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Old 25.11.2010, 14:35
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Primary school - confused again!

Hi everyone,

I'm in a bit of a flap - so hope someone out there can help a bit with my reasoning.... feeling a bit confused....

So, here's the story - my son is now 6 1/2 years old. He attended 2 years of bilingual pre-school when he was 3 to 4 and then transferred to Swiss kindergarten. I also have another son, age 3, who is currently in a Swiss Tagesheim 3 days a week because I work 3 days a week too.

It was always our intention to "go Swiss" for education since we have been here 15 years now and have no intentions of moving. But on the other hand it's also always in my mind that "things" happen - jobs get lost, parents get old and sick etc. and one unforeseen day we might end up going back to the UK. The two years at International pre-school were in a time when we were not sure what our plans were so it seemed a safe option at the time. Because of his years there my son can already read in both English and German - and because he likes to read, he has progressed to a high standard (he can read the newspaper for example). And his maths is pretty good too.

So, a few days ago we had the parents evening for our local Swiss primary school where he would start next year. And I am just so totally disappointed in the whole thing. There seems to be basically no attempt at learning very much at all. The program they presented for the first 3 years of primary is so.... well.... basic.... he can do nearly all those things already. It seems to be exactly like Kindergarten with nothing that's going to challenge him at all.

In the beginning of Kindergarten, because of his reading ability, he did an assessment to see if he could go to school early, and this was actually turned down because he has some other issues - one of them being concentration and finishing tasks in time - this is fair enough and we didn't want to push him - also because we wanted to give him plenty of time to improve his German, get used to the idea of speaking it all day, make friends etc. so we were fine with the two years of Kindergarten to give some time for those things. But now I can't see him being challenged mentally/academically at school anyway! The teacher said that in the first year of primary they don't even expect kids to recognise the alphabet or count to more than 20 - I mean - what the heck is that about?? When exactly are the other kids going to learn to read? By the sound of it they will be at least 8 before they even start!

And then the final killer blow was that until he is aged TEN he will not do more than 2 afternoons a week. There is no after school program in our area (at the moment with Kindergarten he goes to my younger son's Tagesheim afterwards, but that is only up to age 7) - so we would need a Tagesmutter - again, another change to our arrangements - and it will change each year because they don't keep the same two afternoons each year. And it will be changing again when my younger child goes through the same thing at kindergarten and then at school. My work is flexible - but not that much! And I really can't keep chopping and changing my days and hours all the time - it's not good for my colleagues or me.

Basically, I'm finding the Swiss school system a source of continual stress. And I am on the verge of sending both our kids to the private bilingual school where Jamie used to go. Which would kill us financially it has to be said, but in the end it might be best for them, and us as a family. I could also add in there that my younger son has a serious eyesight problem which could make school a hard experience for him in general - and the private option gives much more one to one coaching and smaller class size which might suit him very well.

I just don't know what to do for the best. At the moment I feel quite uncomfortable about Swiss school, which is new for me because I've always been very positive about it before - thinking "it's good enough for Swiss kids, why not mine?"

OK, I finished my essay, congratulations if you got this far!

Can anyone offer another opinion because I think I'm just getting myself all twisted up in whatifs and worrying and not thinking straight any more.
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Old 25.11.2010, 14:48
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

In short, both our girls have gone through the Swiss primary system and we have found it extremely worthwhile. Obviously we are in a different canton, so your mileage may vary. We were lucky to benefit from an after-school programme (they had 2 afternoons off per week until year 3 or 4) run by the local commune (not the school, I might add).
I must say they learnt a lot in the the 1st 3 years, including starting German in year 3 and we found it a very positive experience. Our eldest is now in the top tier in the secondary school and I put that down partly to the quality of teaching (and not a little effort on her part, of course).
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Old 25.11.2010, 14:55
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

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Hi everyone,

I'm in a bit of a flap - so hope someone out there can help a bit with my reasoning.... feeling a bit confused....

