Providing personalized learning through concentrated education
Quality is one of the most valued commodities in Switzerland. In a society that tends toward mass production and consumption, there are still those whose primary concern is content and authenticity.
Such is the idea of ‘boutique schools’, ASC International House’s model for its international schools in Switzerland. ASC International House is an Education Group that owns a range of schools that includes the British School of Geneva, the International School of Monts-de-Corsier, and the École Riviera School. Each of these schools offers the English National Curriculum, and in the case of École Riviera, which is bilingual, the Swiss curriculum as well. The quality over quantity concept applied to education calls for smaller class sizes and fewer pupils in the community, which enhances the experience in several important ways.
Community spirit is encouraged in the small environment, as each of these three schools does not exceed 150 students. This ‘boutique’ model is unique in its emphasis on relationships – moving beyond the standard of teacher to student and extending a focus on teacher to parent, student to student, parent to parent interaction, not forgetting school administrators who are far more involved with individual students than they could be in a larger school situation. In these schools, directors pride themselves on knowing each child by their name.
“Teachers are more apt to know their students as individuals and to be familiar with the family backgrounds from which they come,” says Raji Sundaram, Principal of the British School of Geneva. A smaller community allows for more intimate and tailored attention to individual needs. Teachers are more likely to notice any changes in behaviour or performance immediately and are able to take the necessary steps to address these issues right away – before they become big problems.
Smaller classes allow teachers to tailor their lessons and styles to meet the needs of individual students. With a low student to teacher ratio, students having difficulty are quickly identified and their particular issues rapidly addressed. A smaller scale and nimble academic organisation can provide the proactive quality assurance that many parents seek for their children and their own relationship with a school.
A smaller student body offers a greater opportunity for each student to experience participation and leadership growth. Sundaram agrees. “Often, literally everyone must participate in order to make a project a success,” she says. “This promotes among students a sense of belonging, of pride in their community, their school, and themselves.” According to Sundaram, in the primary school’s holiday production of ’A Christmas Carol’ last year, every student had a role.
The British School of Geneva is located near the international quarter, in Chatelaine, where over forty nationalities are represented within the student body. The school offers primary, secondary, and A-level classes. Classes are made up of a maximum of sixteen students at the primary and secondary level, with class size down to ten students in A-level classes.
On the opposite end of Lac Léman, the École Riviera School sits in the centre of Montreux. Its urban campus hosts primary school pupils of over twenty nationalities – many of whom come from expat families settled in Switzerland. The programme is bilingual (French and English) for students aged four to eleven, and to twelve as of 2014; the crèche programme for three year olds is solely in French at the moment, but introducing English in the crèche is under study for 2014.
According to Jérôme Delnoy, Director of Ecole Riviera School, a regular exchange between school and families is fundamental to its students’ success. “Questions or concerns that parents have about their child’s learning can be quickly resolved through informal channels of communication. We are able to chat to parents on a daily basis, write little updates in a communication book or diary.” His door is always open to parents and he is passionate about the advantages that this community brings to the school. In terms of partnerships, Riviera also collaborates on numerous programmes and activities such as teachers’ workshops and sporting events with the nearby International School of Monts-de-Corsier (ISM).
Just outside urban Montreux, ISM takes environment seriously; nature and the outdoors are incorporated into the school’s curriculum. The campus has a view of Mont Blanc and is home to two donkeys and a horse. ISM Director René Gubler believes that “within a small school environment, the school is not a large machine that runs and the children just have to fit into it. We are able to adapt according to many different factors: If the sun is shining our learning can be taken outside. If a child is struggling with a certain aspect of mathematics we can re-visit this in a small group.”
ISM offers crèche and primary school programmes, and the average class size is twelve pupils. Keeping with the relationship-centric model of these ‘boutique’ schools, and the community integration this model calls for, both the head teacher and deputy at ISM teach the students in addition to administrative duties.
“Many parents appreciate getting involved in school life, such as preparing special events and as our Library Angels,” says Gubler. “One parent said to me just yesterday: ‘I love helping at the library. I can get to know the range of books available and it is sociable’. Parents are also a great resource to each other on the local area, activities and often being a surrogate family in times of need.”
A full life is not necessarily synonymous with one that is crammed with as many activities as possible; and a full and rewarding education does not mean as many classrooms and peers as you can bring together. Instead, the ‘boutique’ school offers a smaller model that allows for more depth and personal focus. A quality concept facilitates communication, nurturing and a more personalized experience. And sometimes, quality means donkeys and a horse on campus; what more could a child want?
Articles by Laura Holman