Many expats relocating to Switzerland prefer to send their children to private schools, instead of local schools, for reasons of continuity, language, and culture. It is worthwhile staying informed and considering factors such as your intended length of stay, your children's age, the programs on offer, and your place of residence and employment, when choosing a school in Switzerland. Keep in mind that demand may be high in certain areas and places limited.
Private and international schools in Switzerland
Switzerland is a small country with strong international connections through business and international organizations. Its tradition of excellence in schooling has given Switzerland a large selection of internationally recognized schools including private, day, and boarding schools, as well as international schools. With concerns for global mobility in mind, many parents consider international schools for their children in order to facilitate moving to different parts of the world according to the parents' career paths. Others simply desire to foster a global perspective in their children from an early age. Bilingual education studies show it to be beneficial in increasing mental flexibility for better overall academic attainment.
There are multiple reasons to take advantage of Switzerland's international educational options while in Switzerland.
Factors for choosing private and international schools
Short term assignments in Switzerland
Students who are in Switzerland for a short time (one year or less) may require continuity with a home country curriculum. Or it may be better for them to be instructed in their mother tongue for easier reintegration at home or in the next destination. International schools help to provide continuity through multiple moves.
Attending higher education abroad
Depending on your child's higher education goals, studying at an international school may better prepare them for university study in another language or back in your home country.
Benefits of bilingual development
Integrating multilevel thinking from an early age is proven to help children excel. Note: Not all international schools offer bilingual education (as in the main curriculum is taught in both languages, rather than treated as a foreign language).
Children will develop an understanding of a global world through friendship and learning with international classmates. This includes exchanges with other international schools, mock UN debates, sports, and arts.
The three types of international education
1. International curriculum
An international curriculum, such as International Baccalaureate (IB) or International Primary and Middle School Curriculum (IPC, IMYC), is specifically designed to capitalize on global awareness and development. It uses "units of inquiry", or themes, to bridge different disciplines from the same basic topic. There is an emphasis on the learning process rather than on factual repetition. These schools are often strong in creative programs. The international approach emphasizes individual progression, so students work to their ability, which accommodates student differences with flexibility and tries to keep students within their age group.
2. National curriculum
The national curriculum structure is modeled after your home country. It could help to ease the process of transferring back to your home country, whether it be after a short or a long stay in Switzerland. Insistence on language of instruction proficiency, or a mother tongue connection to the language in the family, will often distinguish national curriculum schools. Nevertheless, the experience will be adapted to accommodate the multiple nationalities in the student body.
Schools with a national curriculum are often more open to the local culture, introducing daily instruction in the local language in parallel to the home country program. Students in these programs therefore take on extra academic loads, in addition to their core program at home, that help them bridge to the local environment.
National curriculum availability varies depending on location, but it exists in English (UK), French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Russian, and Swedish, with mother tongue support offered in additional languages through the support of their embassies. Multiple online resources offer information about English National Curriculum, Cambridge program, IGCSE and A levels.
Note: Although the French National curriculum is taught in one of Switzerland's local languages, it is not taught in the same way. Just as the American and British programs differ, so does the French.
3. Bilingual education
Studies shows that learning subject matters in different languages helps to develop increased brain pathways for more flexible learning capacity. This is increasing the interest in fully bilingual education for primary school and beyond. Multiple language instruction is available in selected schools around Switzerland from Montessori to main stream schools. A bilingual approach to learning requires some initial dedication to establish the basics of new language acquisition, so allow time for integration. In Switzerland, bilingual programs also exist between French and German with English as the third language, so it is important to research your situation in detail.
Each international school in Switzerland will offer a specific program and the choice is too exhaustive to list here. When you identify schools of interest that correspond with your needs, organize a visit to get more information.
Benefits of private schooling
Full day schedule
The curriculum in international schools is designed for full day attendance, including lunch and recreational breaks. This differs from Swiss local schools which usually require students to return home during the lunch break. When available after school care is optional at an extra cost.
Value given to differences
Among the student body of international schools, multiple languages at home and different cultural backgrounds are standard. This becomes a positive educational tool in the international curriculum, as your differences become your strengths.
Community and communication
A strong point of international education is the robust network of parent/teacher/school associations. The whole family finds opportunities to connect with others and participate in an extended social experience linked with the school. Teachers are also more responsive to parent requests for student progress and parent participation in school events.
Private education gives strong attention to the individual student's needs and interests. Integration of non-mother-tongue students is accepted and encouraged and forms part of the cultural and educational philosophy of the school. Individual learning needs are also accommodated in a creative environment.
If you have a child with learning difficulties, or a gifted child, be sure to request more information from your preferred schools as not all schools can accommodate special needs equally.
Things to consider when choosing a school
If the chosen international school is not local transportation is required. Students travel to school each day from all different areas, by private car or by school bus. Therefore, after school play with friends often requires organization and transport, as does after school extracurricular activities and rehearsals.
International mobility brings an element of change to the classroom, as parents' careers move families to new destinations. A core student body of long term international school students does exist, but you must expect some change, even if you stay in one place.
Separation from local community
Living in the "international school world", can isolate you from the local culture, community, and activities. International schools encourage their students to participate in extracurricular activities like sport and music in their local communities so they get more exposure to the local language and customs, and build new friendships.
Private schools are fee paying, varying in price from approximately CHF 15,000 to CHF 30,000 per year. The price will vary depending on the school facilities available and whether or not the school is a non-profit or an affiliate of other organizations. Registration and capital development fees can be significant. Note: If you are relocated to Switzerland, check with your employer to confirm if they offer tuition support in your relocation package and for how long.
There are also costs that are not included in basic international school fees. These can include: meals, lunch time supervision, after school activities, after school supervision, school trips (mandatory and optional field trips, humanitarian field projects), school sports competitions or festivals abroad, books, uniforms, and school transport. If you work full time some of these may be essential extras so make sure to take these expenses into account. Others on the list may be important for getting the full international school experience, but they may or may not be eligible for reimbursement from your company.
Choosing the right school is like choosing a flavor of ice cream
No one ice cream flavor is better than another but most people have a favorite that they will defend adamantly as "the best". The international school that is right for you and your child will depend on your personal preferences and goals. Luckily, the overall quality of these schools is very high, so be encouraged, not intimidated. The right school for you is not necessarily the school your colleague loved; you just prefer different flavors. Make your own judgments about schools by visiting them and considering the special needs of your family. No one else can make the decision better than you.
The right school is out there. It will balance between your child's personality, interests, and specific learning needs, your family history, your family goals for the future, and your financial situation. Like a puzzle, you need to identify the pieces and put your picture together. Having the pieces in the right places will make your experience in Switzerland, and your child's future, even more spectacular. For personalized assistance please contact me directly via the address in my bio.
Additional education resources
Please refer to the articles listed below for further information on international and private schools in your region.