If you have kids, one of the most important decisions you have to make when you move to Basel is schooling. There are two main routes you can take: international school or Swiss local school. The good news; both choices are highly regarded, but the difficult part is finding the one that best fits your family dynamic. This article aims to outline a few key questions to consider before making your decision. We will go into greater detail about international schools in Basel as well as Swiss local schools in further articles in this series.
Making your decision
Deciding between local and international schools requires consideration of a number of factors. Here are a few questions to consider:
How long are you planning to be in Basel?
One of the first factors to consider is how long you plan to be in Basel. If you have a set contract of 2 years or less, it may make more sense to go the international schooling route. An international school may provide a greater ease of transition for your child while they are in Basel and for any future schooling elsewhere. If you have an open-ended contract you have a bit more flexibility, making a local school a more feasible option.
How old are your children?
The younger your children are the easier they will adapt to learning in a foreign language and the greater likelihood of success in local schools. Generally speaking, children under 10 will transition easier into foreign language immersion than those in their pre-teens or teens, but this of course, varies from child to child. If you would like to read more on this, a short article explains it here.
What are their language skills? What are your goals for their future language skills?
Has your child been exposed to another foreign language? Even if it is not German, it can be a good indication of their abilities in this area. Also, what are your long-term plans, would fluency in German be an asset for their future?
How open are they to learning a foreign language?
Another factor to consider is how flexible your child is. Would they be able to handle the frustration and confusion that comes initially with immersion in a foreign language? Keep in mind that this unpleasant part of the transition is only temporary, but you know best how your child will react to the stress.
What is your comfort level with German?
It is important to remember that enrolling your children in a local school will provide you with some level of immersion as well. This should not be seen as an obstacle, but it is best to be aware that most, if not all communications, schoolwork and homework, will most likely be in German.
What school system best fits within your schedule?
Swiss local schools at the primary level often have a lunch break from 12-2pm where the children come home to eat. Most Swiss schools also only have a half day of classes on Wednesday. This can be inconvenient especially if both parents are working.
Do your research. Many Swiss schools offer a Tagesschule model, which provide a hot meal and care on school grounds out of school hours. Another option is a Tagesmutter or ‘day-mother’, which is a person or organization that provides childcare during lunch time and after school.
Does the school offer after school activities?
Another aspect to consider is whether or not the school offers after-school clubs. International schools often offer more clubs and flexibility for after school care, so make sure you inquire when you are researching schools if this is a priority for you.
Where are you planning on living?
Convenience of location can also be an important deciding factor when choosing a school. If you decide to take the local school route, your school is assigned to you based on where you live, and your child cannot attend a different local school that is outside their catchment area. This is a consideration especially if you are living in temporary housing when you first come to Basel. If you move to another area when you find permanent housing, your kids will have to move schools too.
For international schools, you are not required to live in a certain catchment area, but it is important to consider the potential commute time, especially if your children are young.
Good to know. Switzerland has a culture that fosters a strong sense of independence in children. It is expected that your children walk to school and even take the tram on their own - even as young as 6!
What is your family budget?
One of the last factors to consider is your family budget. International schools are very expensive and while you may receive some initial funding as part of your relocation package, this is often tied to a specific time period and eventually you will have to foot the bill personally. Keep in mind the total estimated costs for the school year, not just the school fees, as things like school trips, after-school activities, on-site lunches and other costs tend to add up.
A little bit of background for context. My husband and I have been in Basel for almost 3 years now and we have two children (ages 7 and 9). We decided to enrol our kids in Academia International School for two reasons: we wanted our children to become fluent in German, while retaining a high level of English and we also wanted a small school where we felt like we were a part of a community. Our decision was also based on a ‘gut feeling’ about the school and from the beginning it was clear that it fit really well within our family.
So far, we have been very happy, but that is not to say that other school choices in Basel aren’t also great. The point of this article is not to sway you in any specific direction, but to outline some key factors to help you to consider all the information before you make your decision.
If you have some other suggestions, I would love to hear them. Please leave a comment below.