Dual code schools target long term expats

Hands up: who is a local? Keystone

Expatriate pupils, who could be banned from international schools by new canton Zurich rules, are being targeted by schools teaching both Swiss and foreign curricula.

This content was published on March 26, 2012 - 11:57

Such bilingual establishments could provide the answer for many foreign workers who will soon be forced to educate their children in the local school system in Zurich. Canton Zurich has insisted on the measure to force better integration of the foreign population.

In September of last year, the canton’s education department laid out the new directives that will apply from the next school year, starting in August 2012.

The rules state that parents have to send their children to state schools unless they can prove that their stay in Zurich will be a temporary one, or that their children are continuing a non-German language education.  

Pupils already enrolled in international schools would be exempt, but the directive has nevertheless caused consternation among the expatriate community.

For some workers who are unsure of how long they will stay in Zurich, the thought of their children being denied the chance of an international qualification is an unpalatable one.


Most international schools teach German but still follow a foreign curriculum, such as the international baccalaureate. Places at such schools are at a premium in Zurich and other parts of Switzerland following a boom in foreign workers arriving in recent years.

Several schools have extended existing campuses, moved to larger sites or rebuilt additional facilities to keep up with the rapidly increasing demand.

Multinational companies, such as Zurich Financial Services (ZFS), find themselves jostling with each other to get school places for their workers’ children.

“We depend on international education systems to attract the best people around the world,” ZFS’s global head of human resources, Peter Wright told “The availability of international schools is amongst the main drivers for accepting a job in Switzerland.”

Despite having contracts with two large international schools in the canton, ZFS already cannot guarantee new workers that their children can be placed there. Highly mobile parents want an international curriculum for their children in case they move to another country.

Integration efforts

But alarmed at the number of locals sending their children to international schools, canton Zurich education minister Regine Aeppli decided last year to crack down  on the drain from the local school system.

The new rules also address local concerns that foreigners are not making enough effort to integrate in Switzerland.

So far, Aeppli has refused to back down, but there are some doubts that her directive will come into force without some of its sting being removed by Zurich’s powerful multinational business lobbying force.

Foreign workers are only interested in international schools, warned ZFS’s Peter Wright. “There is little to no interest in supporting local schools,” he told

But one educational model that could bridge the gap between the local and international systems are bilingual schools that offer pupils courses in both systems.

The Swiss International School (SIS) group has been offering such a service since 1999 and is currently expanding its range of campuses.

Outdated system

An existing campus in Freiestrasse, Zurich, will change location to a new site on the outskirts of the city to offer pre-school and primary school facilities in addition to its current college for older children. Its Wollishofen campus will remain unchanged.

Pupils will be able to prepare for further education in both the international baccalaureate and the Swiss matura qualification. A brand new facility is also being built in Zug and both will be open in time for the next school year.

The school says it attracts both international pupils who are keen to integrate into the community and local children who may have an interest in pursuing studies abroad in future.

Last month, the Tandem international multilingual school expanded its presence in Zurich, opening a primary school campus to complement its existing kindergarten facility. Tandem also teaches pupils in both German and English with a curriculum designed to prepare them for both international and local further studies.

“Many expats in Switzerland live in a bubble where English is the only language,” school founder and director Sonya Maechler-Dent told “Our pupils will have exposure to Swiss-German so that they have the opportunity of integrating into the local community and economy.”

With two English parents and having been schooled in French-speaking Lausanne before moving to Zurich to teach, Maechler-Dent has first-hand experience of the different styles of education.

“Nowadays, with society developing more and more into multicultural communities, our education philosophy is outdated,” she told “A one size fits all philosophy cannot meet the changing demands of society which is why we are offering more choice and flexibility.”

International education

There are 40 international schools that come under the umbrella of the Swiss Group of International Schools (SGIS).

In the past few years, the increasing number of international workers and their families arriving in Switzerland has piled pressure on these schools to find places for a growing community of expat children.

The number of students at international schools in canton Zurich is now around 3,400 in total. This represents around 1.9% of the total school population in the canton, up from 0.9% in 2001.

The largest, Zurich International School, operates from five campuses and has expanded some buildings to cope with demand. It now has more than 1,400 students, more than double the number from five years ago.

The International School of Geneva has added 1,300 new places since 2006 to accommodate 4,300 pupils today.

Schools in Winterthur, Schaffhausen, Aargau, Zug, St Gallen and Fribourg have either sprung up, relocated or expanded in recent years to keep up with demand.

Such schools typically teach the International Baccalaureate in English – an internationally accepted qualification for university entrance.

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