Expats sometimes struggle in finding the right school for their children. With so many choices and paths, how is one to choose between them all?
Parents often ask which is the best school. But the “best” school doesn’t exist. Each school offers a different program and a different pedagogical approach. And each child has to find the school that will best suit his/her needs.
It is important to remember that Swiss public schools meet high standards in general. The final diploma, called Maturité Suisse, allows students to pursue their studies at any university of the world. That being said, more and more parents, locals and expats alike, search for an alternative in the private education sector, for different reasons. In Geneva, students attending the public system cannot choose the school they want to attend: they are allocated to the different schools in their neighborhood based on their home address.
Before even beginning to visit the different private schools in the region, with the inherent risk of being biased by the beauty of the buildings, or the facilities offered on campus, it is important to decide the academic track that the child will follow. And the language of instruction.
Young learners are more and more often asked to make decisions very early in their schooling, which is not always easy. Parents are normally the ones who choose the language of instruction for their child. It is not unusual that expats, whose mother tongue is not French, will decide to put their children in a French-speaking school, either in the private or public sector. Children at a young age are fast learners, and they will adapt very quickly to a new language environment.
The first advice to parents will be to consider where their children will pursue their studies after graduating from high school. Indeed, each country and its universities have different admission requirements. By planning ahead as much as possible, the student will then be able to select the right track that will give them direct access to university.
Let’s compare the different diplomas regarding their pedagogical approach. The Swiss Maturité Diploma is a four-year program, offered in French, where the student follows eleven compulsory subjects. It is a demanding program where students have to perform well in every subject. If the student wishes to pursue his or her studies in Switzerland, then it is the perfect path to choose, because the only requirement will be to pass the diploma.
The French Baccalaureate, since its reform in 2019, gives the possibility for students to choose specialized courses (called ‘spécialités’ in French). The student will have to choose three spécialités in Première, and keep only two spécialités in Terminale. Students also study seven core subjects. The approach is still traditional, but the pedagogical resources offered by private Swiss schools allow for a more holistic approach. By choosing this diploma, direct entry to Swiss universities is not guaranteed. Indeed, students will also have to take science subject and mathematics.
The student following the International Baccalaureate (IB) path has to choose six subjects (three at a standard level, and three at a higher level). The approach of this diploma is more holistic, with a focus on writing, reflection, and community engagement as ways of learning beyond the classroom. The IB is recognised by every university in the world, and in some cases – notably in North America – students with the IB Diploma are awarded university credits in recognition of the program’s rigorous nature and the preparation it offers for university studies.
The final option available to parents looking to send their children to a private Swiss school is the British A-Level curriculum. With a smaller list of subjects undertaken – only three – it is crucial that students embarking on this two-year program are clear about their desired university subject, as subject-specific requirements will be specific to these three choices. Studying in Switzerland is still possible with A-Levels, albeit on the condition that the student has taken either Mathematics or a Natural Science as one of his/her A-Level subjects, along with three additional IGSCE qualifications, which would usually be completed in the first two years of high school. Careful planning is necessary and A-level subjects allow students to play to their strengths. They are also a good option if students are clear about their higher education path, or they are set on studying in the United Kingdom.
Once the parents have decided on the ideal academic program, it is time to find the right school. Visiting the different schools around Geneva is very important. Parents can also ask for their child to spend one or two days as a trial, to help the child feel the school atmosphere from the inside. Trust your instinct!