Geneva has adopted a ‘whole family’ approach to schooling whereby teachers are required to build closer links with families to understand the external factors that might influence a child’s ability to learn. In the case of foreigners this means attempting to welcome them in their mother tongue. There is a one year transitional class for new arrivals with little or no French language, to fast-track into the mainstream and prevent them becoming alienated.
A good example of the approach is the Sac d’histoires (bag of stories) progamme . Children can bring a collection of bilingual books, CDs, DVDs and other media which they share with their parents, who are then given a much greater stake and involvement in their child’s progress at school and improve their own language skills.
After school classes are an important aspect of education, indeed it is an obligation placed on schools in Swiss federal law to make their facilities available to the community. This is an important space for mother tongue teaching and over 6000 children regularly attend under the ELCO (enseignement de langue et de culture d’origine) programme. The canton must also ensure there is adequate provision and training of language teachers to meet local demand. However, the programmes seem to have differential effectiveness according to ethnicity. For example whilst children of Italian and Spanish origin generally seems to have settled well and left school with better qualifications and career prospects than their parents, Portuguese children tend to give a lower regard to education and follow the low skill employment paths of their parents.
There are estimated to be up to 1500 children in local schools without residence permits.
Schools are seen as a valuable way in which adult migrants can gain a foothold on the employment ladder. Teacher’s assistant, library assistant, cleaning, cooking, and traffic patrols are all now taken as serious professions and extra funding is provided for training to enable these people to integrate in the labour market, particularly those with high skill but unrecognised qualifications.
Some schools have entered an experimental system of participatory budgeting to which 230,000 francs have so far been allocated. Schools are encouraged to propose new and innovative ideas and many of those so far supported have been intercultural in intent.
43% of the canton’s foreign residents, including a high proportion of migrant children, are enrolled in public primary and secondary schools. The objective of Geneva’s Department for Public Education is to ensure equal access to the canton’s schools and Universities and tailor its services to the needs of its diverse inhabitants. For instance, it publishes key information documents pertaining to Geneva’s education system in several languages. This ensures that migrant parents are aware and can make informed decisions on their child's education. The Department promotes the integration of migrant pupils in local schools, in their community as well as in the employment market. It also ensures that migrant pupils' parents are integrated into the school and wider cantonal community. For instance, the Department for Public Education offers French as well as minority language training to the pupils’ parents.
Local associations as well as other organizations also ensure the integration of migrant pupils into the canton's public schools. For instance, the Red Cross, “Pro Juventute”, as well as the Association for Young Workers and Apprentices offer extra curricula activities for migrant students.