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Old 16.04.2019, 23:20
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Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

Hi all,

I have lurked on this forum for a long time and benefited very much from reading it, but this is my first post.

We are a family of three, soon to be four, considering a move from the US to Lausanne. Our plan at this time to stay in Switzerland for 7-8 years and then to move back to the US, although my job is such that we can stay longer if we like.

The question we are thinking hardest about is schools for children. Our older kid would be four and a half years old when we move; our younger kid would be 6 months old. We have been advised to put our children in public school, but we worry that this would make it hard for them to adjust to schools in the US when we return, and also that it would also be hard for us to help them with schoolwork (I don't speak any French at this point). On the other hand, it seems that the International school mainly caters to expats who are in Switzerland for a shorter duration than us. As a result we were looking at bilingual schools, in particular Champittet. But I'm curious to know what y'all think.
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Old 17.04.2019, 07:45
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

Welcome to the forum.

Honestly, go with the public schools. For one thing internationals are very expensive. Here's just one example:

https://www.isl.ch/page.cfm?p=4635

If you can afford those fees for 4 kids then you must be a millionaire.

The kids will pick up French very quickly, though you probably need to help them keep up with English since that wouldn't be taught until they're a bit older.

Since this move is still under consideration also note that as US citizens you're required under US law to continue filing US tax returns and could owe the US tax on top of your Swiss ones, though there are taxation treaties which mitigate this. Start your research on that here:

https://www.irs.gov/individuals/inte...-living-abroad

Also to be able to open a bank account here you would need to sign a W-9 form to allow the bank to send the account details to the IRS.
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Old 17.04.2019, 12:08
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

I'd also go with public schools.
If you do go back to the US, yes, there will be a bit of an adjustment, but since the kids' mother tongue will be English the move back really should not be that difficult.
We moved from Canada, when our kids were 10 & 12 years old, and put them in public schools here. So kind of the opposite of what you might do, except that our kids did not even know the language. It worked out fine.
By putting them in local school, you will give them the opportunity to not just speak but become bilingual in French, make local friends, and immerse yourself and them in the culture.
The only reason I would hold back on local school is if your older child has a speech delay in your own language. Then I would worry that that would make it difficult for him/her to learn French.
School starts slow here with an emphasis on play and social skills, but after age 8,9 academic demands increase. So you may find that kids seem "behind" their peers in the States at the beginning, but this evens out around age 10 or so, so if you move back at that time or after, you will find that the kids are the same or even ahead of their American peers.
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Old 17.04.2019, 18:37
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

Thank you for these very helpful responses!
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Old 18.04.2019, 14:39
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

I would start with the public local school route and supplement it with weekly English literacy lessons with either a qualified teacher (e.g. primary school teacher and not English teacher) who offers individual or small group lessons.

In this way, you leave all options open moving forward, the children learn French and integrate and you don't spend a huge fortune on International School when it's not really required. Then you can assess along the coming years how it's working out for you.
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Old 18.04.2019, 14:58
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

I second the need for supplemental English lessons, should you opt for local school, since you foresee reintegrating your children into US schools in the future.

My personal experience: My 8-year-old spent two years in a Swiss international school, where he was in a class of mostly native English speakers and a handful of students of other mother tongues (who had very little grasp of English). He also had not studied French before our arrival in Switzerland and at times received intensive "pull-out" French instruction in lieu of being present in the regular classroom. As a result, (and admittedly this is seeing it in hindsight) the English instruction he received (I believe) was somewhat watered down.

When my family returned to the US, he was 10. He tested for admission at a private school, which provided us immediate insight into the gaps in his reading comprehension and his writing ability, as well as gaps in his knowledge of spelling/vocabulary/grammar/punctuation. It was quite clear that he was behind his US peers.

