The Swiss school system explained Margaret Oertig's indispensable book

Issue: Summer 2012
The Swiss school system is not easy for outsiders to understand. A new book explains how it works, and author Margaret Oertig tells Hello Switzerland how she came to write it.

So you've come to live in Switzerland and want to send your children to Swiss school, but are not sure how the system functions. Or you already live here and have to move, which means changing canton, maybe even language, and you find the new school is apparently nothing like the previous one. What to do?

Up till now people have muddled through somehow, or maybe abandoned the state school system altogether. Now help is at hand with "Going Local – your guide to Swiss schooling" by Margaret Oertig, a long-time resident in Switzerland who has a particular interest in and long experience of intercultural issues. Married to a Swiss with two daughters, both studying, she has always been a teacher; she is now a lecturer – in English – on intercultural collaboration at the School of Business (FHNW  - University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland) in Basel. She also gives training courses to international companies.


"Going Local" presents a detailed run-down on all aspects of Swiss schooling, from kindergarten to university level, in all 26 cantons. In over 260 pages, it covers everything you can think of: integration, the importance of the kindergarten curriculum, how to relate with teachers, selection procedures for further education and training, special needs and even legal aspects.


Although the Swiss programme for harmonising the state school system, Harmos, is mostly in place, there's still the problem of designations, which is a subject she explores in depth. At the back there are some useful appendices and tables, giving contact details of the 26 education authorities and a section on terminology. One table sets out the names of the various stages of schooling in every canton and their equivalents in other cantons, in the local languages – German, French or Italian – and English.


The range of subjects and the amount of detail that Margaret goes into is awesome. With her awareness of intercultural communications issues and comprehensive knowledge of the system, she's the ideal person to write on this subject, as Dianne Dicks of Bergli Books, the publisher, was quick to recognise – for it was she who asked Margaret to write "Going Local", following the success of her previous book, "Beyond Chocolate – understanding Swiss culture".


"It all started years ago when Dianne asked me to give a talk party about politeness and etiquette," said Margaret in a soft Scottish accent (she comes from Paisley, near Glasgow). It touched a nerve: over 70 people came, and many of them talked about their personal experiences, for example being considered rude by the Swiss for not saying cheers and looking into the other person's eyes before taking a first sip. "There was so much accumulated knowledge in that room. We wanted to put it all into a book, with different people's experience, not just my own," Margaret explained. She talked to over 40 people, Swiss and English; much of the material came from her company work and her own observations on the home front, dealing with neighbours and friends.


Margaret rapidly realised she needed to write a sequel focussing on the Swiss state school system, as she was meeting a great many parents who found it totally confusing. "It's something I really felt strongly about," she said. She had an advantage in that her husband has five brothers and sisters, three of them teachers in different cantons, and most with children. She talked to about 120 people in all, doing some travelling for in-depth interviews. "They were all was very willing to share their experience, and there's lots of information available from schools and research institutes on the web. And it helps that I know my way around," she smiled.


"Going Local" is a mine of information, extremely well researched, and liberally sprinkled with stories and anecdotes from parents who are seeing their children through the system - in short, required reading for any parents who want their children to have a Swiss education.


"Going Local – your guide to Swiss schooling" by Margaret Oertig

Published by Bergli Books

ISBN 978-33-905252-25-5 (print version)

CHF 29.90  



 Photo:Anitra Green

Author: Anitra Green

Has been in Switzerland long enough to be part of the scenery. Studied classics in London, now a railway journalist. Favourite occupations: travelling, hill walking, singing, good food, good wine and good company.

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