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Old 05.09.2011, 21:00
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Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

Hi all

Well, here's another one biting the dust. We shall be leaving Switzerland in about mid-October, and moving to the US (Phoenix, in Arizona).

I hope the mods don't mind my posting the news here - it's the board I feel most at home on, and our reasons for leaving are largely school-related.

So why are we going, after 3.5 years? We've certainly been really happy here - the lifestyle is great, the people we've met have been warm and friendly, I love the sense of community, the way the kids walk to school alone, I live a couple of minutes' walk from probably the best beach on Lake Geneva, etc. Heck, I'm even fluent in French now.

Well, it's mostly to improve education prospects for my son, who went into 2nd grade in our local school aged 8, and is now 11.5. He's had a great experience there - he's made good friends, liked his teachers, never been bullied, has never once said he didn't want to go to school that day but always skips off happily. I liked the breadth of the curriculum, the emphasis on handicrafts, the non-pressured academic environment. His primary teacher was cool and funky, and used lots of different teaching methods to make the lessons fun and engaging. I really see the benefits of the slower start here in schools, and couldn't have been happier with his primary education.

But now that he's in transition cycle, all I'm seeing is spoon feeding and rote learning: listen to the teacher, copy from the board, memorise, test, start the cycle again the next week. All the 'soft skills' he was starting to do in primary - preparing and delivering presentations, working in small groups, doing independent research, etc - have utterly vanished. They never discuss, never have to find anything out for themselves, never learn to question. They had a class computer in primary, which was used for playing educational games, but that's vanished now - he hasn't touched a piece of technology in school for a year, nor been set any homework that could be done using a computer. It's not the education that's going to equip him for future studies, future work and adulthood generally.

Obviously I knew there would be issues to the children doing their schooling in a foreign language/ country. I knew that I would have to make sure the vocabulary for science, geography, etc, transferred across to English terms for them, and to fill in gaps like British history, but figured that all the general knowledge, maths, ability to compose and structure his thoughts, how to engage others in his ideas, 'learning how to learn' would be transferable skills.

Erm... no. Not quite.

I don't know why there's such a difference between the rich education he was receiving in Grades 3 and 4, and the mechanical, rote learning he's doing now. Two possible reasons are:

1) he was just lucky, and his primary teacher was marvellous (a possibility, as she was very individual and non-teacherlike in things like her appearance; perhaps she just snuck in the good stuff under the radar)

2) the assessment for streaming during Grades 5 and 6 are driving the curriculum and methodology; it's very easy to defend a streaming decision based on test performance of yes/no facts about maths, German verbs and the vocab for leaves; much harder to do so based subjective measures like: 'how well did Johnny research this topic and present it, what part did he play in the group work, etc?'

The streaming will cause problems for my son - he's not a natural linguist and although now conversationally fluent in French, he still makes grammatical errors, and his vocabulary is nowhere near as wide in French as in English. He's passing all his subjects, even French, and getting moderately good grades across all his subjects, but his strengths are clearly in maths, science, technical, engineer-ingy sort of things, along with his personal passion, history. Which means he's unlikely to make the cut for the top VSB stream, which is based on marks in only French, German and Maths. And realistically, even if he did squeak in, his level of French means that he would be trailing along at the bottom of the class, struggling to keep up. Naturally, like all children ever mentioned on forums , he's very bright and based on his performance in the UK he cruises comfortably in the top quarter of the class and can get in the top 3 or 4 if he tries. But not when he's studying in French, apparently.

He really shouldn't be heading for a vocational track, and it would be doing his education and prospects a dis-service if we left him where he is. So with all this - streaming, French, irritation with regurgitation learning - we decided he needed to be back in English language schooling in the near future. And that it also would be great at the same time to fix hubby's insane work hours, which span both the European and US timezones as a double shift.

Luckily our thinking this coincided with hubby's boss -also a victim of mad hours - deciding he wanted a Euro representative in the US. So we're off in about 5-6 weeks, assuming next week's visa interview goes ok. In the meantime, I've been homeschooling the kids since May using US materials, to prepare them for doing school in English. (And to learn to write coherently, because not once in three years has my son been given a blank sheet of paper and asked to write a story/ essay/ poem/ paragraph/ sentence…)

I hope this doesn't come across as too negative about the education system here in Vaud. My children have both been really happy at school here, my son especially has had some wonderful, passionate teachers, everyone we've come into contact with has been nothing but welcoming and helpful. I'm sure my daughter, who's 4 years younger, would have done well in this system. Perhaps if my son had been stronger in French, I might have sucked up the transition cycle and waited to see if things improved from 7th grade onwards. But leaving him in the secondary system here would have left him mediocre qualifications and no notion of how to operate in a 21st century world/workplace. I expect the US system will have its drawbacks too - I understand that teaching to the test is endemic there. But at least it'll be in English. And he'll be writing things. And giving presentations and book reports. And working in groups. And learning to touch type, one of the most useful skills in adult life (although by this stage in the post you're probably regretting that I ever learned…).

