Up Close and (un)Conventional – School System

Posted 12 August, 2016 by Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms in Discussion Posts / 17 Comments

Up Close and (un)Conventional - (un)Conventional Bookviews

Up Close and (un)Conventional – School System

Welcome to this week’s Up Close and (un)Conventional. This is where I discuss both things that have to do with reading and blogging, and things that just have to do with life in general. This week, I have been thinking about different school systems quite a bit. I know some of you have kids already back in school, and I just came back home from Spain, where kids are off for three months in the summer and won’t start back until the middle of September. So I wanted to share how the school system is here in Switzerland and I would really love to hear back from you about how it works in your country / state as well.

Children start primary school – 1st grade, when they are four years old. And when they start school at the end of August for the first time, they have to have already celebrated their 4th birthday, at the latest on July 31st of that same year. Primary school is from 1st grade through 8th grade, and usually, the children have the same teacher for all subjects, apart from PT, and they keep that same teacher for two years. In 5th grade, they start learning German (which is one of the official languages in Switzerland) and in 7th grade, they start studying English.

After primary school, there is middle school for three years, grades 9-11. Here, there are sections already, where the children are separated in group III, II and I, based on their grades when they finished primary school. Only the pupils who are in group III can go to certain kinds of high schools (we have three different kinds here…) So the students in group III are the strongest students, and they can choose between emphasizing on language or science. There are usually 24 students in each class in group III. In group II, the emphasis is on living languages, and there are between 17 and 20 students in each class. In group I, there are 13-15 students per class, and the emphasis is on language and communication.

After middle school there are three different kinds of high school – for the students from group III, there is a choice between the three. There is ‘collège’ which prepares students for university, where students continue with science and languages, but can also choose art, music or more languages (for example, it’s possible to opt out of German and choose Italian – yet another official language here) or science. ‘Collège’ lasts four years, and it’s a pretty tough because students have to have both science / math and languages.

Then, there is ‘école de commerce’ which is more commercial, and where students continue with English and German, but they also learn accounting, law and more administrative tasks. There is also the possibility to choose more commercial than administration, in order to be a sales person in a store, for example. Only students from group III and group II can apply to go there, those who were in group I in middle school can’t choose this option. Those who go to ‘école de commerce’ can either go to school full time for three years, then they have the fourth year where they work full time. Or they can go to school part time for four years, and also work part time for the duration of their studies there.

Last, but not least, there is the ‘école de culture générale’ where students study social sciences and learn skills needed in order to go to nursing school, or to get higher education in order to be a pre-K teacher (for day-care). Students from all three groups can choose this school, however, those from group I can only choose this option, as they haven’t had enough science to go to ‘collège’, for example.

After the different high schools, there is university, higher education schools (where it’s possible to get a BA in finance, for example) or the possibility to work straight away for those who chose ‘école commerciale’. All schooling is free here, at Uni, there is a yearly $1000.- fee for administration, but that’s it. And in order to become a high school teacher, it’s further education for us too first, right? In order to teach English, first, I have to have a Master’s degree in English, and then, once that’s done, a second Master’s degree, this time in upper secondary education – which is something like a teacher’s college. And it’s only possible to start with this once the MA is fully done.

Before I let you go after this very long post, the vacation is the same for all kinds of school before university or the higher education schools as follows : school starts at the end of August (this year, it’s on August 29th), then, there is a week off at the end of October. About two weeks off for Christmas, one week off in February and ten days off for Easter. School ends at the end of June, and the summer vacation is eight weeks.

Thanks for stopping by today 🙂

Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

About Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

Linda is an English as foreign language teacher and has a Master's degree in English Language and Literature. She's an avid reader, blogger, compulsive one-clicker and a genre omnivore. Ever since she learnt how to read she has been seen with a book or two in her hands everywhere she goes.

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17 responses to “Up Close and (un)Conventional – School System

  1. Oh, interesting! I like hearing about school systems in other countries. I know a bit about England, but that’s it. I live in the United States, and my state is Kentucky, but I’d assume most states in the U.S. do things the same way.

    In the U.S. we have pre-school for kids that are about 4 years old. You don’t have to do pre-school, but I did. Then we have Kindergarten when you are 5. After this, it’s 1st to 5th grade and that’s elementary school (you are usually around 10 in 5th grade) and grades 6-8 are middle school. My elementary and middle school were all one big school, but sometimes people switch schools for middle.

    Then we have high school and that’s 9-12 grade. I’ve heard of people finishing in three years or three and a half, but most of us have all four years of high school. After that, you can choose to do college/university but it’s not necessary, depending on what you want to do as a job. I went to University though and that ended up being five years for me. It’s usually about four, but that’s if you take all the classes you need and enough classes each semester to finish that quick. Then if you want to specialize more in a subject and learn more, you get your Master’s Degree and that differs on years. Mine was about two and a half years but I could have finished in two. I did all of my Master’s online though!


