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Public versus private schools: Should you make the sacrifice?

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Public and government-subsidized schools will reopen for a new academic year on Monday, August 12, as educators and the various school systems aim to mould minds and help students reach their full potential.

Fatima Iglesias

Although schools have closed their registration and students are already placed, it’s oftentimes a tough choice for parents determining which school is best to send their child – public, private or government subsidized

At the end of the day, parents want their child to reach their full potential, be well rounded and become academically sound, amongst other things. Where is this more optimally achieved?

We asked a few people to weigh in on the topic

St. Maarten Academy (Academic) Principal Tallulah Baly-Vanterpool said the standard is high in St. Maarten for subsidized schools, as these educational institutions are producing top students who are performing well at tertiary education globally: As a government-subsidized school, Academy works «very hard» on doing its best at stimulating students to perform optimally

«We encourage them to strive for excellence. We believe in our product, and have a proven record for more than four decades, as this year marks our 45th anniversary of excellence in education. Last academic year, our pass rate was 100% school passes and 98% college passes, a huge success from the largest graduating class at a subsidized school where the language of instruction is English. Over the years, we have also obtained regional awards in physics, mathematics and music.»

As in many other countries, she said St. Maarten offers parents a variety of levels of education and types of schools – all with different end goals. «The great thing in St. Maarten is that parents have choices based on their personal preference and what they can afford. It is important for parents to note, however, that they are not compromising their child’s education by choosing a government-subsidized school,» she stressed.  

Head of the Methodist Agogic Center-Comprehensive Education (MAC-CSE) Management Team Lavonne Cort said while the school is not fully subsidized, its students «continue to excel like any private-school child would have» given the financial constraints and circumstances of their parents/guardians

«Categorically speaking, MAC-CSE offers an excellent quality and globalized standard of education. We are small so some do take us for a private school. However, we provide education for all from the cradle to the grave. Fully qualified and competent staff persons are always sought out and hired and they do adhere to the old-fashioned principles of education while using modern technology to reach the diverse student body that MAC CSE has enrolled at its campus.»

Last year, when the first batch of MAC-CSE students sat Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams, the school achieved 100 per cent passes with 21 of the 30 candidates, passing six or more subjects with grades 1, 2 and 3 at the Caribbean Secondary Level Certificate (CSEC) General Proficiency Level and all 30 passing five or more subjects with similar grades. «The 21 of course qualified for college admittance and Study Financing.»

At the time of this interview, the school was awaiting results for the second set of CXC CSEC candidates. «From the second set, we already have two students who were admitted to Johnson and Wales University based on their advance performance at our school (and this was without the CSEC results) and another student was accepted to Howard University and is currently in the USA preparing for school.»

MAC-CSE started off its operations without subsidy from government. Cort stressed: «MAC-CSE places God first and foremost in all it does and He continues to bless and guide us.»

The school does not accept undocumented students. «What we do, however, is accept any student who meets entry requirement of passes in all subjects with at least 70 per cent, as well as the immigration requirement for legal entry into St. Maarten.»

The school has only two classes per level and classes are small, so this helps the school to give individual attention to each student attending the MAC CSE. «We do give our students packages of subjects that cater their individual needs and abilities.»

«Many schools focus only on Business or Science and cater to students who are above 80% average. MAC CSE also caters to students who maintain a 60-70% average in at least eight subjects. This way, our motto comes alive, in that education is provided from the cradle to the grave and no child is left behind. All of our students must exhibit the willingness to want to learn and to work hard to achieve their academic success. Students who, despite extra tutoring (free of cost for the most part), continue to show lack of progress are asked to pursue an alternate system of learning suited to their abilities.»

Speaking on behalf of public education, Department of Public Education Head Glenderlin Holiday said parents’ choice of school for their child to attend is an independent one. «As an educator for years, my only comment will be that the success rate is determined by a variety of factors (such as) social, economic (and) parental ability to support and parental ability to provide a learning environment conducive to learning.»

Holiday’s message in general is to recommend that parents and teachers continue to always have students as the main focus of their deliverables and to always have the students as their main focus

Like government subsidized schools, students at private schools perform optimally, are well rounded and get into some of the best colleges around the world

Caribbean International Academy (CIA) Principal Tom Brownhill said the benefit of sending a child to CIA is receiving a well proven curriculum from the province of Ontario in Canada. The instruction is in English and prepares the graduating students for enrolment in post-secondary colleges and university programmes. «All 27 of our graduates in June were accepted into post-secondary education in England, France, Switzerland, Holland, Canada and the United States,» he said, adding that the Canadian education system has been ranked sixth worldwide

«I can only speak about our school and not the other St. Maarten schools. I will say we have some students who have completed grade 11 at other schools on the island attend CIA for our grade 12, graduating year to increase the number of opportunities for post-secondary education.»

He stressed that CIA has «a very high pass rate and there is support for students to recover credits if the need be.»

CIA educators are members of the Ontario College of Teachers from Canada along with experienced on island teachers. The high school curriculum is offered at two levels. One pathway leads to university and the other leads to college. Students are able to select subjects in both streams to maximize the strengths

The school has approximately 94 students in grades nine to 12, and 95 in kindergarten to grade 8

Learning Unlimited (LU) Preparatory School Principal Daunesh Alcott declined to contribute to this article at short notice, as he had been off island at the time of the request for information and was busy in meetings and as the school was still closed. However, LU students are known to be top performers academically as well as in extracurricular activities


Parental contribution differs from school to school: At government subsidized primary schools, the fee is the same across the board (NAf. 300 for the first child, NAf. 275 for the second child and NAf. 250 for the third or more children), public schools have no school fees, but a small parental contribution of US $30 per child is required each academic year

High schools fees are NAf. 810 per child, per academic year at the two sections of St. Maarten Academy; NAf. 850 at MPC and Sundial School with discounts for additional children also attending either school; NAf. 900 at MAC-CSE and St. Dominic high schools

The tuition for private schools, such as LU, ranges from $6,950 per year ($695 per month) for pre-school to $12,300 per year ($1,230 per month) for grades 6 through 12

Private schools do not receive government subsidy