read to them when they’re kids. As they age, consider discussing books together or getting magazine subscriptions. If you need something to watch together consider documentaries of fascinating things like animals or volcanoes or whatever else is age appropriate and interesting to your child.
  6. Make your kids efficient learners. Keep them busy. Your kids should also be enriched spiritually. There are youth halaqas (Islamic learning circles), camps, Quran classes, etc. Your kids should be involved in the Muslim community and it should be a part of their identity. Consider enrolling them into activities like swimming lessons, taekwondo, wall-climbing etc. as well.
  7. Parental involvement is crucial. There is no substitute for parental involvement. You need to know how your child is doing in school and what they need from you to do better. If your child is finding school difficult, go to a school counsellor together and address the issues.
  8. University is a completely different environment. Most University professors do not teach. Most University professors do not know how to teach. They are researchers that are forced to teach students to fulfill their contractual obligations. For every one hour a student spends in lecture hall a student needs to spend two hours of study on their own. This is a huge adjustment. Consult the University learning assistance center for more professional advice.

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