So, here's the story - my son is now 6 1/2 years old. He attended 2 years of bilingual pre-school when he was 3 to 4 and then transferred to Swiss kindergarten. I also have another son, age 3, who is currently in a Swiss Tagesheim 3 days a week because I work 3 days a week too.

It was always our intention to "go Swiss" for education since we have been here 15 years now and have no intentions of moving. But on the other hand it's also always in my mind that "things" happen - jobs get lost, parents get old and sick etc. and one unforeseen day we might end up going back to the UK. The two years at International pre-school were in a time when we were not sure what our plans were so it seemed a safe option at the time. Because of his years there my son can already read in both English and German - and because he likes to read, he has progressed to a high standard (he can read the newspaper for example). And his maths is pretty good too.

So, a few days ago we had the parents evening for our local Swiss primary school where he would start next year. And I am just so totally disappointed in the whole thing. There seems to be basically no attempt at learning very much at all. The program they presented for the first 3 years of primary is so.... well.... basic.... he can do nearly all those things already. It seems to be exactly like Kindergarten with nothing that's going to challenge him at all.

In the beginning of Kindergarten, because of his reading ability, he did an assessment to see if he could go to school early, and this was actually turned down because he has some other issues - one of them being concentration and finishing tasks in time - this is fair enough and we didn't want to push him - also because we wanted to give him plenty of time to improve his German, get used to the idea of speaking it all day, make friends etc. so we were fine with the two years of Kindergarten to give some time for those things. But now I can't see him being challenged mentally/academically at school anyway! The teacher said that in the first year of primary they don't even expect kids to recognise the alphabet or count to more than 20 - I mean - what the heck is that about?? When exactly are the other kids going to learn to read? By the sound of it they will be at least 8 before they even start!

And then the final killer blow was that until he is aged TEN he will not do more than 2 afternoons a week. There is no after school program in our area (at the moment with Kindergarten he goes to my younger son's Tagesheim afterwards, but that is only up to age 7) - so we would need a Tagesmutter - again, another change to our arrangements - and it will change each year because they don't keep the same two afternoons each year. And it will be changing again when my younger child goes through the same thing at kindergarten and then at school. My work is flexible - but not that much! And I really can't keep chopping and changing my days and hours all the time - it's not good for my colleagues or me.

Basically, I'm finding the Swiss school system a source of continual stress. And I am on the verge of sending both our kids to the private bilingual school where Jamie used to go. Which would kill us financially it has to be said, but in the end it might be best for them, and us as a family. I could also add in there that my younger son has a serious eyesight problem which could make school a hard experience for him in general - and the private option gives much more one to one coaching and smaller class size which might suit him very well.

I just don't know what to do for the best. At the moment I feel quite uncomfortable about Swiss school, which is new for me because I've always been very positive about it before - thinking "it's good enough for Swiss kids, why not mine?"

OK, I finished my essay, congratulations if you got this far!

Can anyone offer another opinion because I think I'm just getting myself all twisted up in whatifs and worrying and not thinking straight any more.
Its a hard one i know and i too and becoming very disillusioned by the education system here in CH. before we arrived I was told it was the best thing since sliced bread but on closer inspection its not that great. It does very from town to town though so a lot does hinge on where you live

I think you have three options

1) move somewhere else in CH, maybe to the next town where the schooling is better
2) Go private and swallow the cost
3) Send them to boarding school in the UK. I know a few people who are looking at this / have done this and it sets them up well for uni in the UK

Hope that helps!
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Old 25.11.2010, 15:04
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

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1) move somewhere else in CH, maybe to the next town where the schooling is better
I have to say this did also cross my mind - we live in Basel Land where things seem to vary a lot from gemeinde to gemeinde. I have friends in Basel Stadt with primary age kids who seem to have a totally different program (go 4 afternoons a week, actively learning to read in the first term even).

