Swiss state schools: The best option?
It is the time of year when Expat families are preparing for their move to Switzerland. If you feel adventurous, (or your employer does not pay for private schools), you might think about placing your children into the Swiss state school system.
Your schooling decision will depend on what works best for you as a family. However, there are some questions Expat parents should ask themselves before settling on a particular school option.
Perpetual nomad or settler?
While no one can foresee what might happen in ten years’ time, you will probably have a broad idea of whether your stay is going to be a short-term or a longer-term one. Also, do you expect to move frequently? Or are you planning to go back to your country of origin and need your older children to be able to slip back into the education system there?
Apart from the assumed length of stay, it is also about what you want your children to be:
Local or third-culture kid?
Swiss state schools and international schools do not just differ in terms of language and curriculum. They also differ in terms of what kind of child they are likely to ‘produce’: Children in local school will take on board the cultural and social norms of their host country. By contrast, children in international schools experience many different cultures and the prevailing norms will also depend on the type of international school – some might be more generically international while others might have a British, American or other slant.
Local or international curriculum?
While it might be impossible to predict the educational future of your two-year-old, it is important to know the different curricula and educational outcomes of your preferred school option. Will your child leave school with an IB or a Swiss Matura or a generic high school diploma? Which degrees give access to where? For example, an IB might be a good option for applying to universities abroad, but access to Swiss universities can be tricky. And not all international schools are IB schools.
Working or stay-at-home parent?
Depending on where you are planning to settle, local school hours can make it difficult for parents to work. The extended lunch break as well as irregular school hours can be a headache for Expat parents in Switzerland. Even if one of you is not working now, this may change in the future. So, before you sign your contract make sure you have a good idea about after-school offers, as these can vary significantly between cantons and even neighbourhoods. While private schools offer more consistent school hours, they also tend to be further away, making it necessary to ferry your child to and from school.
Ready-made school community or local links?
In Switzerland, Expat parents with children in the Swiss state school system tend to be less involved in their children’s school community than international school parents. How involved do you want to be in the school community? Despite all good intentions, forging links with the local community can be challenging. Are you committed to learning the local language and joining local activities?