Bilingualism, at the very least, is a given in a world where borders are eroding rapidly and nowhere more than in the French part of Switzerland. This is a boon for international private schools that teach in two languages, like the Collège du Léman, a respected institution on the shores of the Lac Léman.
Geneva has a long tradition of cosmopolitanism. And as an international hub it continues to attract companies and organisations from far and wide. With these come families seeking not only the peaceful and scenic mixture of the mountains and the lake, but also proper schooling for their children, who may not necessarily speak French and may also be leaving the region as soon as dad or mom end their tour of duty.
No wonder then that the demand for private international schools is high, even among some of the local residents wanting their children to have solid multi-lingual education.
But the supply is limited and the tuition fees quite steep. Some international organisations will therefore support their employees not only to meet the region’s absurdly high rents, but also with schooling fees.
One of the schools that has wellestablished credentials in the region is the Collège du Léman, a day school with a boarding section that is located in Versoix. It opened its doors over a half-century ago to receive the children of a growing international community, and is now housed in a collection of mostly modern, light-filled buildings on a large piece of real estate that includes a sports field. The Collège offers more than just bilingual education. Ever since its founding, emphasis has been on the harmonious development of children and youths who come from such diverse backgrounds. Hence, it has always focused on supporting respect and understanding for different cultures, a tradition that is well adapted to today’s globalised world and is perforce lived every day on campus.
Over the years, it has developed a solid reputation among international private schools in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. Evidence of this is its very large enrolment, which reached 2,200 in 2011. Recently, it began expanding its infrastructure and facilities to better serve that growing student body. Furthermore, it has taken careful steps towards innovating its curriculum to provide an education that is in tune with the needs of graduates today. Students can work towards a number of diplomas, notably the French Baccalaureate, the Swiss Maturité, or the International Baccalaureate. Recently, the school appointed a new director, Yves Thézé, a French educator and school administrator who combines the sensitivity for continental European culture and a strong penchant for an Anglo-Saxon management style. Yves Thézé aims to bring the school the best of both worlds. And he seems to have the biography for it, having taught or served as school director in twelve different schools in France and abroad, most notably in Anglo-Saxon countries – in Australia (1991–1997); in Canada (1997–2000) and in New York (2001–2011).
Ready for the world
The aim of the school, says Thézé, must be to “prepare each child for his future role as a world citizen”. Having experienced both the Anglo-Saxon and the French education systems, he is convinced that the key lies in the right blend of the two, with both students and teachers encouraged to give their best and excel in whatever they do, while at the same time accepting that “failures” are a part of the learning experience. He illustrates what he means by a story. A child falls off a slide and hurts himself. One approach is to encourage the child to try again until it succeeds. The other is to tell the child “I told you not to go there, now stay here!”
With a highly accredited international bilingual programme (English and French) known for its quality and excellence, the school offers a balanced academic life with multicultural exposure and possibilities of learning other languages, as well as various physical activities and community service. The school boasts children and staff from about 120 nationalities, making it a natural environment for cultural diversity and learning cultural sensitivity. Thézé emphasises the importance of these values and highlights the need of future leaders, executives, managers to be able to communicate well in several languages – as well as knowing the culture behind these languages. For Thézé, leadership also involves other skills as well, like empathy and the ability to express one’s emotions. These are more crucial than ever because, as he puts it, “leadership in the past was mostly based on academic excellence acquired from top colleges and universities, and this will not be enough to tackle issues of a fast globalising world today,” he explains. The Collège du Léman’s other secret asset for its graduates is a large body of alumni over 20,000 strong spread all over the world and in all walks of life and ready to work with up-andcoming young professionals.
Taste of reality
But how does an international school avoid itself from being confined in a seemingly artificial world, isolated from the reality of a local and community life happening outside its school walls? In its school programmes, the Collège du Léman will strongly integrate community services through partnerships or collaborations with local institutions in the region. “We want our students to know about local activities and get them involved. The school’s community services are considered by our students to be some of their most worthwhile school activities,” Thézé says.
Putting in place school programmes and activities, assuring academic excellence, rigor, discipline and respect, while making sure that teachers and students have enough room to learn, are guaranteed by stringent yet flexible school management. For Thézé, becoming the head of an international school was like taking on a post as a top manager. In other words, certain strict teaching standards are demanded from the staff. Teachers not only have to earn respect from their students, but they must also be prepared to confront adults, such as their peers in performance reviews. “They must learn how to accept constructive criticism,” he adds.
Collège du Léman in a capsule
- Founded in 1960 by Francis A. Clivaz
- A private international school for boys and girls from 3–18 years old
- As of 2011, a total of 2,200 students, 220 are boarding students
- Highly multicultural with 120 nationalities
400 total employees: 235 teachers, 135 administrative staff and 30 employees working mainly for the boarding school
- French or English
- Bilingual – French and English
- Bilingual International Baccalaureate
- American High School Diploma with Advanced Placement
- French Baccalaureate
- French and bilingual Swiss Maturité
- SAT preparation
- A wide range of sports activities with a long tradition towards excellence
- Music courses with theories up to university level (including the Suzuki violin programme)
- Excursions and cultural field trips
- Academic support
Summer school programme
- For kids from 8–18 years old
- Two sessions of 3 weeks each time from July to August
- For normal and boarding students
- Intensive language courses (French and English)
- Wide range of sport, artistic and cultural activities
- Excursions in Switzerland
Article by Jane Demaurex