Institut International Notre Dame du Lac sits on a hill overlooking Lake Geneva. The view is amazing. Away from the big roads and traffic, the location can hardly be more spectacular.
Notre Dame du Lac is a primary school teaching in accordance with the French curriculum in the commune of Cologny, next to Geneva. It accepts children from 3 to 10 years old.
The entrance to the school grounds of Institut Notre Dame du Lac is not secured, but there is a barrier preventing unauthorised vehicles from entering the school territory. There is a beautiful lawn in front of the main school building, where children can do sports and play during the breaks.
When I arrived for the tour of Institut Notre Dame du Lac, the director was busy, so I was greeted by the informatics teacher who kindly offered to show me the school.
Teaching in Notre Dame du Lac is split between two buildings. Ecole elementaire and all the administrative offices are located in the main building – a beautiful 18th century villa, while the younger kids study in a smaller 2 story house, which probably once has been a maintenance building.
We started at ecole maternelle. I liked its large classrooms filled with natural light. Each classroom had a dedicated space for class work in front of the white board and the round tables for working in smaller groups.
All white boards are electronic and equipped with a projector. To familiarise children with technology, even the smallest ones get the opportunity to work with the iPads distributed by the teacher. There is also a separate lunch room and dormitories, where the 3 year olds can have their nap if they stay after lunch.
The classrooms for older children have generally a more traditional seating arrangement. Instead of big tables for group work, each student sits at his or her own desk. It seems to reflect a more structured and academic approach to education in the French system.
All students except for the youngest children are required to wear a uniform in white and dark blue colours. Posters explaining the uniform rules are hanging in the corridors to promote independence and responsibility.
There are about 20 children in each class for one teacher and an assistant. In French system, the classes are numbered from 14th to 1st. Thus the 3 year olds start at 14th and gradually move up. The language of instruction in Institut Notre Dame du Lac is French, but English is taught from the second year of ecole maternelle.
Although Institut Notre Dame du Lac does not position itself as bilingual, it strives to ensure that children achieve a good level in English. For the first two years English and French speaking children are in the same group, but starting from 11th (6-7 year olds), students are split into groups according to their ability. Starting from 10th the science is taught in English. From the next year history and geography will also be taught in English. Once a year, during so called Bell week, all classes are held in English for better emersion into the English environment. During this week, lessons are taught by the guest teachers from the Bell School in Geneva.
There is no split in the groups according to ability for other subjects, but the teachers at Institut Notre Dame du Lac attempt to push the able students by giving them harder tasks. Struggling students receive additional support. Homework is introduced from 11th with only 30 minutes per day and goes upwards as the children get older.
Notre Dame du Lac is a catholic school. During the tour I noticed that every classroom has a cross hanging on the wall. There is also a room dedicated to religious education. Children start acquaintance with the religion during the first year of ecole elementaire at the age of 6. All children participate in school’s religious celebrations.
The library at Institut Notre Dame du Lac is located in the attic of the main building. The same space is also used for sports classes.
At the end of the tour, I met the director of Institut Notre Dame du Lac at his office, who kindly agreed to tell me more about the school and answer my questions. He explained to me that due to the differences in the French and Swiss curriculum, children at Institut Notre Dame du Lac are a year ahead of their peers at the Swiss schools. Thus, if they choose to continue education in Swiss System, children from Institut Notre Dame du Lac go to a class with the older children. While they will be on par with them academically, they will be younger and less mature. It may be hard for them to compete with their classmates in sport. I personally cannot see this to be a good thing.
French schools like Ecole Florimont and French section of Institut International de Lancy do not have this problem, because children, who start their primary education in these schools, are likely to continue to the secondary education with their classmates of the same year. Institut Notre Dame Du Lac however, is only a primary school, so children (or their parents) will have to choose whether to continue education in the French system, the Swiss system or go to an international school to prepare for International Baccalaureate.
The director also mentioned that Notre Dame du Lac is a school for local children. Responding to my slightly surprised expression, he explained that perhaps I would not want to take my child to a school too far from home. I wondered whether that was a genuine concern for my child’s wellbeing or they apply some sort of selection based on the parents’ income. That said, the fees at Institut Notre Dame du Lac are very similar to those at French section of Institut Internationale de Lancy and Institut Florimont and much lower than fees at the International schools. But then again, Institut Notre Dame du Lac does not have the facilities of the big international schools.
For more information about Institut Notre Dame du Lac read here.