Reading, watching television, and speaking English at home will keep your kids' grasp of spoken English in place, but unless that is supplemented with the teaching of some sort of formal English curriculum, your children (particularly your older child) may be at-risk of being behind when your family returns in 7-8 years.
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Old 18.04.2019, 17:47
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

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When my family returned to the US, he was 10. He tested for admission at a private school, which provided us immediate insight into the gaps in his reading comprehension and his writing ability, as well as gaps in his knowledge of spelling/vocabulary/grammar/punctuation. It was quite clear that he was behind his US peers.

Reading, watching television, and speaking English at home will keep your kids' grasp of spoken English in place, but unless that is supplemented with the teaching of some sort of formal English curriculum, your children (particularly your older child) may be at-risk of being behind when your family returns in 7-8 years.
Would it perhaps help if the kids were moved to an international school a year or two before the move back?
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Old 18.04.2019, 17:58
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

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Would it perhaps help if the kids were moved to an international school a year or two before the move back?
I would think that would be a good option in OP's case, particularly for the older child as based upon the time period that OP expects to be in CH, that child would enter middle school upon the family's return to the US.

IMO, the younger child would be fine staying in local school during the entirety of OP's stay in CH, with some supplemental English lessons.

As swisscanmom indicated, though, any potential special needs of the individual children would need to be carefully evaluated.
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Old 20.04.2019, 13:00
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

I had two kids who were in the Swiss system and are now in the international school system. There are positives and negatives to both and it is not so straightforward as to which is the correct path to take.

Local system

Your children go to a school near you, have friends from the local area and they learn the local language with an emphasis on grammar (and moving onto other languages in due course). The academic level is good but very much a "one size fits all" in terms of methodology. There are lots of activities that take place and the school system has a planned series of excursions which allow your children to become increasingly independent and able to live away from home. Language support is through pull out classes, which may go to push-in but not often, in my experience.

The possible negatives are there, though, and they are academic. At the age of 12 or 13, all students in the local system sit the ECRs. These decide the direction your child's learning will take in the next 4 or 5 years or so. While not set in stone, it is not so straightforward to change direction. The Swiss system is geared towards the gymnasiums (essentially academic schools) and the non-gymnasium schools. One will lead to university immediately, and the other can lead to university eventually, should they decide to go down that route. It is a little more complicated than this, but there are plenty of posts describing the process, which explain it much better than I can.

As has been mentioned, while your children will have good spoken English, they will lack the grammatical structure that underpins mastery, so this will need to be catered for, should they wish to return to the US. Also remember that the US academic system is predicated on the Common Core and NGSS, which builds knowledge through set classes (Algebra 1, pre-calculus, etc. etc.) whereas most non-US schools follow the "onion" method with a broad curriculum which is revisited in greater depth as the years progress. This will have an effect on the return of any child to the US system in the same way that any US schooled child coming to Europe has initial difficulties adjusting. It is normal and provisions usually have to be made for it. There are gymnasiums that do the IB but I don't know of any in Vaud. Here it is the Swiss Maturite and, like many examination systems, it is not for everybody. Then again, neither is the IB.

There is also the financial side of things. Can get somewhat difficult.

International School

Usually - but not always - have a diverse student body. Some of it is transient (2-3 years) but by no means all. The academic level can be high, but not necessarily so. The teachers will generally be qualified but some may not be highly experienced, and can themselves be transient. Most tend to follow the IB, FB or US/UK qualifications but there are variants.

Facilities will be great in the top schools but not so great in the cheaper ones. The local schools tend to have a lot more than most imagine and can offer support that will not happen in the international sector (without a hefty bill).

ISL has an excellent reputation and I have heard good things about Champittet also. In Lausanne you also have Brilliantmont and, outside of there, there is La Cote and GEMS Etoy. If you are willing to go further afield, there are schools but I suppose it is nice to see ones children now and again.
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Old 16.08.2019, 11:42
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

@Tuborg, thanks a lot!


your comparison, as well as other members posts help us a lot, trying to figure the education situation in CH.
We are considering a primary school now for our elder child and go through the discussion of pubic vs. private.


