Not sure if Swiss state schools work for you and your children? Sofia, who is living in Zug with her husband and two children, has some tips!
When we arrived in Switzerland 5 years ago, we were exited to start a new life with our children. We thought long and hard about putting our children into Swiss state school, not least because of the many horror stories we read on social media forums. We finally decided to enlist the help of a local school consultant and she helped us to make sense of the different options. In the end, we opted for local school. With our children now fully fluent in German and very much part of their local community we feel we have made the right decision. However there are some things that I wished I had known beforehand!
School feedback from other parents
Searching the internet and expat forums for information on local schools can be as helpful as confusing – depending on the poster, experiences range from “fantastic” to “total nightmare”. I can sincerely say that our experience has been neither fantastic nor horrible but quite “normal” judging from what my friends tell me about their experiences back home.
So, while expat forums can be helpful, take them with a pinch of salt! What is fantastic to one set of parents and a nightmare to others not only depends on personal experience but also very much on one’s own cultural background! If you are not sure whether going local or private schooling is the better option for you, I would definitely recommend to get support from an independent school consultant!
When our children first joined the German integration class, we had a long and good chat with the teacher. We somehow expected this level of communication to continue and were quite surprised when we did not get any updates pretty much for the rest of the year! What we learnt is that we have to be more pro-active in checking in with the teacher. From time to time (not too often!) I will send a friendly email asking the teacher how my children are getting on and I always get an update.
School discipline and feedback
The Swiss school system certainly priorises discipline over different (perhaps more unruly) learning styles. It also has a stronger focus on rule following than what we were used to from our school. Our oldest son is a very structured learner – unlike his younger brother! We got a lot of critical and negative feedback from one teacher and it felt very personal at first. It took us a while to understand that many teachers here genuinely seem to think that pointing out a child’s weakness is an effective way to “help” the child (to change his behaviour). This plus the fact that even model students will get a list of self-improvement goals helped us to take negative feedback less personal.
The art of being non-confrontational
If there is one thing I have learnt in the last years, it is that the Swiss hate confrontation. Coming from a country with a more ‚direct’ communication style, we quickly found out that criticism does not get you anywhere: Many Swiss simply block and baulk when confronted with someone perceived as being openly critical. When you come across as demanding or disapproving, the teachers easily feel personally offended and clam down. Ever so often it felt as if we hit against a brick wall! So we reluctantly decided to hone our “constructive” communication skills and it worked! This strategy enables us to still made our point but in a non-confrontational way. It is not always easy but at the end of the day we want the best outcome for our child.
No school system is perfect!
“Overall, I like the Swiss school system. I love the fact that children grow up to be independent and self-reliant. Its great that they get a solid grounding in maths and languages. There are some things about the school system that I like less. But – I have lived in a number of different countries and talking to friends with children in other school systems always helps me to put things into perspective! Yes, Swiss teachers can be obsessed with rules but my Spanish friends complain about long school days and the homework load back home. My US friends hate the fact that school quality back home is dependent on property tax and worry about guns. My British husband criticises the growing inequality in the UK school system. So, no system is perfect!”Sofia, Zug