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Primary school lasts 6 years, from the 3rd to 8th year of schooling, 6 to 12 years old. Classes are from Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 12:00, with one afternoon per week during the first two years, then two afternoons a week. There is no class on Saturday.
There are no more than 25 students per class. It is usually much fewer.
Signing up your child: an application form will automatically be sent to all families with children of age to attend the first class of primary school. If you send your child to a private school, you will need to send a written note to let the canton know.
A day in the life of a Primary school student
The day starts at 8:00 with a half hour morning circle. Then the students will study German, math, and environmental studies with their homeroom teacher. Sports will also be taught by the main teacher. There is no strict separation between the classes, allowing for flexibility in time management in the class.
The children will go with a different teacher, often to a different classroom for handicrafts (textiles, wood work, etc.), music, and religion (not obligatory). If needed, a child may also have special support classes for German, dyslexia, etc.
Throughout the year, the children will take part in a number of special activities often related to the time of year or traditions: sports day, the visit to Saint Nicolas on December 6th in the woods, a year end concert, carnival, the school outing which always includes a hike and cooking sausages on an open fire. Visits to museums, the zoo, historical tours of Basel, theater, etc. are often part of the school activities.
What about German?
A number of primary schools have specialized in teaching German as a second language (DAZ, Deutsch als Zweitsprache). Your child would be sent to the closest school offering such support so that he or she can stay for the full primary school time in the same school. Regular teachers and German-DAZ teachers work together to find the best support system for each individual child. Foreign language children can either enter a regular class straight away and receive intensive German classes in addition. Or start in a German learning group, and attend a regular class for specific subjects, until the child can attend all regular classes in German.
Lunch and after school
All families needing after school programs should find a suitable solution in Basel. The number of schools and private institutions offering such programs is increasing rapidly, so do check the Basel education website, or go and discuss your needs with the school or education department.
There are two types of after school programs: programs within the school (rapidly increasing) and private institutions that have a contract with the education department of Basel. The after-school program is divided into 4 modules: early morning (7:00 to 8:00, including a health breakfast), lunch (12:00 to 14:00) and two afternoon modules (14:00 to 16:00 and 16:00 to 18:00), with homework support offered at specific times.
Attendance is flexible, but children must be signed up for a minimum of four modules. The cost depends on parents’ income. They can be found under: http://www.ed-bs.ch/bildung/volksschulen/tagesstrukturen/#die-im-kanton-basel-stadt, in the right column ‘Kosten von Tagesstrukturen’
During the holidays, there is a wide offer of day camps across Basel.
Please contact Frau N. Macherel (Tel.: 061 267 90 04) for more information.
Learning objectives and methods
Primary school gives the foundations for life-long learning, especially reading, writing and arithmetic. Just as important is the child’s relation to the natural and human made environments, as well as social competencies.
There are no independent subjects in primary school. Children will study language arts, reading, mathematics, environmental studies, the region and country, singing and music, drawing, textile and handwork and sports. Leisure and play also play an important role. French starts in the 3rd grade, English in the 5th grade.
Children have homework, but not over bank holidays or during the holidays.
For students who regularly find it difficult to meet the learning objectives, or the opposite, for those who regularly far exceed the learning objectives, individual learning objectives may be set and reviewed each year.
Tests, grades and school reports:
At the beginning of the 3rd and 6th grade, a standardized test will be given to all students. It will be graded externally using points, no grade will be given. The purpose of these tests is for the teacher to be better able to support the students individually and to adapt the class program.
Learning progress reports are handed out and progress talks are held at the end of the first semester (between January and March). School reports will be handed out at the end of the school year. From the 5th grade, grades will be introduced.
During the primary school years, students will normally be promoted to the next class. In special circumstances, students may repeat or skip a class.
If your child has special needs there are a variety of options going from integrated support in the school, integration classes or separate classes. In some cases an evaluation by the school psychologist may be necessary.
After the 6th year of primary school, students will move onto Middle school, Sekundarschule. There are three levels in Middle school (A, E or P levels). The level your child will attend will depend on his or her grades in the last year of primary school. Roughly a third of each age group will attend each level, all are taught in the same school. For the selection process, Math, German and Environmental studies count triple, English and French count 1.5, sports, art and music count for 1. Grades go from 1 to 6, 6 being the highest grade. Children with less than 67.5 points will attend the A-level (standard level ‘Allgemein Anforderung’); children with 67.5 or more, but less than 78.75 points will attend the E-level (enhanced level, ‘Erweiterte Anforderung’) and children with 78.75 points or above will attend the P-level (advanced level, ‘Hohe Anforderung’, it used to stand for Pro-gymnasium, that is where the P comes from). Students may be accepted provisionally in levels E or P if their grades were high enough to enter during one semester, but not the other. Students can also take a test if they wish to.
Question: I was told the level in math is high in Switzerland, but my first grader is still just learning numbers up to 20 and doing basic additions. Her cousin in the States is already doing fractions and learning to make and read graphs.
Answer: Arithmetic and understanding numbers are essential to have a strong basis in mathematics further on. Yes, they do spend a lot of time on the basics, but once the foundations are there, they move on very quickly.
As for fractions, they do not play such an important role in everyday life in Switzerland as they do in the US, no half cups or quarters here. So putting these off until later means the learning process will be much easier, but they will get there.
Question: Why is there so little school? My children seem to always be home.
Answer: In the Swiss way of thinking, school is for learning, not looking after children. No 8 year old can learn from 8:oo to 16.00 every day, so when they have finished with learning they go home to play, learn instruments, do sports, etc. However, Basel has realized that families need after school care and there are lots of alternatives for the time they are not in school.
As you get used to the system, you may even come to enjoy it. More time for play dates, visiting museums or the local farm, cooking or painting together. It was when I moved to another country that I realized how much I missed the free time with the kids.