Demand for private schools high on the part of expats

Carl Bossard is the founding principal of the Zug Teacher-Training College, having previously been headmaster of the Cantonal Middle School in Nidwalden and of the Cantonal School in Lucerne. These days, he advises schools and organises further training courses. He was recently interviewed by a journalist of the Zuger Zeitung about private schools, not least following the recent news that the International School of Central Switzerland in Cham was having to rely on further financial support from parents to be able to keep going.

Bossard said he was not surprised that private schools could face financial problems, adding how some five per cent of pupils in Switzerland attended such schools. Naturally there was competition among such schools to lure pupils, though the quality of state schools in the canton of Zug, with which they sometimes compete, was very high.

The education expert said he did not know the precise reasons behind the financial crisis at the school in Cham, but mentioned it was certainly not the only such school in Switzerland to have such problems. “Demand for private schools only remains high on the part of expats and the children of non-German speaking residents,” he said. “The reason being they are the children of specialist employees who are in Switzerland for a limited period of time only. These are the types of school they prefer, though increased numbers of them are attending the Cantonal School in Zug. Most of the pupils going there previously attended similar schools in their own country. It is unusual for pupils from international schools here to change to the Cantonal Schools,” he said.

The former headmaster went on to say that there were some 20 private schools in Zug, the largest being the International School of Zug and Lucerne with some1,250 pupils. He mentioned, too, how 23 per cent of children from Walchwil “the Nice (as in the Riviera) of the canton” attended private schools. “Indeed, private schools are very popular in those areas where parents are well off, in fact some of them have become successful business models,” he added.

As to why other parents may opt for private education, he cited cases where children just did not get on in state schools and needed special solutions. “Naturally, private schools only have a right to exist if state schools offer much the same, but we cannot allow a system in Switzerland where parental income is the be all and end all of a child’s education, otherwise social cohesion could be put at risk. It is only right authorities ask why there is this demand for private education. Let it be mentioned federal councillors also attended state schools.”

The educational consultant went on to say that in recent years the syllabi in the state system had become more involved and teaching materials more extensive. “So much more has to be taken in by pupils over a shorter period of time these days; much is left to the pupil’s own sense of responsibility. This is where weaker and even average pupils get left behind. As there is so much to get through, the time taken to absorb it all is inevitably reduced. In order for a child to able to digest something, it needs to be repeated between six to eight times; this is especially so in the areas of mathematics, reading and writing. The more we need something under pressure, the more we need to train it, and it is this time which is lacking.”

It was mentioned how some parents felt their children were not making sufficient progress, with what was learnt remaining only on the surface and extra tuition being sought in the evenings. “Parents do not want to feel they are the losers when it comes to educational reform; they want their children to at least maintain the socio-economic standing they were brought up in.”

When asked if he could cite an example, he mentioned the number of parents who were annoyed at the trend of pupils learning to write as they heard. “We know from research that those pupils who have been taught according to this philosophy have far more problems in spelling. In fact it really ought to be banned. What is also clear is that science plays only peripheral role when it comes to education. How else can you explain how one school (not in Zug) advertising for a teacher “not to impart knowledge,” but just needed “to coach and accompany” children? In my opinion good teaching involves targeted school activities based on the appropriate subject matter, led by teachers and oriented towards pupils learning. And this is how it should remain.”

Thus spake Bossard.    

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