Thursday, March 07, 2013

Dear Frau: Swiss School or International School?

Welcome to another edition of Dear Frau. It’s kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. Remember, if you’ve got a question about living in Switzerland or moving to Switzerland, don’t hesitate to contact The Frau. She’s not all knowing, but she likes to pretend to be.

Dear Frau,

We’re moving to Switzerland and I don’t know if I should put my kids in the local school system or at one of the international schools. What do you think? Thanks.

Is Calculus Better in English or German

Dear Is Calculus Better in English or German,

Baby M, The Frau’s Swiss-born American baby, is just that, a baby. The way she says “I do” also sounds a lot like “Achtung.” Therefore, it is still too early to tell what language she’ll prefer her algebraic equations in.

But The Frau has considered the school issue many times since M was born and also discussed the problem with many mothers of school-aged kids. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of the Swiss school options. And please leave a comment below, fellow yodelers, if you have experience with any of these or disagree in any way. A big merci vielmal to all in advance!

Swiss School Advantages:
Language learning
Most likely close by/local
Swiss friends/less transient group of children

Swiss School Disadvantages:
English reading/writing skills will be lacking
Schedule (coming home for lunches/different starting and ending times depending on days of week, etc.)
May need to hire a Tagesmutter if both parents plan on working
If there is a Tageschule (day school) available, the cost is typically high (CHF 10,000)
Difficult to move to another country (or canton!) for the child after starting
Foreign parents may find it difficult to help their children with homework

International School Advantages:
Native English/International curriculum
Daylong schedules
Easy to change countries
International environment/mix with children from all around the globe
Higher comfort level for foreign parents

International School Disadvantages:
Cost (CHF 30,000 a year is typical—but look on the bright side, that’s how much an average full-time day care costs in Switzerland too...)
Assimilation (your child will stay in an expat bubble)
Local language learning (your child will miss out, although bi-lingual international schools are also an option in Switzerland)
Transient students AND teachers
May have to travel further to the school every day

Things to ask yourself when making a decision:
1. Are you going to be in Switzerland long-term or not?
2. Is your company paying for your child’s schooling?
3. How important is it to you that your children read and write in English to the level expected of a native speaker?

Anyone else want to chime in with their Swiss school experiences?


Ozsváth Szilvia said...

Dear Frau,

It is a very good and helpful summary for someone who is trying to make the best possible solution. The tricky thing is, that most of us are only aable to plan short term. As forigners living in Switzerland, our daughter started her "carrier" in the international school. We planned a short, 2 year stay. Than - as many others - decided to enjoy what Switzerland can offer longer than those 2 years. Since our mother tounge is not English we decided to change school and our dauther is now in the local school. My message here is that many schools (and Switzerland in general) are prepared for foreigners. In smaller villages they give extra German lessons to the newcomers, in bigger places (like Baden, where the Frau is living as well) there is a special integration class. This is at least as international as the international school. My daughter even has an American classmate. Kids between the age of 12 and 16 can join the class any time of the year depending on when they arrive to the town - as long as there are free spaces - and stay for appr. 40 weeks. Most of these students speak English and the teachers too.


Szilvia (another Frau from Baden) :)

Anonymous said...

I went to Zurich International School for 4 years while my younger brother and sister went into local Swiss schools, grade 1 and 2. Within 2-3 mos they were both as good in Swiss German as Swiss children they went to school with.
It took me a year to learn the language. I retained the ability to speak Swiss Greman but my younger brother and sister lost it all and remember none of the language .

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Wow. Those costs for education are so high. I really don't object to the Swiss schools except for the awful hours. And it's quite deliberate, too. The powers that be want to keep mothers at home and out of the labor market.

JellybeanCH said...

We lived in Switzerland for 1 yrs. Our kids were French speaking and started at ages 10 and 13 in the local village French school in Biel. Not a good experience at all so we ended up switching them to the international school in Berne. I also taught for 9 yrs in local and international children. My advice? If your children are entering kindergarden or lower elementary, local schools are good. If your children are older they will have issues dealing with the language of instruction and assimilating as there is likely no help in the system for second language learners. BTW all the international schools I was involved with cost $15,000 to $ 20,000 annually and most often it it included in your ex-pat package of benefits from your company if you are transferring in with your job.

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