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In Switzerland, Democracy at the Summit
By Sarah Veal International Herald Tribune

Wednesday, February 17, 1993
Think of Swiss private schools and what comes to mind are cosseted, international rich kids being helped through their lessons in between ski lifts. False, according to the Federation of Swiss Private Schools.
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"Too many people think Swiss private schools are just for the rich, for foreigners, for Catholics and for the incapable," says the federation's president, Henri Moser.
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While some Swiss private schools undoubtedly remain bastions of privilege, a quiet process of democratization has been going on over the past 10 years.
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Today, said Mr. Moser, the average Swiss private school student is likely to be both a Swiss citizen and a member of what he calls the "new middle class," meaning from families of artisans, small businessmen and junior executives.
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"A lot of our students," said Mr. Moser, who is also founder and director of the Ecole Moser in Geneva, "have several people sharing their fees. Maybe half is paid by the parents, a third by the godfather and the rest by an uncle."
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Private day-school fees, running an average 6,000 Swiss francs ($4,000) per year for primary school to 12,000 francs for secondary school, are seen as an investment by these people, he says. So they expect results.
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"Middle-class people are not willing to pay for finishing schools. If they are going to send their children to a private school, they want them to come out with a useful diploma. What we are offering is an adaptation to the market."
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That the market has changed, said Mr. Moser, is due to shifts within the public school system. The Swiss used to view private schools as something for students with problems - normal and gifted students went to public school, where the learning was more rigorous. In the 1970s, Swiss public schools began to move away from classical education in favor of alternative methods. In the 1980s, the public schools even began to provide "general culture" sections, a way out for students lacking the wherewithal to prepare for a serious diploma, and an option that Mr. Moser dismisses as "the opium of the people."
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In essence, the two systems began to swap roles. Many of the old-style, easy-going private schools closed down, because what they had offered could now be had for free in the public schools. Conversely, many public school students began to move into the private schools seeking a classical education.
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TODAY, some 80,000 students attend private schools in Switzerland, or 6.7 percent of the country's total number of students. In Geneva and Basel, the figure is 15 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
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This importance is often hidden in official statistics. Private schools receiving government funding, for example, are included under the category of public schools.
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The federation points out that, depending on the canton, private school salaries are 20 percent to 50 percent lower than public school salaries. "The private school student costs up to half what the public student costs," said Mr. Moser. "Public school salaries in Switzerland are the highest in the world, relative to their professional obligations."
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Except for the many cantonal and federal restrictions that bind public schools (for example, a teacher who receives his diploma from the University of Lausanne is not creditied to teach in Geneva, 60 kilometers away), private schools are free to hire those who would be unable to teach in the public schools. At a lower price.
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"Forty to fifty percent of my teachers are French," said Mr. Moser. "They all have higher degrees, but, where a Swiss public school teacher would earn from 8,000-10,000 francs per month, they are paid 6,000-7,000 francs. For someone living across the border in France, where teachers make 3,000-4,000 [Swiss] francs per month, that is still a very good salary."
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In a domain where money was once no object, this argument alone indicates the new rules of the game.
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But for the wealthy parent looking for a safe, "correct" place to send a child, the top Swiss private schools offer the traditional fare: security, wholesome family-style life, language training, winter sports and social graces.
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Le Rosey is one of these. Even in the world of Swiss boarding schools, it is a place accustomed to superlatives: the largest, the most expensive, the most exclusive, the most famous, one of the oldest. Le Rosey even has two campuses, one on Lake Geneva, the other for wintering in Gstaad.
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Le Rosey lies barely a mile from the village of Rolle on the banks of Lake Geneva - convenient for outings on the school's sailboat. The campus looks like any other exceedingly well-kept small college with its own miniature château. Modern buildings are well integrated into the grounds, whose tennis courts, swimming pool and playing fields speak volumes about the importance of sports at this school.
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If the visitor has time to leaf through some of the school's old yearbooks and photo albums, he may come upon famous faces in formal class photographs, waving hockey sticks or leaning into the slopes. Le Rosey "old boys" include King Baudoin of Belgium, Juan Carlos of Spain, Rainier of Monaco, Michael of Kent, the Aga Khan. In a more dramatic age, Le Rosey still does a good trade on its reputation as the "School of Kings."
