Democracy is complicated, irritating, slow and laborious. If you haven't got used to it while growing up, then it could come as something of a surprise when one must participate in political life as an adult. It is therefore important to work actively to ensure that children and young adults learn to participate in the democratic process, even in those countries that are already democracies.
On the other hand, it creates the risk that democracy is taken for granted if one has never had to fight for it, so perhaps the most important thing in a democratic context is actually that children learn to listen and converse, especially with people who are different from themselves.
This is where state schools play an important role and the profusion of private or free schools are in fact a challenge for democracy.
School in a homogeneous culture
In countries with a very homogeneous population - be it ethnic, cultural or religious - and where there is no well-developed, diverse cultural and business life, there are many advantages with private schools. They can offer different styles of teaching and operate in accordance with a different set of values and thus help to create variety and dynamism in society.
When the European countries introduced their current school systems, the nations were typically quite homogeneous with respect to language, culture and religion, and industrialisation had just begun, so there was no great variation in the populations. It was therefore a good idea to allow both state and private schools.
School in a multicultural society
However, nowadays there are enormous cultural, religious and other differences in the individual populations in many countries, and then school gets to play a different role; the different groups of residents, who might otherwise not have much in common, get to know each other through the state schools.
The exceptions, of course, are all the families who choose to send their children to private schools rather than publicly funded schools, in particular because some private schools, because of their religious beliefs, do not give children sufficient academic knowledge in the sciences and in religions other than their own.
For the sake of the future of democracy, it is worth considering whether or not it is time to abolish private schools. Instead, we should be giving state schools enough money and teacher resources to provide everyone with a proper education.
Schools and the future
In any case, a good state school system is a prerequisite for everyone in society having the opportunity to get the best education possible and being able to participate in democracy. In countries which have not yet introduced democracy, there is even greater reason to create good, free state schools, because it will help to pave the way for democracy.
Next chapter: Informal Education