I'll be around for a month or so, then I expect I'll hang around a bit anyway - this forum seems strangely compulsive. And I'll definitely come back and do a big long post about how I got on integrating my French-educated kids back into an Anglophone education system, as I know that's a common concern here.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to know about homeschooling from a newbie, first timer perspective, just ask!
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Old 05.09.2011, 21:24
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

good luck! i hope it goes really well!!! i've had a funny feeling for the last year that we are about 3 years away from doing exactly the same thing...
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Old 05.09.2011, 21:45
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

I am not a great fan of the international schools here for a variety of reasons. I also know how expensive they are. However, in your specific situation, could that have been an option?
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:02
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

imo, the upbringing and education of children is the most important responsibility a parent has, so i applaud you for taking the steps to ensure the best for your child. good luck!
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:05
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

I remember you getting quite flustered with me way back, when I brought up just one or two of the points you're bringing up now.
There are ways to make the system work, but it takes an enormous amount of effort from the parents.
It can be quite exhausting.

But..... if you stick to it, the Maturité exams are some of the best there are, and are recognized world-wide. Heard you can even qualify to get some 1st year university credits depending on the branch.

Do wish you all the best.
Moving to the US must be awesome too
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:07
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

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I am not a great fan of the international schools here for a variety of reasons. I also know how expensive they are. However, in your specific situation, could that have been an option?
Not realistically, although we did talk about it (along with boarding in the UK once he got to around age 13; the price is the same and the education and stability far better). The main issues were that we don't live anywhere near any international schools, I don't have a car, and we could perhaps pay for one child but not two. Logistically we would have had to move close enough to have my son in international school and my daughter in the local school, with all the complications and grudges that might engender ('how come he gets to do school in English and have English-speaking friends'; 'how come she gets to come home for lunch and have her friends in the same street' etc).

The actual back-up plan, if a job wasn't forthcoming quickly enough, would have been for me and the kids to live in London for a couple of years, homeschooling and dividing our time between the UK and here (London, because there's a lot of support and activities there for homeschoolers, and no obligation to follow the local curriculum like there is here; I could never pull off French and German to the expected level). In a way, I'm a teensy bit sad because I rather liked the back-up plan - I had visions of sitting in the British Museum surrounded by mummies and canopic jars, teaching the kids about Ancient Egypt.
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:12
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

and USA education is any better? mmm I always found it shocking to see their educational system, but to each their own.

Also as they are becoming this age isnt it time for just theory lessons and no longer the "play as you learn"?
my high school in Belgium started to enforce the independent learning in my last 2 years (16-18) I found it the worst thing ever as I never did a thing till last minute, was occupied by other things cause I could .....I never liked it but I guess preferences are different.....

I also believe homeschooling should be banned. Nothing worse for social development than this imo

Good luck with the move (we will likely move to the USA also in a year or so)
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:14
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

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I remember you getting quite flustered with me way back, when I brought up just one or two of the points you're bringing up now.
There are ways to make the system work, but it takes an enormous amount of effort from the parents.
It can be quite exhausting.
Quite likely - I've been a staunch defender of the local schooling option over the years, so thought it fair to come and post how it's not working out now rather than just sneaking off. It really was a great option earlier on, and it really has all gone to hell in a handcart since he went into transition cycle; this may vary from school to school and will obviously vary from child to child. He works hard and has a good memory, so wasn't doing nearly as bad grade-wise as he should have been with his level of French; I could just all see it blowing up in his face further down the line.

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Moving to the US must be awesome too
Thank you - we're hoping it'll at least produce globally, culturally well-rounded children! (And did I mention the shopping..?)
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:23
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

Kokodan,

You will be missed on the forum - I do hope you pop back with updates now and again.

Phoenix is a lovely area - the desert is fascinating, the city has many cultural assets - 'learning experiences' certainly won't be in short supply! (Swap ancient Egypt for Native American cultures ) The great thing about the US education system is it's flexibility - I'm sure your children will thrive there.

I wish you and your family all the very best.