    • To get a BA here is usually at least 3 years (I did mine in 4, as I kept changing my 2nd major) It’s always interesting to me, too, to read about how different the school system is in different countries, thank you for sharing yours, Lauren!

  2. Wow, ok, your school system is so completely different from the US! Lauren’s comment explained the ages and grades already, so I won’t do that. But I will say that I had a different teacher for subject starting in first grade, when I was 6. And each year, I had all new teachers, except for certain subjects like languages/art/music in elementary school and then any electives I took more than once in middle and high school, which was again art and languages lol. But that may not be the same for every school in the US. Smaller towns may have less teachers, but I grew up in a big city and went to big schools. Cool topic!

    • Yeah, I grew up in Norway, and we had different teachers for different subjects, too, and I think that’s actually a good thing. I can’t imagine spending all day with the same teacher – if I didn’t get along with that teacher. Some of my teachers taught more than one subject, though, so I might have the same teacher in maths and in biology, for example.
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing about schools, Kristen.

  3. Wow that is really different the the US. The schools i Florida are like Lauren said earlier. Here in Connecticut elementary starts the year the you turn 5, so you could have some 4 year old kids in kindergarten. The elementary school goes from K-6 and middle is only 2 years. It seems strange that kids are already broken up right out of elementary, but maybe it works better that way. Interesting post!

    • In some ways, I think being broken into groups after elementary school is not really so good. First of all, most kids may not have the maturity to make any choices yet at age 12, and secondly, some parents think their children are very strong in science, when they might have done better with languages.
      Thanks for stopping by, Karen 🙂

  4. Wow! I loved reading this – I was a big school-lover and I’m always curious how different it can be from one country/state to the next. For us in Canada, kindergarten is first and that starts at 5-6 and then elementary school starts at 6-7 Elementary school is from grade 1-8 inclusively. We have no middle-school to speak of but if I remember correctly, grades 6-8 are kind of considered to be middle-school by teachers, even though nothing labels them as such. Then high school is grades 9-12. After that, students can do University for 4 years (or more) or College for 1-2 years. Your system seems more detailed than ours and starts earlier too – I like that.

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    • I have always loved school, too, Micheline. During the summer vacation, my sister and I sometimes played school – that’s how nerdy we were 😀
      Yeah, kids here have at least 15 years of school – which is a lot before they even start to think about uni, but I think it also means that everybody gets a very complete education.

  5. We’ve talked school before, and I am amazed at the breadth and depth of your education system. I love the priority of education. I don’t think Americans would ever accept a change in that direction, although, as an educator and seeing the declining quality of education in my state and country and the research that students are not “college ready,” I think adopting a shift toward a little more of Switzerland’s structure would benefit all. There is too heavy an emphasis on sports in too many schools. I have my own personal stories about growing up with kids whose parents put education in the back seat, as well as teaching students in the same car line.

    Like Lauren explained, public education in the U.S. typically runs K-12th grade. PreK is offered at most elementary schools (typically K-5). However, my first year teaching our middle school housed 5-8th grade due to the closing of an elementary (and ironically it opened back up last year and this year a new elementary campus is opening).

    I’m not sure if this is federal or state, but in Texas it is not required for a child to attend Kindergarten. My grandmother never sent my mother all those years ago, and I have known a couple parents in recent years who have kept their children at home until 1st grade. We cannot start school any sooner than the 2nd Monday preceding Labor Day (this year it is August 22nd).

    Students in K-3 usually have the same teacher for all four subject areas, and then specials (music, art, PE, etc.). In 4th and 5th grade they usually rotate between two teachers for their core subjects (usually aligned to degree plans of ELA/SS and Math/Science). I have seen principals in my district team teachers at elementary, and the students rotate classes just like in middle school.

    Starting in middle school students can begin taking high school courses, especially in the fields of technology, consumer sciences, math, and languages. In high school, students can also earn dual credit for high school and college. Students generally have to select a “track” with a defined focus: agriculture, consumer sciences, technology, business, etc. This is an up-and-coming thing intended to straight-track kids into college, and I don’t agree with it. High school is a great time to explore a variety of things before you have to shell out loads of cash for it. I took such a wide range of electives in high school it wasn’t even funny. I was the girl changing tires in shop class in mini skirts (true story), designing and making corsages and boutonnieres in floral design, studying fashion design, learning how to expertly speak Spanish, getting up on the (then) technology advances, performing as a Thespian on the stage, exhibiting my athleticism on the track team, and suffering through the grueling Texas heat to be in marching band as one of the few color guards who march IN the band and not stand on the sidelines to perform.

