“The students develop a deeper interest in the topic”

Stephan Bucher, cantonal exchange coordinator in Neuchâtel, reports on his experiences. He has initiated a thematic project between the high schools in Neuchâtel and a school in Lexington, USA.

Exchanges and mobility are now enshrined in the revised new regulation of the Swiss Matura examination. Schools and cantons must create the necessary conditions to facilitate exchange activities. 

What was the project about? 
Stephan Bucher: It was an intercultural exchange in which 15 students from the US and 15 students from Neuchâtel worked together. In this exchange project, which took place over the course of the 2023-2024 school year, the young people dealt with the topic of human rights and the different circumstances in their respective countries.  The collaboration began right at the start of the school year, initially from a distance. In autumn, the Swiss students then travelled to Lexington near Boston, where the work continued in the form of workshops and visits. In February of this year, the Americans travelled to Neuchâtel to conclude the project.

The project goes beyond a classic exchange.  What added value do the students get from it?
SB: In this type of thematic exchange, the students make a long-term commitment. They have to  meet at a distance, make appointments, stick to a schedule and work online. It's also about keeping  the entire project on track, organising it in terms of time and, if necessary, pulling the lever to complete it.  These are valuable skills that you can use in the further course of your studies, on the labour market and in life in general. Everyone was able to travel to their project partner’s country and to get to know other lifeworlds, which was extremely enriching for the students.  Such experiences shape you for the rest of your life.

What about the teachers?
SB: The realisation of such projects, even if they are less ambitious, is complex for teachers. First of all, it's a challenge in terms of workload. You also have to be able to let go and sometimes move away from the core curriculum a little, which can be unsettling. However, if the teacher succeeds in integrating the project into their lessons, the investment pays off. The students will be more committed and develop a deeper interest in the topic than in traditional lessons. This is very satisfying for the teachers.

These are valuable skills that you can use in the further course of your studies, on the labour market and in life in general.

How can this type of exchange be made more accessible for teachers? 
SB: The project between Neuchâtel and Lexington is just one example of many. And given its scope, it is not realistic to offer it to all high school students. But there are other, more modest ways of organising an exchange. In Neuchâtel, for example, we run an e-tandem pilot project with the canton of Zurich. This is a way of utilising the advantageous terrain that Switzerland offers us in terms of cultural and linguistic diversity. We have already organised a thematic exchange on the topic of water with a secondary school near Hamburg, in which the chemistry teachers are involved. The notion that exchanges are only for language teachers is no longer relevant.

Exchange and mobility are anchored in the revision of theregulation of the Swiss Matura examination. How can this new provision be put into practice?
SB: Awareness-raising work must continue in secondary schools, among school management and teachers. You can't force them, but you can inform them and get the message across that there are structures such as Movetia that can be approached for financial support, for example. You also need the political will to push for exchanges. In Neuchâtel, for example, the canton was able to  
establish the move@ne platform, the canton was able to develop a strategy in the area of mobility. This political will is necessary in order to further develop exchanges. 

Interdisciplinarity must be strengthened in accordance with the curriculum for secondary schools. Is this an argument in favour of promoting exchanges?
SB: The intention is there, but in practice not everyone will progress at the same speed, especially in the cantons where the changeover from three to four years of secondary school is a priority.
Nevertheless, I remain optimistic! One of the goals of education up to the  Matura exam is to provide students with the skills they need to prepare them for challenging tasks in society. The skills developed in the exchange, such as independence, self-confidence and intercultural competence developed in the exchange serve precisely this purpose: they are valuable assets for life in the world of tomorrow.

International class exchange