I suppose I just remember how my son used to come home from the private school with real wonder in his eyes saying "mummy did you know that volcanoes are liquid rock?!" and now he says "I played in the bauecke. Again." He seems bored to me, although he clearly likes going if that makes any sense? He has friends and he's a sociable kid I think that's it.

I only want to do whats best for all of us. Do wish we had a bit more money to make the decision less down to "what we can afford".

I'd never send them away to boarding school. I think that would actually break my heart a little to be away from them so much
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Old 25.11.2010, 15:13
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

i know, my son used to attend private school in the UK and my wife taught at one of the most prestigious private schools in the UK so we're only too aware of the chasm in quality

i think thats your route really, sound out schools, ask to meet the head and ask them about their scheme of work for the year groups. The difference I tend to see here is that there doesn't seem to be a "National curriculum" which one would assume is a basic requirement.

it also very hard to get your hands on stats on the schools performance but you can find it if you look hard enough. That could be your starting point.

Good luck!
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Old 25.11.2010, 15:16
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

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Its a hard one i know and i too and becoming very disillusioned by the education system here in CH. before we arrived I was told it was the best thing since sliced bread but on closer inspection its not that great. It does very from town to town though so a lot does hinge on where you live

I think you have three options

1) move somewhere else in CH, maybe to the next town where the schooling is better
2) Go private and swallow the cost
3) Send them to boarding school in the UK. I know a few people who are looking at this / have done this and it sets them up well for uni in the UK

Hope that helps!
I have to say that I agree with OBone's views on Swiss education. To address some of your concerns, the Swiss system starts off very slowly but does gather steam quite rapidly. Children are not expected to start school with any prior learning input from home, hence the comments about counting from 1-20 and learning the alphabet. In reality of course many children can do much more than this and things may move quicker than you anticipate.

The problem lies in the fact that you will effectively be mixing two very different systems and at the age range of your children there really is not much overlap.

My children are in the Swiss school system and probably aren't doing as well as they would in a bilingual environment. The irregular hours, kids being sent home if teachers are absent, lunchtimes etc. just have to be dealt with, but I must say I found it a pain even when I wasn't working.

The upside of using the Swiss system is that your children will be well integrated socially. You mention your younger child's eyesight problem and it might be important for him/her to be well integrated with the local kids. Its not all bad and your older child will obviously have a period when he or she will be rather under-stimulated, this may give him or her time to take Swiss German on board if only German was spoken at the bilingual school.

Its a difficult one ... good luck.
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Old 25.11.2010, 15:35
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

Klostersgirl is right about the slow start, this really worried us too as my oldest son is quite bright especially at maths. However he is now in the 3rd class & I have to say once the kids learn the basics the pace really picks up & although they start school at a later age he is doing the work of a child of the equivalent age back in the UK. We are now a lot more relaxed about the schooling here & best of all because our son goes to the village school he is fully integrated with the other children & there is no language barrier.

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I have to say that I agree with OBone's views on Swiss education. To address some of your concerns, the Swiss system starts off very slowly but does gather steam quite rapidly. Children are not expected to start school with any prior learning input from home, hence the comments about counting from 1-20 and learning the alphabet. In reality of course many children can do much more than this and things may move quicker than you anticipate.

The problem lies in the fact that you will effectively be mixing two very different systems and at the age range of your children there really is not much overlap.

My children are in the Swiss school system and probably aren't doing as well as they would in a bilingual environment. The irregular hours, kids being sent home if teachers are absent, lunchtimes etc. just have to be dealt with, but I must say I found it a pain even when I wasn't working.

The upside of using the Swiss system is that your children will be well integrated socially. You mention your younger child's eyesight problem and it might be important for him/her to be well integrated with the local kids. Its not all bad and your older child will obviously have a period when he or she will be rather under-stimulated, this may give him or her time to take Swiss German on board if only German was spoken at the bilingual school.

