Swiss School Experiences: Tom (1940s-50s)

Figure 1.--Here our primary school is on a class outing during 1946. We are taking a boat ride on Lake Geneva. This was a real treat because people didn't travel that much at the time. Montana was a wonderful place, but it was exciting to see some new places.

I did my primary school studies in a small German-language school my parents set up in our village--Montna. The local residents were French-speaking Catholics so the local village school conducted classes in French. Many of the employees of the Sanotarium, however, were German-speaking Protestants like us. So we had our own small school. Montana was too small for a secondary school. Most of the villagers at the time did not got beyond primary studies. So I was sent to a boarding school for ny secondary shooling. At age 12 in 1948 I began boarding school and went to the same school for 8 years. This was not as common in Switzerland and other European countries as it was in Britain

Rural Schools

Each village in Switzerland when I was a boy had a elementary school, but there was no oportunity for secondary education nearby. Most children did not persue their studies beyond primary sdchool. Those students who wanted to pursue secondary education, had to travel to one of the bigger cities in the Rhone-valley. This was about 1 1/2 hours travel each way. And of course they had to stay with relatives or their parents had to arrange for boarding. Parents who could afford it sent their children to boarding school. This of course is whast my parents did.

Rural Primary School (1940s)

Actually our village had two primary schools which was unusual for a small village. Switzerland of course is a multi-lingual country. The convention established for schools was that in small villages, instruction would be in the language of the majority language group. Towns and cities would have schools in both Frech and German. The village school was supervised by catholic nuns and the priest and was only in session for 6 months, as during the summer all the kids had to help with farming. The instruction was in French. Therfore my parents organized a German speaking school without the catholic component. It was attended by the chuldren of the sanitorium employees as well as the children of some patients. At that time antibiotics did not yet exist and many patients spent months or years at the sanatorium. Therefore many families followed them and lived near by. Our primary school was very small and was a one-room school. We had kids in every grade from 1st to 6th grade. In school we had to wear the obligatory smock.

Private Boarding School (1950s)

At age 12 in 1948 I began boarding school and went to the same school for 8 years. This was not as common in Switzerland and other European countries as it was in Britain so I thought I write you a few notes about my years at the boardingschool. It was an all boys' school. It was called "Evangelische Lehranstalt, Schiers." There were about 350 boys boarding there from the ages of 11 to about 19 years old. We were housed by age. I was about 11 years old when I got there and I had to share my room with three other boys. Discipline was strict and our daily schedules were coordinated from morning utill bed-time. This was a dramatic change for me. Surrounded by 350 boys from all over Switzerland, far away from home, required considerable adjustment on my part. I was very ill prepared for my step from the elementary school to the secondary boarding school and had to repeat one year. I was not trained well enough to keep up with the fast pace of teaching at the boarding school and was also very shy and had problems interfacing with so many class-mates. After about a year, I had adjusted to the changes. Our school had a well used court yard. Here we would often gather after classes fr a range of of fun activities. I will tell you a bit about clothing. During the summer months all the boys wore in shorts and knee-socks and depending on the weather wore a sweater over their shirts. On Sundays we had to wear something nicer, which consisted mostly of knickers with knee-socks and a jacket. While I was at boarding school I was active in the Scout-troop at the school. We too had many activities and many weekend-camping trips. The one thing we did not do, we did not organize a summer camp, as all the members of the school understandably wanted to remain at home during the summer.

Swiss Schools Today

Since my day, everything has changed. The different villages pooled forces, built new elementary schools and created regional secondary schools, which are within reasonable distance of the villages. For higher education, students still have to travel to one of the bigger cities, but transportation has much improved and frequent, efficient bus service is now available.


Voute, Tom. E-mail message, May 13 and 16, 2006.


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Created: 10:10 PM 5/17/2006
Last updated: 10:10 PM 5/17/2006