Why anyone would consider public schools in Geneva as the right choice for their children?
Many private schools in Geneva offer fabulous programs, with a rich program of high-quality after-school activities, trips to fascinating places, and individualised care.
Of course, international schools are probably best for those kids who change countries every couple of years. The international system will make it easier for them to continue wherever they go. But even for those coming here for just a year or two, the answer is not always straightforward.
For many families, this choice does not exist due to budget limits. Many dream they could place their children in one of many excellent private schools but can’t afford it without going on a 100% potato diet for life.
So why is it that so many parents in choose public schools in Geneva, even though they don’t have to?
I didn’t want to guess, so I asked the parents on 2 of Parentville’s Facebook groups precisely that. I received an overwhelming amount of private messages, and here’s a roundup of what they said (in random order).
While many private schools teach children about local history, traditions, and culture, integration means more. It means knowing locals. Public school offers precisely that. It gives parents the opportunity to meet other local parents, and kids to meet their neighbors, as they will always attend the school close to their home. It is the best integration process according to many, and it’s free.
One of the parents wrote: « I want my children to learn in a truly diverse environment, not in a bubble (as this is how I see most private schools, especially in rich Switzerland). One of my challenges as a parent is to make them aware that an average human on this planet lives in completely different conditions than they are. I want them to know that they are lucky to be born here and to have everything they could dream of. I want them to appreciate that, and at the same time to do whatever they can to help those in a less fortunate situation. »
Public schools in Geneva are good. Period. They are not great, not Swedish, not perfect – but which school is? Public schools in Geneva are simply good. Many parents refuse to pay high allowances for primary school, and instead, prefer to save that money for the university, or sabbatical year, or invest in great after-school activities. Many expats are terrified upon finding out that kids here do not learn how to write and read till they are 6-7 years old. But this has proven to be nothing but beneficial (LINK) for children (and the same has been done for years in many north and east-European countries). Here’s how Switzerland is doing in Pisa.
Children attend schools on a straightforward rule: the closest school to home. It means more probability that the way to school will be easy so that kids can try to walk on their own rather sooner than later. It also means they will meet tons of friends from their neighbourhood at the school. And that translates into hours of fun after school, on weekends, and even over the summer! At a very early age, they can become members of the local community and bring whole families closer. Strictly connected to point no 2 (integration).
School being close to home means drop offs and collection are easy. It also means neighbours can help each other out when needed! And have I mentioned making friends in the hood?
No language course can never teach you a language like life can. Teachers will teach them the official language, but their friends will show them the customs, the nuances, the kiddy slang, the teen slang. It all will make them native speakers in a very natural way.
Some of the parents participating in my research pointed out that not all private schools offer diplomas allowing them to attend Swiss universities, or even the vocational training program (which in Switzerland is quite amazing!). It does not mean it is impossible for them to get to local schools, it is just more complicated. Public schools graduates apparently have easier access to local universities, and at the same time can apply for abroad programs no problem. I haven’t personally checked that information. If you have any input on that, I will highly appreciate!
It is by no means an article pointing out which school is better. Private schools have plenty of advantages! Just sometimes they are presented to incoming expats as the only right decision. There is no right or wrong here. Each system has different strengths.
A big thank you to all those who participated via comments, email, and private messages! It was fantastic to meet you virtually and hear your point of view!
Please, do not hesitate to comment/msg/email with your thoughts, no matter what they are!