Its a difficult one ... good luck.
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Old 25.11.2010, 15:49
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

In addition to all the above - i.e. exponential learning style of CH schools, shopping around for potential CH schools - also consider speaking to parents of children currently attending the primary school your son will attend. It is possible that you could arrange a "child swap" care with another parent, or that there are afternoon activities, but these are just not organised by the school.

I appreciate that this must be a lot of stress, and having no point of reference - or rather a completely different one - is a challenge, but the Swiss system on balance really isn't any worse than the UK one. I don't (indeed, refuse!) believe that across the board, the British education system is any better than the CH one, given declining standards in the UK.

On the flip side, I also hear many more positive comments from Swiss folks about the better schools in BL vs. BS.

Good luck with moving forward!
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Old 25.11.2010, 16:10
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

(i've only read the first post - 3 angry kids at home so dont have time..)
My daughter started school this year, and all i can say is that it is quite hard(!) I am glad that she could read and write (English) when she started in August - this means that she can almost do the homework by herself now.. ()
And she is a bright cookie... We also had the "does she start school a year early" discussion, and decided that it be better that she is strong in the class rather than average. And that she stay with her friends(!)

Other, younger, kids in the class, are finding it tough. And they have only 1 language at home(!)
They may say that they expect very little, but the kids do get extra work if they "need" it...
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Old 25.11.2010, 16:15
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

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Klostersgirl is right about the slow start, this really worried us too as my oldest son is quite bright especially at maths. However he is now in the 3rd class & I have to say once the kids learn the basics the pace really picks up & although they start school at a later age he is doing the work of a child of the equivalent age back in the UK.
It is really good to hear that from another actual parent - because that's what I had understood previously from discussions with his current KG teacher. I suppose it's why this evening intro surprised me - I was expecting the slow start to be only a few months and by the end of year one the kids would be reading (because that's how it was with Jamie when he started - within a year he could basically just read anything.)

But, I have to say, the "slow start fast later" approach really worries me when thinking of my son and his personality. He is [trying to be unbiased here!] a smart kid, but he's also a daydreamer and, frankly, a bit lazy. If he gets into the habit of "school is easy I don't need to make any effort" I can see it really backfiring at the point when he does need to really stop mucking around and actually make an effort.

I mean, what will he actually do while the other kids are learning the alphabet? He'll be staring out the window kicking his feet I reckon. And then if the teacher one day says something he might not actually know, he'll still be staring out the window and might miss it.

I know I'm still going round in circles, but you guys are really helping, honestly
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Old 25.11.2010, 16:24
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

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the Swiss system on balance really isn't any worse than the UK one. I don't (indeed, refuse!) believe that across the board, the British education system is any better than the CH one, given declining standards in the UK.
Actually I totally agree with you there - I don't believe the CH system is better or worse than any other. And I have no experience of the UK system either - except my own schooling which was far too many years ago now to be of any relevance! But I do have the real life experience of private bilingual pre-school in Basel vs. Swiss state kindergarten. And it's very difficult to even judge that because they are so completely different.

I guess the thing really is for me to work out what will be best for my son and I know none of you can work it out for me (I wish you could!) But keep the opinions coming - it's all helping in my thought process
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Old 25.11.2010, 16:30
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

As I grew up here most of the things that scare you were just normal for me but I am trying to give an unbiased reply :-)

I have learnt that the Swiss school systems seems very strange for "non-locals". One of the biggest problems was already mentioned. It is true, no "standard national curiculum" exists. This due to the much "loved" federalism or "Kantönligeist" as we say in German. This means that every canton (and to some extent even each commune) wants to decide themself what's best for the kids. Having said that I don't think this is such a brilliant thing as it makes moving between cantons with school children a nightmare... That was some background information. Sorry if you knew that already.

It is true that the children have different levels at the beginning of the school. Some can count to 100 others barely to 10. So it's very difficult for a teacher to start from the "right" starting point. That may vary a lot and depends on the other children in his class. As you stated your son now attends the local Kindergarten. I believe that some of his class will start school together with him then, no? So you know these children and you might be able to find out what they know already.

