Swiss boarding schools are different

TRADITIONAL QUALITIES: The private school is a well known and important part of Switzerland's education system, but for prospective students from overseas, they offer quality teaching

By TOSI, based on material from the Brillant mont International  / 

Fri, Jul 30, 2004 - Page 5

Along with glistening white peaks, chalets overloaded with flowers, succulent cheeses and cool, inviting lakes, "Switzerland", for most people evokes quality, security and tradition. These are qualities of which Swiss boarding schools are proud and which play an essential role in Swiss private education.

Private schools have a long tradition in Switzerland and play an important part in the overall educational system. The first private schools were opened at the end of the 19th century. Many of them are a direct reflection of the foremost efforts of educationalists such as Pestalozzi, Father Girard, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner and their successors such as Bovet, Feriere and Piaget -- figures whose impact on the pedagogic of education has extended far beyond Switzerland's border.

It was actually through the country's historical development that Switzerland acquired a reputation as a center of education. It was a reputation that spread rapidly throughout Europe and beyond. Any good family wishing to round off their children's education would tend to look to Switzerland to do so -- especially if the offsprings were expected to obtain a grounding in French, too as in those days the social status was of immense importance and would determine the kind of education the child would receive.

Today, there are many boarding schools throughout Switzerland, each with their own identity and their own particular strengths. Every school is different, whether it be in terms of the programs they offer, their location or their student body. Yet, what they all share is a commitment to quality and to developing the potential of the students entrusted to them.

But why would a student choose a school in Switzerland as opposed to one in another country? Firstly, the location, Switzerland itself. Switzerland is a country known for its high standards. Aside from the breath-taking natural beauty, visitors are always impressed by the efficiency, the hospitality, the courtesy and the law-abiding citizens they meet. In a country where over 20% of the population are immigrants, they feel safe and at ease with the various cultures they encounter every day.

Furthermore, the proximity of Switzerland to other European countries enhances the feeling of "internationalism", whilst stimulating the learning of other languages. Secondly, the tradition of education is such that Swiss schools have for many years been considered the best. The "finishing schools" of yesteryear have evolved, many into regular high schools, whilst those which remain have adapted their programmes to the fast-moving, technological world in which we live. In short, the foundations remain but the buildings have been renovated.

Thirdly, the wide choice of schools and the flexibility offered means that Switzerland has a school for everyone. Some offer British or American programmes, some bilingual programmes. Some of the schools start with students at the age of 9, whilst others begin at 12 and go up to 18. Some are in the mountainous areas, others in city suburbs; some are small and family owned, others may be a bit larger.

Fourthly, a Swiss boarding school offers a global perspective on education blending with quality of life and Swiss hospitality for a positive learning experience. Classrooms become global villages. A typical Swiss boarding school of some 300 students may have as many as 30 different nationalities under one roof.

Potential students should aim to visit as many schools as possible in order to find the right environment, which corresponds to their future plans. The renown of Swiss private education is that it is tailor-made. Student programmes are personalized and the small class sizes allow rapid progress to be made and the students to be challenged. Most schools provide varied extra-curricular activities outside the classroom and a range of excursions so as to encourage all-round development. Many students will complete their secondary education in one establishment so the links forged between the student and the school are profound and long-lasting.

Knowing how difficult it could be at the beginning to search for the right school interested parents may contact the Swiss Federation of Private Schools (www.swiss-schools.ch) which provides a full list of all its members. Or as a first port of call, the Trade Office of Swiss Industries (TOSI) in Taipei can offer brochures/information of many of the schools. It can also give details of the agencies with which the schools work, or the student may wish to contact the school direct. Students should inquire about official accreditations of the school, which may facilitate the selection process.

Many schools organise summer schools in July and August, which can provide a taste of boarding school life and most will gladly provide contact details of current or recent students from Taiwan who can be contacted to share their own experiences. One thing is for certain: wherever a student chooses to study, a Swiss private school experience is an education for life and a passport to opportunity.