    College/university students are taking longer to complete Bachelor’s degrees. The standard is 4 years, which requires summer semesters and more courses than what qualifies as a full-time student. I went into university with an entire semester completed and still took 1.5 years longer after my college making an error in my degree plan and not providing necessary information regarding the teaching blocks (specifically, deadlines for paperwork) which put a year-long hold on my continuation in my program. I could have selected an entire semester of courses for fun, but I chose to maximize the bang for my buck and used the semester to round out the requirements to graduate with two minors. So, I basically took 6 years to complete my degree and I was a full-time student every semester except for the one summer course I took.

    • I’m fascinated about the fact that it’s possible to already take college classes while still in high school, Charlie. How do they find the time to do that?
      And I think it’s fantastic that you wore the clothes you wanted, but you still took the auto shop class to know what you were doing. I would love to know more about cars (I do know how to change the oil, or a tire, but that’s about it…)
      A Bachelor’s degree here is supposed to take 3 years, but I spent 4 on mine. Then, the Master’s is supposed to take 2 years, and then, there’s the second MA that also takes 2 years – so at least 7 years to become a high school teacher.
      I’m sorry your college made an error in your degree plan, which then made you spend an extra year getting your degree. I’m sure that was very frustrating for you.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the educational system 🙂

  6. Wow! This was fascinating! I’ve never heard of a school system like this, but then again, I don’t know enough about European schools at all. Other people have explained US schools, so I won’t, but I would be very interested in a system like yours in the US. I like that there’s an emphasis on real world training for young adults. That’s really cool.

    • This is just for Geneva, I know it’s not 100% percent the same everywhere in Switzerland, SJ 🙂 It really is fascinating, though. I think education is very important, and so I’m happy my children get a lot of it before they are technically adults 🙂

  7. Thanks for sharing this. I find it very interesting. I think several people here explained the US system pretty well. It is mostly the same with a few minor differences. I went to school in Georgia. I went to elementary school in a small town in South Georgia and middle and high school in a suburb of Atlanta. There were a few differences, but not much. When I was in the small town, we had I think four elementary schools, that did grades 1-4. Then you moved to a middle school that did 5-6, then another school that did 7-8 and lastly high school for 9-12. I think the two middle schools are because of the buildings. They 5-6 grades were the old high school and 7-8 the middle school. I think they were just trying to use the building they had available. After elementary school, everyone in town was all in the same schools. I was with the same group of kids from 1-4 grades, with only a handful coming or going. I think that made things hard for some of the teachers, as we could be pretty strong willed as we were all in preschool (that is not part of the actual school system, but we were all together anyway) since we were three years old. We had a first year teacher for Second Grade who decided that was not a fan of teaching after having us. LOL. Thanks again for sharing.

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    • That’s interesting that the middle school was kind of split up into two schools. It definitely makes sense that they’d want to use the buildings they had already, though. I think building a school is really expensive, because of the building codes being very strict, and the corridors for lockers, the bathrooms and a cafeteria and all that.
      We had a teacher in middle school who quite teaching after having my class for two years. It makes me very sad to think of her now as an adult. And we all knew each other as well, as we had the same people in the class for 9 years.

  8. This was really interesting. Thank you very much for the description and overview of how schools are laid out in Geneva.

    As you mentioned Geneva is one way and other places in Switzerland follow other protocols, the same can be said for the schools in the US. Here it gets a bit more complicated. The only standard the grade levels: Kindergarten through 12. Each state is in charge of their own education policies. On top of that each school district can organize those grades however they see fit. Where I live elementary school includes grades K-4, middle school 5-8, and high 9-12. Students in high school can choose an academic, business, or vocational track. Those in the academic track definitely want to head to college/university; business students can still go to college, but may also focus on careers in commerce that may not require a BA; vocational students split their day studying academic subjects required for graduation, but also go to a separate school where they can focus on a trade (electrical, horticultural, agricultural, mechanical, baking, chef, hair stylist, etc.).

    That being said, neighboring school districts run their elementary as K-5 or K-6 followed by junior high 6 or 7-9 and high school 10-12. We even have one district where elementary is k-5, then one building for 6 & 7, another for 8 & 9, then off to high school for 10 -12.

    However, we also have other options. Children can attend parochial (Catholic) schools, private schools (like mini universities), charter schools (some specialize in math or arts or sciences), or even homeschooling.

    I started Kindergarten at age 4, but was one of the younger in my class. Most start at age 5. Depends on what the birthday cut off is for the district.

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