(Interesting that two families we know are leaving for the same reasons.)
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:26
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

That's a really interesting story - it kind of reads how I suspect we will be in 5 or 6 years time. My son just started in primary so we're way behind you, and he is currently doing a lot of those fun things that you mention - learning through a lot of doing and practical things - and loving it all. But he already shows signs of being firmly in the "math/academic" camp and I am already wondering how he will get on in the "rounded education" world here. I have a long time to find out I guess, but I'm kind of reassured to read that others have seen that need to get an education that fits their kid and not have their kid moulded into a system that doesn't fit them. In the end it's about them isn't it - about doing what we think is best for them and I hope should the situation arise we'll be able to do the same a few years down the line.

Wishing you all the very best with your move - hope the English speaking education works out for you.
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:32
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

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and USA education is any better? mmm I always found it shocking to see their educational system, but to each their own.
I have my concerns, and Arizona especially doesn't have a good reputation for schooling. But like anywhere, there are some school gems, and I shall make darn sure we move into their districts. And I've spent 3+ years supplementing anyway, first of all because he couldn't understand enough to learn, and latterly because he wasn't learning anything of value anyway - I'll just carry on, at least for as long as he lets me.

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Also as they are becoming this age isnt it time for just theory lessons and no longer the "play as you learn"?
Completely agree, and I saw this transition with my daughter, who went into first grade last year. There's a big change from enfantine to proper school, and I've nothing against another step up for secondary. But this was going backwards - he was receiving much better teaching and developing more in 4th grade than in 5th.

One example: they somehow managed to spend some weeks studying and memorising the vocabulary to describe different-shaped tree leaves without once mentioning photosynthesis and what leaves are actually for. Or actually seeing a leaf, as far as I could tell, although there were (as usual) some badly photocopied sheets with grainy black and white images on them. (And that's another thing - why are there never any textbooks here?)

And my personal favourite pointless waste of time, that took literally hours over the course of several weeks: learning to reproduce the flags for each canton. Not 'each child take a separate canton, do a bit of research, prepare a short presentation for the others about its history and why it has X flag, mock up a tourist brochure with key facts' - you know, useful skills that would have some cultural relevance and remain long after 'what's the capital of Valais' had vanished. Nope - instead we got 19 kids drawing each flag several times, colouring it in (they're 11!), memorising them for a test where they had to produce 8 flags out of 26, then forgetting it all by the end of the month.

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I also believe homeschooling should be banned. Nothing worse for social development than this imo
Not going there - I'm doing it simply as a stop-gap measure, to fill in their skill gaps to make the transition easier (and because I would have had to agree with my son when he said 'kinda pointless my spending an hour learning this list of German vocab, isn't it?'). I will say, though, that not all families, especially expat ones, are doing it to keep their children away from their peers and 'pure in the eyes of Jesus', and that the few homeschooling families I've met so far all have children who are extremely social, polite and engaging, and not the slightest bit weird.

Hope your move comes off as planned - look out for updates on how mine went!
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:35
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

I am sorry to hear that you are going and that we didn't have a chance to get together again after the fun we had at the BBQ ( that was ages ago)!.

Your decision is no surprise - I had the same with one of my daughters but she was older and hers was a Alevel university decision.

Wish you all loads of luck n hugs - and let us all know about your new life in Arizona x
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:40
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

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Not going there - I'm doing it simply as a stop-gap measure, to fill in their skill gaps to make the transition easier (and because I would have had to agree with my son when he said 'kinda pointless my spending an hour learning this list of German vocab, isn't it?'). I will say, though, that not all families, especially expat ones, are doing it to keep their children away from their peers and 'pure in the eyes of Jesus', and that the few homeschooling families I've met so far all have children who are extremely social, polite and engaging, and not the slightest bit weird.

Hope your move comes off as planned - look out for updates on how mine went!

completely agree but I only seen the ones from the "other side". In particular the christian ones in Minnesota...
I dont have kids yet so im really not in a place to discuss yet.

Good luck and all the best with the move
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:40
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

Ah. I expected it...sigh. I know. I could make some comments, which, obviously I cannot due to my position in the system, but...yes, kids are disciplined, practice their route memory and have extraordninary pencil cases. And the staff too. Ton of fabulously looking stats, as well. And folders with photocopied stuff that kids color. Just the lack of books is killing me, at some level. I am not sure if this is a human potential issue of people in edu, or finances. It does vary from school to school, teacher from teacher. High school kids get a lot more investment and interest from society, it seems.
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:41
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

Phoenix is the best of all the choices
Home-schooling a teen would sure be a tough one here. Imagine teaching the 11 required subjects ?
- French
- German
- English
- Italian or Spanish or Latin (one of the 3)
- Economics (can be taken instead of 1 of the languages)
- Old Greek (optional and only in addition to Latin)
- Math
- Biology
- Physics
- Chemistry
- Art
- History
- Geography
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:43
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

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Also as they are becoming this age isnt it time for just theory lessons and no longer the "play as you learn"?
my high school in Belgium started to enforce the independent learning in my last 2 years (16-18) I found it the worst thing ever as I never did a thing till last minute, was occupied by other things cause I could .....I never liked it but I guess preferences are different.....

