Swiss Schools

COMING to the end of the limits set for this volume, the writer finds that many aspects of Swiss life have been perforce neglected. No space could be found, for example, to deal with the educational system, which both in its primary and secondary forms and in – its devotion to technical instruction has aroused the admiration of experts in many countries. This Swiss educational system is at once generous and practical, with compulsory attendance enforced and gratuitous instruction, books, and materials provided. Teaching begins in the national schools, called the Primarschule, which are attended by children of all ranks and at which attendance is compulsory from the age of nine until the completion of the fifteenth year, unless children pass from these to higher schools. The classes are mixed and contain from 40 to 44 children, who are taught by both men and women teachers. The school course ensures the boys and girls a general elementary education, including a knowledge of French—so essential in a country with three national languages—which is taken during the last two years at school. Considerable time is also devoted to physical exercise, carpentry, needlework, and cookery. The plan of studies in the secondary schools, which scholars may enter after four years in the primary schools, and where they remain until the age of fifteen, is much more extensive, and includes a more profound study of French (five years’ course) and an advanced course of the sciences, geometry, and drawing. The instruction is gratuitous, and the passing of a preliminary examination the only condition of entry. From the secondary schools scholars have the option of ultimately entering the Gymnasium or the industrial and commercial schools.

The secondary school is succeeded by the higher schools. The Municipal Gymnasium (grammar school) accepts all boys and girls above the age of ten who pass the entrance examination. In the Progymnasium, which corresponds to the secondary school in its course of studies, instruction is gratuitous up to the age of fifteen ; after that the annual fees amount to sixty francs. There are great Universities in the chief cities, which are much favoured by foreign pupils.

It is a sign of the practical side of the Swiss character that very special attention should be given to technical schools : the Swiss technical schools are said to be the most thorough in the world, and they will teach anything, from waiting to watch-making. Another sign of the practical is the Swiss custom to keep the schools in mountain villages open only during the long Alpine winter —from the beginning of October till the following Easter. All through the summer, lads and boys tend sheep or cows in the fields, help their fathers to make hay, roam in the woods, and get their fill of air and sunshine. The school-masters have gone to their own villages, where they mow and gather in the crops like the other peasants to whose households they belong. This is good from the point of view of health, and also from that of domestic economy.

Leaving their schools strong in body because of the organised system of gymnastic training ; strong in national pride because of the attention which has been paid by their teachers in impressing the glorious story of the past with well-balanced, sane, practical minds the Swiss are ready to face the tasks of life with a fearless confidence. Their pride does not teach them to despise labour, even in forms which may appear contemptible. Their sense of thrift, which almost verges on a sense of greed, does not make them inhospitable. They show their virtues in the sphere of the commonplace, as servants, traders, petty masters. But they are heroic in the sphere of commonplace ; and no one, looking back on their history, can dare to doubt that if great occasion arose in the future they would respond to it as courageously as in the past, and hold their hills against any attempt at conquest.

In every respect they seem to preserve their historic national character. Since the earliest of the Middle Ages, Switzerland was accustomed to find asylum for the saint fleeing from a monarch’s anger, the reformer dreading the persecution of a church, the thinker seeking a safe corner from which he could invite mankind to consider some daring hypothesis. There was a complaint in the European newspapers only this year (1913) that : Geneva has for a long time past been a centre for eccentric and ill-regulated individuals of every description, a certain proportion being in addition idle and generally undesirable characters. Her University is, of course, the main cause of a condition of things far from pleasing to the responsible authorities. It has long attracted, and still continues to attract, students from all parts of the world—crop-haired Russians, wild-looking Bulgarians, Greeks, Levantines, and Egyptians.

The chief cause of dissatisfaction at the moment, it seems, was that Geneva University had become the headquarters of the so-called Permanent Committee of the Young Egyptian Party :

These young Egyptians (often not really Egyptians at all, but Levantines) loom largely in the public eye. Throughout the present summer, for instance, more than a fortnight or three weeks have never elapsed without their meeting in Geneva, ostensibly to pass some resolution or to appeal to England to keep her engagements regarding the eventual evacuation of Egypt, or, it might be, to draft some letter of protest to be sent to Sir Edward Grey. These resolutions are invariably transmitted without delay to the foreign Press agencies established in Geneva, and by them telegraphed right and left throughout Europe. It frequently happens, of course, that the more serious and better-informed newspapers treat these resolutions for what they are worth, but far more frequently, especially by German newspapers or journals, which for some reason or other are not friendly disposed to Great Britain, or are wholly ignorant of British administration in Egypt, they are published in extenso, as if they were the decisions arrived at by the British Association, the French Academy, or some other society of long-established reputation and recognised standing. It must be admitted that the ” Young Egyptians ” in Geneva are very clever in hoodwinking a large number of foreign editors, and in causing themselves to be taken far more seriously than they deserve.

But it is not likely that the ” Young Egyptians ” will find their stay in Geneva interfered with by the Swiss authorities. The tradition of the ” right of asylum ” is too strong ; and provided that the line is drawn at actual criminality, no Power will successfully ask for their expulsion from Switzerland. Yet the presence of these futile conspirators must be of annoyance to the Swiss Government, which wishes to live at peace with all the world, and finds sometimes a threat of interference with its tourist traffic in foreign resentment at Swiss – sheltered disloyalists. But in this matter historic sentiment defeats the practical. The Swiss are determined to be hospitable, even to their own loss. And Europe generally is inclined to sympathise with, and respect, this little mountain people set in the midst of great Powers, from whose disputes they rigorously hold aloof, seeking to maintain their liberty by a sturdily pacific policy, but keeping in reserve for national defence a great military organisation.