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When the annual winter cloud bank begins to pile up over Geneva, Le Rosey simply packs up and moves to its chalet headquarters in Gstaad until mid-March. "We keep to the same schedule as at the main campus except the students have daily sports hours when they can ski," said the school director, Philippe Guidon.
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Le Rosey, which has accepted girls since 1970, has no special recruitment policy, said Mr. Guidon. Scholastic excellence weighs less heavily than "the proper spirit."
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Has Le Rosey not suffered at all from the worldwide recession? Mr. Guidon said, "Not for the moment. People who can afford to pay 45,000 Swiss francs [$30,500] a year in school fees are not as affected by the turndown as most people."
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High above Montreux, a very different kind of school is preparing young women for life. Villa Pierrefeu, located in an old mansion of the same name in Glion-sur-Montreux, is a direct descendant of those Edwardian schools where the mistress of the house taught "domestic arts" to young ladies of good family.
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But Viviane Néri-Faillettaz, director of the school and daughter of its founder, would object to the old-fashioned flavor of this description, although she herself calls the institution a "finishing school." The education offered a Villa Pierrefeu, she would tell you, is valuable preparation for any modern young woman who intends to enter international business or do "further studies in hotel, catering, tourism or hospitality-oriented professions."
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Finishing schools, she said, got their bad name in a day when "women couldn't go to university but were still expected to have some knowledge of general culture." She said: "Students went to learn French or music or minor arts, accomplishments that would occupy their hands and minds without corrupting them with dreary subjects such as mathematics and science. The goal was to keep women decorative in order to make life more interesting. But the world has changed, of course, and finishing schools have changed with it. People have the wrong idea about finishing schools."
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The school's 40 students, aged 16-26, are "one-third from Europe, one-third from Latin America, one-third from the rest of the world."
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For many girls, Pierrefeu is their first experience away from home. "They've been catered to all their lives and here they have to learn how to do things on their own," said Miss Néri-Faillettaz. "That will pay off later when they have to manage staff."
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But what Pierrefeu girls come most to learn is social grace under pressure. The school fills the bill with 40 hours of intensive courses per week. French lessons take up around 14 hours, cooking class is allotted another 9 to 10 and "etiquette and savoir vivre" around four. The rest of the time is spent on domestic science, floral art, general culture/art history, sewing, child care and interior decoration.
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To arrive at the point where they would be at ease in any situation, Pierrefeu girls practice. Every evening a different group of 10 plays "formal dinner," with two girls assigned the role of host and hostess, while three others take the roles of their white-gloved majordomo and maids, and the remainder become, for the evening, dinner guests.
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The full course takes nine months at a cost of 55,000 francs. This sum covers room and board, one week of skiing, and various outings.
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For the parent whose idea of a good educational setting is Germanic, Magic Mountain isolation, the Lyceum Alpinum in the village of Zuoz, altitude 1,750 meters (5,500 feet) deserves looking into.
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Classes are in German and most of the school's boarders, since its opening in 1904, have come from the Germanic and northern European elite. A year costs about 37,000 francs.
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Zuoz village, considered one of the prettiest in the Engadine, is only 15 minutes from St. Moritz. "Parents often discover the school while on skiing trips and come back to register their children," said the headmaster, Linus Thali.
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Zuoz, as the school itself is known, prides itself on being "far from the all-too-often negative influences of modern urban life," according to a school brochure, or, in the words of Mr. Thali, "free of the distractions to be found in towns and cities."
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FOR lack of other distractions, any student coming to Zuoz had better like sports. The school's motto, "mens sana in corpore sana," is warning enough to pack lots of athletic socks.
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Afternoons off for sports are part of the school program. For most students, that means skiing or snow-surfing. "The ski lift is just behind the school," noted Mr. Thali.
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The academic schedule is rigorous. Small classes, on average 15 students, ensure the maximum of personal attention. The school's course orientation toward ecomomics and business is not accidental. "Our students come from prominent families and they know what they will have to do in the future," said Mr. Thali. "We help prepare them for their future roles of leadership and social responsibility."
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A unique flavor is provided by the majority presence of students from local families. The boarders - 120 boys and 50 girls aged 10-20 from 20 countries are joined during the day by another 250 students from the Engadine region. For these students, Zuoz is simply the local high school, their fees absorbed by the Swiss government.
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SARAH VEAL is a journalist based in Geneva.
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