Tuesday, September 11, 2007

the Einschülung tradition

I remember perfectly well my first school day back in 1980, probably because of the picture taken that day. I was four years old and starting the Kindergarten in Switzerland on a sunny Monday morning in September. Those two first years in Kindergarten are obligatory in Switzerland, as they prepare the kids for school, by teaching them how to write the alphabet, the numbers, as well as other very practical things such as tying your shoes and setting the table. My mother had brought me there, and took a picture of me in my beige divided skirt and matching sweater, which thankfully made me look like a girl, as I had a very boyish bowl haircut back then. My new Mickey Mouse orange school bag completed the look. I shyly wave to the camera on this historical picture, my smile giving away my nervosity.

I was at my nephew’s first school day the other day and cannot help but being stunned at how things have changed since then. And at how different things are in Germany in that respect. First of all, although he has been going to Kindergarten for the past two years, he has not learned anything really useful there. Other than arts and crafts, singing and playing. Kindergarten is not obligatory here, so the first school day is the first 1st grade day with almost seven years old. And it is a BIG deal. It is called Einschülung.

Now, Einschülung takes place on a Saturday morning. It started at 9h30 in a protestant church, although the school is public and not religious. Even though it was a very big church, it was completely full, as all forty 1st graders were accompanied by gazillion family members. Not only parents, but grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, you name it, everyone is present! The priest tried to make an interesting sermon for the kids and their families, talking about colors and races, but I have to say it was pretty bad and boring. Considering it was mostly a marketing action to get all those families back to going to church every weekend, I seriously think it was a failure. Then, after a one hour sermon, during which the kids were so bored some started playing football, others hide and seek in the nave behind the priest (no joke), we all went back to our cars and drove to the school. There, in a big hall, two classes of 4th graders had prepared a little show, which consisted in 4 songs welcoming the new students. That was actually very cute. Then the teachers for both 1st grade classes were introduced, and kids of both classes were called on the stage to follow their teacher to their classroom. The teachers took the opportunity to explain some things about the school to the parents and mob of family members during this time, who were then offered to walk around the school and get a coffee, while waiting for their kids to finish their first 45 minute class. All kids then posed together for the family cameras with their flamboyant school bags and Schultüte, which are huge paper cones made or bought by the parents and filled with sweets.

Follows the family lunch, which each family organizes either at home or in a restaurant, the traditional German coffee and cake two hours later and then of course the present giving session, where the 1st grader receives an incredible amount of presents. And I cannot help but wonder, what does all this have to do with the first day of school? Sure, on one side it is nice to make it an unforgettable day for the child, to celebrate it in family, but is it not a bit too much? Why is the kid getting rotten spoiled with presents just for beginning school? Ça me dépasse. I personally think the focus is being lost. And I won't even get started on the fact that school hours are so reduced (only mornings) it is just not feasible for German kids to learn as much as other European kids, who spend their entire day in school. I'll keep that to myself. Along with my refusal to letting my own kids getting their education here.

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