I also believe homeschooling should be banned. Nothing worse for social development than this imo

Good luck with the move (we will likely move to the USA also in a year or so)
THe inquiry based, investigative problem solving education that the poster said her son had received, is hardly the same as "play as you learn." ALthough I see nothing wrong with that approach either.

Perhaps it was because you had gone through a system of rote learning, that you found it difficult to swap to a system that places more personal responsibility for learning, on the individual.

As an employer, (I am not, but if I was) I would rather give a job to someone who was used to working independently, than to someone who was easily occupied with other things, just because they could, and therefore need to be supervised closely.

I can understand the idea of thinking that homeschooling is bad for social development, simply because a child is probably having less contact with peers. HOwever, from what I have observed in reality over the years, homeschoolers tend to have a very active social group, with families interacting very positively. The HS children I have met, have all been perfectly well adjusted, confident children - and generally ahead of their age group in both academic and vocational subjects.
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:44
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

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That's a really interesting story - it kind of reads how I suspect we will be in 5 or 6 years time. My son just started in primary so we're way behind you, and he is currently doing a lot of those fun things that you mention - learning through a lot of doing and practical things - and loving it all. But he already shows signs of being firmly in the "math/academic" camp and I am already wondering how he will get on in the "rounded education" world here.
Just like our thoughts. For example, I can already see at age 11 that he is exactly the sort of child who would do well with UK A levels - where a teenager studies 3 subjects in great detail - and would suck at an International Baccalaureate, where he would have to perform at a high level across the breadth of the curriculum. My daughter may perhaps be the opposite, it's too soon to tell at age 7, but even she's starting to show signs of 'oooh, Maths, lovely, can I do more Maths today, please Mummy?' (And this is in no way due to prompting from me, as I'm very much in the English and Liberal Arts camp.)

But personally I don't think it's rounded enough here, at least not in our canton. I like the streaming concept, and think that a two-year assessment cycle is way better than the one-off exam they used to do in the UK, but if they're streaming for pre-university studies based almost exclusively on French, German and Maths, where are all the Swiss scientists and engineers going to come from? Sure, languages are important, at least when you're a tiny country in central Europe, but seems an unbalanced way to decide on the future graduate cohort.

The primary is great, though. And who knows where the secondary will be in 5 or 6 years' time, with all the changes working their way through the system, and growing cantonal realisation that all the multinational tech companies that've been enticed here with tax breaks are unable to recruit local talent?
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:45
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

Thanks for your very detailed post and I'm somewhat ashamed to reply in a simple paragraph. I also see the contrast between primary and junior education. I think you are right the very young children are exposed to a great teaching environment and range of soft skills.

My concerns too relate to the absence of encouraging curiosity as they get older and exploring different viewpoints as alternatives. A prescriptive rote-based approach may work with very young kids but I think children should be encouraged to question everything. I think the "why" is as important as the "what".

Best of luck with your move.

AYB
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:49
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

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Phoenix is the best of all the choices
It certainly looked lovely when we went over in May - is your avatar pic from there? The skies there are stunning. And we're fortunately timing it to turn up just as the weather gets perfect for the next 9 months.

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Home-schooling a teen would sure be a tough one here. Imagine teaching the 11 required subjects ?
- French
- German
- English
- Italian or Spanish or Latin (one of the 3)
- Economics (can be taken instead of 1 of the languages)
- Old Greek (optional and only in addition to Latin)
- Math
- Biology
- Physics
- Chemistry
- Art
- History
- Geography
Completely - that's why it wasn't an option to stay here and homeschool, as although perfectly legal in Vaud, you have to deliver the same curriculum as the school system. I could never pull that off. Plus there's the social thing, as homeschooling is so fringe here.

At the moment, the cantonal authorities are completely ignoring us, which is nice. I officially deregistered the kids from school in May with a letter explaining the move (took a looooong time to get final approval and visas underway), and haven't had a peep back about inspections or whatnot, much to my relief.
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Old 05.09.2011, 22:55
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Re: Leaving Switzerland (mostly due to schooling)

avatar: a summer's eve in Spain .. waited a while for the setting sun to paint the sky
Best of wishes for your journey.
You'll know where to find us if you'd like a Swissy care package
(am also in Romandie)
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