My conclusions are so far:


- Teaching level: there is no significant difference. You just have to be lucky with the teachers your child gets.
Nevertheless, in most cases, you can choose to which private school your child will go, but you can't do it with the public one. This is determined by your residence location. Consequently, you will have more selection of teachers when looking into private schools. But again, you need only 1-2 good ones who will be mentoring the child, and this can certainly be found in the private system.

- Facilities: Tuborg mentioned that in some cases the public system is superior to the private one.

- Language: Im not so worried about this. I think that we can provide the adequate environment to cope up with difficulties if occur. Also, both systems have option for German language reinforcement.

- Money: it is obviously that the private system is away more expensive than the local one. The 2 main questions which I keep on asking myself :

1. If private system is so superior to the public one (as some directors tried to convince us when we had meetings in the private schools), is it worth such enormous investment (in comparison to the private system). in other words, if this quality could be quantified to money, then the private system should be absolutely superior to the private one.

According to the posts in this forum, and other experiences I heard from Swiss and non Swiss, it is certainly not the case.
Even if one claims that the private system is superior to the public one, it is not such a big gap, justifying such high tuition fees.

2. Based on #1, I still cant understand: if the cons and pros are quite clear. why there are still parents that willing to send their children to the private system.

I can understand the expats at my work place who come here for 3-5 years, and go back to their origin country. They say that there is no need for the child to learn in German and English will be much more useful in future. On top the company pays the school, so there is no financial pain
However, if you are not an expat, but plan to stay long term in CH, then seems that the private schools are not so interesting option.

- Education methods: some parents would like their children to be educated in specific frameworks such as Montessori, Rudolf Steiner, Religious/cultural affinity etc. This obviously will not exist in the public system so much, as the public system intends to educate in the most common way for public schools.



Lastly, it seems now that we will go for the public schooling system. now the question is: how to find a good one?



I know that some members in this forum are teaching both in private and public systems, and will be glad to read about their opinions (from inside the system).

Last edited by aladin; 16.08.2019 at 11:57. Reason: adding a sentence
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Old 16.08.2019, 12:51
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

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...Lastly, it seems now that we will go for the public schooling system. now the question is: how to find a good one?
For the most part, you don't choose a school here. The children are assigned to a school near where they live.
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Old 16.08.2019, 12:57
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

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For the most part, you don't choose a school here. The children are assigned to a school near where they live.

Thats correct.

However, we are planning to move anyway, and wanted therefore to put this into our "to be considered" while choosing the new location.
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Old 16.08.2019, 16:45
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

The question is not really which school is good, but what makes a school good to you. What is important to you? I am a teacher in the public system, and I bet some of the parents who's kids I teach probably think I am a rubbish teacher, others really like how I do things. With the new curriculum Lehrplan 21 there is more creativity and exploration than before. Private schools have to follow the same curriculum, so can't be that much different. They can sometimes offer what public schools can't: smaller class sizes, different schedules, different languages, special programs like IB.
Schools in more expensive areas tend to have a student body of a more affluent background, for some parents this is desirable, others favour a more diverse student body. No one can really tell you how to find the best school for your particular child, there are too many factors. Overall, public schools are of good quality, so find a nice place to live, try the school, see how it goes.
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Old 16.08.2019, 17:05
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

Most of your kids friends will likely come from the school they attend. So no worries on that part. Integrating with local kids will be harder, but by no means impossible. if they don't speak French, however, I believe French is part of the ILS's curriculum. Besides, being young they will quickly pick it up and learn.

Depending on your income, just like in the US you can apply for financial aid, and this may reduce the fees you pay.

Seeing the age of your children, and the fact you will return to the US in 7-8 years I'd likely put them into an International School. If you think you may stay longer, then go with the public schools but bear in mind, if you change your mind, the US and Swiss curriculum are very different.