I believe that your son might be a bit "bored" at the beginning. However, if he has a good (emphasis on good!) teacher, that teacher will give him more challening work to do or let him help others which will be a good learning opportunity for your son as well.

Furthermore you could try to let him learn additional things. I babysitted a highly skilled or gifted boy but his parents wanted him to attend regular Kindergarten. He got bored very fast so they sent him to "Judo" classes in the evening. He was by far the youngest there and liked to be with the older children and to learn new things as well as a new "language" (at least the Japanese names you use in Judo).

The downside of the international school in my opinion is that he won't have local friends. The other children might be living very far away which means you would have to drive him if he wants to play. But more and more parents seems to be willing to do that. Also walking to school was a very good way to become "independent" of your parents and I always enjoyed that.

To close a long story short, both options have pro and cons. I believe I would start with a local / public school and see how it goes. If you feel that he's not getting anywhere after a couple of months you should talk to the teacher and ask for her opinion. If it doesn't improve you can always send him to a private school then.

Hope this helps!
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Old 25.11.2010, 16:36
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

Hi, sorry I have no advice to offer you as my kids have not yet started school in CH but I am interested in your views on bilingual school/kindergarten. I have seen on other threads a view expressed that in practice children who attend these schools do not attain fluent German and will not get into gymi without intensive private coaching. Just wondering what your take is on this based on your own experience? thanks
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Old 25.11.2010, 16:45
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

Is there a Tageschule in your area? Caring for the kids in a day school in Canton Bern is now compulsory so we have 3 since last August. I could then sign up my 6 year old without a problem on Tuesdays. That means I can now work on Tuesday afternoon until 6.00pm and it is her favorite day of the week. She LOVES it and would like to go every day.. the only problem of course is that it is closed during school vacations..
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Old 25.11.2010, 16:50
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

Your son sounds just like mine! My son is quite bright too, regularly getting 100% in his maths tests, but is a total daydreamer & would rather muck about in class than work. His class also has mixed abilities, his teacher gives the brighter kids the option to do extra worksheets or go on the class computer if they finish their set work fast and correctly. This helps to keep him focused. It did take until 3rd class before we got comfortable with the Swiss system of schooling so don't worry if it takes a while for you to come around to it.

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It is really good to hear that from another actual parent - because that's what I had understood previously from discussions with his current KG teacher. I suppose it's why this evening intro surprised me - I was expecting the slow start to be only a few months and by the end of year one the kids would be reading (because that's how it was with Jamie when he started - within a year he could basically just read anything.)

But, I have to say, the "slow start fast later" approach really worries me when thinking of my son and his personality. He is [trying to be unbiased here!] a smart kid, but he's also a daydreamer and, frankly, a bit lazy. If he gets into the habit of "school is easy I don't need to make any effort" I can see it really backfiring at the point when he does need to really stop mucking around and actually make an effort.

I mean, what will he actually do while the other kids are learning the alphabet? He'll be staring out the window kicking his feet I reckon. And then if the teacher one day says something he might not actually know, he'll still be staring out the window and might miss it.

I know I'm still going round in circles, but you guys are really helping, honestly
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Old 25.11.2010, 16:56
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

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Hi, sorry I have no advice to offer you as my kids have not yet started school in CH but I am interested in your views on bilingual school/kindergarten. I have seen on other threads a view expressed that in practice children who attend these schools do not attain fluent German and will not get into gymi without intensive private coaching. Just wondering what your take is on this based on your own experience? thanks
Happy to offer an experience back for all the comments I've had on my problem!

My experience with my son was that after 2 years at bilingual school he could speak good - probably not fluent though - German. And we're talking high German. He could also read German too. I think if he had stayed there he would certainly be fluent by now. But there were other kids, the same age who had been there the same amount of time who could barely understand to put their shoes on in German. It was just that somehow learning German interested him and he really wanted to learn (he also really loved his German teacher and would do anything possible to impress her!!) I think being able to read German was something that spurred him on - being able to read signposts and notices and things in the coop for example - he loved that.

