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Pupils and teacher at the new Swiss School in Beijing

(Canton Zurich Education Department)

The Swiss School in Beijing – the first of its kind in China and first Swiss school abroad in more than three decades – has celebrated its official opening.

The school is under the patronage of the canton of Zurich, which already supports schools in Italy, Spain and Mexico. All Swiss schools abroad are required to have a canton’s backing.

Silvia Steinerexternal link, head of educationexternal link for canton Zurich, congratulated the school and its pupils in a video message on Tuesday.external link While praising Swiss schools abroad as a “visiting card” for Swiss education, Steiner pointed out that the patronage also meant a special cultural and knowledge exchange between Zurich and the Chinese capital.

The school,external link which actually started teaching at the beginning of the Zurich school year, is part of network of 18 Swiss schools abroadexternal link, international schools promoting Swiss values. The Beijing location is the first fully independent Swiss school abroad to open since 1981, since more recent openings have involved expanding existing schools.

Housed in the existing Western Academy Beijingexternal link, the school is first offering Kindergarten as well as Primary 1 and 2 classes for children aged six to eight. The idea is to expand the institution to other age groups and reach 150 pupils.

The opening ceremony on October 30 was held in the presence of the Swiss Ambassador to China Jean Jacques de Dardelexternal link and the Swiss Senate President Ivo Bischofberger.

"The Swiss education is a holistic one which tries to go beyond a simple academic education and focuses on developing knowledge and creativity," de Dardel said, according to a statementexternal link on the Western Academy Beijing website.

Barbara Stäuble, who led the efforts to found the school, said the establishment was delighted by the high-ranking guests that attended our opening ceremony. "It is a strong sign for the support of the Swiss government for our school," she told swissinfo.ch.

Challenges

The founding had been motivated by the higher number of Swiss expats in China, as well as China’s growing economic importance.

Swiss School Beijing will put emphasis on Swiss customs and values in an international environment, as well as the German, Stäuble told swissinfo.ch in our article this summer. There are plans to introduce French later.

There have been hurdles in launching the school, such as the trend towards expats staying short-term, meaning they have less impetus to set up schools. Swiss schools abroad are not state-sponsored and thus need motivation for foundation from grass-roots level at the location. There is also a lack of financing available from local Swiss companies, Stäuble said.

There are hopes that another Swiss school might later be opened in Shanghai.

swissinfo.ch/ilj

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