We experienced this when our now 16 year old came back into the Swiss school system from the South African one. He not only had to drop a grade so he could catch up (though only for a semester), but also had to do the year again. He's fine with it and it hasn't disturbed him at all, except he'll now finish school at 19 instead of 18 and at 20 if he goes for his maturita which will allow him to go on to a Swiss university.
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Old 16.08.2019, 18:38
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

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Private schools have to follow the same curriculum, so can't be that much different.
Actually quite the opposite in my experience. They are not tied to the swiss curriculum (curricula), and btw, there are different agreed curricula per language region, and sometimes Canton differences still. Private schools in this area tend to offer the IB or French Bac., A-levels, in addition to Swiss Matura (fed. or cantonal), so they will all teach different stuff to get students to the specific degree.

In my view, the most important things to think about in looking at schools whether public, private, or bi-lingual are the languages taught, the degree or diploma to receive at end, and if university education is sought. Those were the 3 things I considered when looking at schools and they still hold.
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Old 16.08.2019, 21:01
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

I've just scanned this thread, and there is also another benefit to the local schools. We've had 2 kids through the local system, from speilgruppe to Gymi, and when there are problems or gifted kid opportunities, then the local Swiss system will give considerable help.

Free mostly.

We have had additional 'Local Speech' courses on a nearby farm !! Much help with ADHD counselling and individual tutorage,as well as guidance and repetition while in Gymi.

We cannot fault the effort that the Swiss education system puts into teaching all kids.

Oh, the hard wooden desks and teachers in black cloaks.
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Old 16.08.2019, 21:52
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

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Oh, the hard wooden desks and teachers in black cloaks.

How was the communication with the school staff? teachers? other parents?


Since both of us, parents, are not native German speakers (not mentioning the Swiss dialect ), I'm somewhat concerned that we will not be able to have smooth communication, and therefore might be difficult to fulfill the needs of school and our child...


It seems to me that in the private education system, the staff is used much more to deal with "non Swiss students".
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Old 16.08.2019, 22:02
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

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How was the communication with the school staff? teachers? other parents?


Since both of us, parents, are not native German speakers (not mentioning the Swiss dialect ), I'm somewhat concerned that we will not be able to have smooth communication, and therefore might be difficult to fulfill the needs of school and our child...


It seems to me that in the private education system, the staff is used much more to deal with "non Swiss students".



It is your child being educated, not you !


By having and giving them the chance to learn a second language fluently is really no0t something to be cast aside without another thought.




By teaching him in a "non Swiss way" the child will remain very insular
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Old 16.08.2019, 22:05
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

The local government schools are very, very used to having children who do not have German or Swiss German as their mother-tongue, who have moved here from somewhere else, and whose level of mastery of the school subjects is different from that in Switzerland. The schools are accustomed to providing language support and also extra help to get the child up to the Swiss levels in any subjects which were covered less in the child's previous school, and to help them learn the local-language vocab for subjects they can do well, until things gradually match.

Similarly, they are accustomed to dealing with parents who have not yet learnt German.

Please take note of that word "yet". In a local government school, your children's teachers will most likely be accommodating to your lack of the local language, at first, but they will expect you to get on with learning it it and learn to cope, so that you, too, can read the school newsletters and understand the permission forms for the school outings, etc.

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By teaching him in a "non Swiss way" the child will remain very insular
I agree. That would be a pity for the child.

The most motivating force for a child attending a local school, to step up and learn the language and make their way well in school and with local-language-speaking children, is often a set of parents who, themselves, are determined to grab this wonderful opportunity to expand their horizons, master the language, and become competent and socially adept here, with the locals.
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Old 16.08.2019, 22:17
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

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It is your child being educated, not you !


By having and giving them the chance to learn a second language fluently is really no0t something to be cast aside without another thought.
This and it is the kids that need to commmunicate with the system, most of all. I think when the teachers/school need to communicate with parents, they will find a way and vice versa.
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