Switching him to Swiss KG was hard in the beginning - he literally did not understand a word the other kids said - and he cried every day for about 3 weeks. Even though his German was good, he had no Swiss German at all. It really broke my heart he was so upset. And I nearly pulled him out then and there! But, he learnt very very fast. By the first autumn holiday in the first year (so about 7 weeks) he could understand pretty much everything. By the end of the first year his teacher said his Swiss German (and high German too!) was basically fluent - and he can easily distinugish the two languages and doesn't mix them, which is a common problem for kids who learn high German first apparently.

So, I think for language fluency the fastest way is certainly to go fully Swiss. But I think bilingual will eventually work too - just maybe a bit slower.
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Old 25.11.2010, 17:00
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

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Is there a Tageschule in your area? Caring for the kids in a day school in Canton Bern is now compulsory so we have 3 since last August. I could then sign up my 6 year old without a problem on Tuesdays. That means I can now work on Tuesday afternoon until 6.00pm and it is her favorite day of the week. She LOVES it and would like to go every day.. the only problem of course is that it is closed during school vacations..
No - there isn't one - at least not yet (perhaps HarmoS may influence such things?) another reason why I'm jealous of my Basel-Stadt friends where there are three of them! There is a Tageschule in Binningen (or is it Bottmingen... I can't remember now) but you have to live in the Gemeinde of course (and we don't!)

hmmm... actually moving there might be an option come to think of it....!!
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Old 25.11.2010, 22:25
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

Hi my son is 9 - totally bi-ingual. I'm English and hubby is Swiss. He's in the Swiss primary school and doing really well. He is a bright lad - average grades 5-6. It's true in Kindergarten they play more and it does take time for them to get going - but once they do, the stuff they do, especially in maths is really quite tricky!!

Have you heard of The Open Door in Basel? My son has been going since the age of 2. He still goes every Wednesday afternoon. He can read and write in English really well. He'd have no problem fitting in an English school.

I'm a teacher too - I work at academia international school in Basel. The students there who have come through the Swiss system have an excellent standard when it comes to Maths and logic.

Until now - I've had no problems with my son and his level of education in the local school. He also has a wide circle of friends in the neighborhood - and is completely integrated both here and when we go back to the UK.

I wouldn't worry too much about the fact that the kids don't really start serious work until the 3rd class. I always made sure my son had enough to challenge him at home, reading, discussions etc. At school the first few years were more about forming friendships and becoming more grounded in who he is......the homework is now coming - believe me!!

Also can sympathize with the crazy hours - that is the biggest issue I have with the local system here!
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Old 28.11.2010, 16:02
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

From the vantage point of experience and, with hindsight, I would say rather invest in private education now and save yourself years of frustration,
feelings of impotence, being misunderstood and lack of support from teaching staff as well as the injustices.

Of course you may be lucky depending on where you live and what teachers you encounter but personally I was not at all impressed with the school system in the area in which I live and, strangely enough, am also aware of many Swiss parents who are dissatisfied with the schools and most are happy when their children leave school.
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Old 28.11.2010, 18:38
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Re: Primary school - confused again!

I suspect Enaj is right to say that things are less frustrating if one can afford to pay for the private education experience. However the big caveat is that you are committing yourself to many years of school fees, which tend to go up more than one can possibly imagine at the start of the process. You also need to remember that school leaving isn't the end of educational expenses. Tertiary education is also quite expensive. Unless you are pretty sure you are going to have more than enough cash to spare for many years to come I think private education can be just too much of a commitment.
Irish Temptation's suggestion of extra curricular activities to counteract possible boredom is the way I would go for the moment.
I imagine that a move to an area where there are schools which would be more in tune with your needs might be something to consider.
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