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Independent Schools Instill Good Citizenship Values, Study Finds

OTTAWA, ON – This Canada Day – perhaps more than any other previously – will be a time to reflect on what good citizenship means and how civic values are formed. The need for those values has come into sharp focus recently amid horrifying news regarding the federal government’s former Indigenous residential schools. As leaders look for ways to improve the education necessary for instilling the knowledge, skills, and values that form good citizens and social cohesion across Canada, a new study from think tank Cardus points to an under-recognized success story in this regard: independent schools.

Good Schools, Good Citizens highlights a recent analysis of almost three dozen studies around the world, which find a clear independent-school advantage in terms of helping students become good, engaged citizens who participate and positively contribute to their communities. The independent school advantage comes in four key areas:

  • Political knowledge (knowing history, geography, and political processes and structures)
  • Civic skills (ability to analyze legislation and write to elected officials)
  • Civic engagement (voting, volunteering, philanthropic giving)
  • Political tolerance (respect for the civil liberties and opinions of others)

“Independent schools can offer substantial benefits to civic formation,” writes Dr. Ashley Berner, Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy in Good Schools, Good Citizens. “They do not inherently harm social cohesion as some critics fear; indeed, on almost every measure, independent-school attendance enhances civic outcomes. Thus, democratic policy-makers can have confidence that expanding access to independent schools while ensuring their quality is likely to enhance the civic capabilities of young people and lead, eventually, to a more civically integrated and politically engaged public.”

Good Schools, Good Citizens builds upon and broadens previous research through the Cardus Education Survey that found independent schools help to produce tolerant, civically engaged citizens in Ontario and British Columbia.

“Independent schools excel in civic formation, which strengthens social cohesion,” says David Hunt, Education Program Director at Cardus. “Canada Day is the perfect time for leaders, citizens, and the educational system to reflect on this, and to recognize and encourage the role these schools play in our democracy.”

Good Schools, Good Citizens: Do Independent Schools Contribute to Civic Formation? is available online.

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