SWISS PUBLIC SCHOOLS: 7 BASIC QUESTIONS ANSWERED
by Alana Dunsmore
When we moved to Switzerland our son was very little and his first day of school seemed light years away. But before we knew it, that day was fast approaching and we were agonising over choosing the right school.
We’d heard good things about the Swiss school system, but we had no idea how it worked. Luckily, someone recommended this book: “Going Local: your guide to schooling” by Margaret Oertig.
It had nearly all the answers we were looking for – and I highly recommend it to parents wanting to learn more about the public school system in Switzerland.
WHERE TO GO FOR ANSWERS? REGIONAL DIFFERENCES AND THE BIG PICTURE
School systems often vary by region and Switzerland is no exception. What’s great about this book, is that in addition to providing overall knowledge of the system, the author also notes the differences between the different regions; French, Italian and German areas of Switzerland. She discusses the basics of the Swiss school system such as starting age, school location, and language. She also mentions the bigger elements of the school system such as two kindergartens (1P & 2P), primary, secondary, and so on. Within each chapter, she mentions any differences there might be between the different regions.
7 QUESTIONS ABOUT SWISS SCHOOLS ANSWERED
WHAT AGE DOES YOUR KID START SCHOOL?
In Switzerland, children start school at age 4. For some this is surprising, but for others it’s normal. School is mandatory in Switzerland, so this is not negotiable.
MY CHILD DOESN’T SPEAK FRENCH, WHAT DO I DO?
For non-French speakers this could be the most overwhelming element. When my son started his first year he really didn’t speak much French, therefore the language was a concern for us. Geneva has a large expat community, therefore we were not the first in this situation and the school systems are totally prepared for this challenge.
In the book, Margaret discusses how the school system deals with this limitation at all ages and even for children transiting from private to public school. The education system has seen it all, she says, so they have the proper systems in place.
What we found particularly helpful, in addition to the author’s explanations, are interviews or opinions from children and adults to provide a good idea of what to expect.
OK, BUT I ALSO DON’T SPEAK FRENCH, HELP!
Lack of French for my son was not the only language concern and the bigger factor was that neither my husband nor I spoke a lot of French. She also discusses these concerns. Again, the schools are set up for this – you won’t be the first! She explains what parents can expect and includes a couple of tips or resources to help parents learn the local language.
HOW LONG ARE THE SCHOOL DAYS AND WILL MY CHILD COME HOME FOR LUNCH?
I was surprised to find out that some schools only offer classes half days and that it is standard for the schools to break for lunch with children often going home for lunch. What?? What happened to the me-time I was expecting! Don’t panic!
This is one area where it can really vary depending on the canton. There are lunch and after school programmes. It’s an additional cost but quite affordable compared to private daycares or a nanny.
PRIMARY, LOWER, UPPER, GYMNASIUM?
The divisions of age groups were difficult to understand and I am still learning. We’re used to primary, middle and high school. Here there seems to be many different paths.
The book really helps to explain the different areas and what age your child will start and finish which section. She also discusses important elements for each section, for example for kindergarten the main goal is intellectual development rather than academic development. Throughout the book, she always mentions potential differences between cantons or the three different language areas.
THERE’S A TEST IN 4P?
This was a big one for me and honestly still is. The idea of two tests which play a huge role in their future at such a young age, really doesn’t sit comfortably with me.
After reading the book, I felt a bit better. The author discusses the tests and the routes. She also discusses any opportunity for changes after starting one route. I won’t say it resolves my concerns, but it gives me a better understanding of the course.
THE LINGO: WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
One of the most valuable elements of the book might be the back section. Here you will find information about the different terminology used, acronyms, and information regarding the education department. It’s a great section which I often refer to since this can be half the battle for a non-French speaker.
I highly recommend this book for a basic understanding of the Swiss public schooling system. It’s not going to teach you everything especially since there can be differences for individual schools, but it will help you to know what to ask for in your specific situation. The author has a good understanding of cultural differences.
The book is available in some public libraries but you may, like me, decide you’d like a copy as you’re likely to reference it multiple times throughout your child’s education. The book is available on bookdepositorycom.