Following the suspension of school activity due to the coronavirus pandemic, Swiss schools abroad are looking to the future. First by defining what makes them “Swiss”.
This content was published on July 12, 2022 – at. 9:58
The leaders of the 18 Swiss schools abroad meet in the canton of Thurgau from 11 to 13 July for their first annual conferenceExternal link finished in Switzerland after two years.
More than 100 people will be in attendance at the official day, which is open to guests, on July 13th.
Thurgau is the patron of the canton Colestio Pestalozzi, the Swiss school in Lima, Peru, one of the most affected Swiss institutions during the pandemic. For over a year she had to take distance courses.
Most of the other schools, spread across Latin America, Asia and parts of Europe, are “more or less back to normal,” says Barbara Sulzer Smith, head of educationuisseExternal linkthe organization representing Swiss schools abroad.
Interior Minister Alain Berset could see for himself the situation when he visited the Swiss school in Rome on the occasion of a special anniversary in May this year. “After confinement and distance learning – governed in an exemplary manner by the Swiss school in Rome – it is even more beautiful to be able to celebrate 75 years in the loco,” he wrote on Twitter.
This year, only the most recent Swiss school abroad, Beijing, had to resort to distance learning again, notes Barbara Sulzer Smith. Schools in the Chinese capital were closed in May following a repeat of a Covid-19 outbreak.
“In some schools, the challenge was to bring boys and girls back into the classroom and get them back to normal school vision,” says the head of educationuisse.
Although some students’ German – the main language of Swiss schools abroad – suffered somewhat due to the lack of opportunities to practice, the general school level was maintained thanks to effective distance learning.
However, the number of people enrolled in Swiss schools abroad is declining slightly. The latest figures for 2020 (those from 2021 will be published soon) show 7,970 pupils and pupils, compared to 8,000 in 2019.
“Some Swiss expatriate families have returned to Switzerland [a causa della pandemia]but some schools have experienced an influx of new students because local families have realized that our institutions offer good education even in times of crisis or pandemics, ”notes Barbara Sulzer Smith.
Although originally created for expatriate families, only about 20% of students in Swiss schools abroad today are of Red Cross nationality. The rest of the student body consists of local youth or other posted families. The schools are paid, but they are non-profit and depend on a sponsor canton, which provides the educational support (but not the funding). On the other hand, the Association contributes with a grant (almost 19 million francs in the school year 2021/2022).
In order to obtain the official name, Swiss schools abroad must meet certain criteria laid down by Swiss law. The majority of the teaching staff, for example, must be Swiss.
Definition of “swissism”
In recent years, however, the network has multiplied many times with greater precision Switzerland, especially in the light of a highly competitive international school market. In Singapore alone, home to one of the Swiss schools, it is estimated that there are over 60 international schools. China also has a very busy market.
This has led to the drafting of a new charter for Swiss schools abroad, which will be presented to the public on 13 July. This defines what the 18 Swiss schools abroad mean by Switzerland in their values, but also in the learning, teaching and management of the institution. It also includes how Swiss schools function as cultural hubs and networks.
For example, it is argued that participation in school decisions by teachers, students, and parents is very important. This reflects the importance of direct democracy in Switzerland and differs from other school systems, where it is often the school management that has the final say.
“Many of these charter values have already been experienced in Swiss schools abroad, but we want to make them more visible,” concludes Barbara Sulzer Smith.
Swiss schools in Italy
In Italy there are four Swiss schools: in Milan (with offices also in Cadorago, in the province of Como), Bergamo, Rome and Catania.
During the 2020/2021 school year, these four institutions had 1,171 students and pupils, according to the Federal Office of Culture. The largest is the Swiss school in Rome (521 students) followed by Milan / Cadorago (417), Bergamo (169) and Catania (64).
Previously, there were also Swiss schools in other Italian cities: in Naples, Florence and Luino. The one in Naples was the first Swiss school to be founded abroad as far back as 1838. The institute closed its doors in 1984.
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Translation by Daniele Mariani
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