Education in Switzerland

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The Zentrum campus of the ETH Zurich.

The education system in Switzerland is very diverse, because the constitution of Switzerland delegates the authority for the school system mainly to the cantons. The Swiss constitution sets the foundations, namely that primary school is obligatory for every child and is free in public schools and that the confederation can run or support universities.

The minimum age for primary school is about six years in all cantons but Obwalden, where it is five years and three months. After primary schools, the pupils split up according to their abilities and intentions of career paths. Roughly 20% of all students attend secondary schools leading, normally after 12 school years in total to the federal recognized matura which grants access to all universities. The other students split in two or more school-types (depends on the canton) differing in the balance of theoretical and practical education. It is obligatory for all children to attend school for at least 9 years.

The first university in Switzerland was founded in 1460 in Basel, with a faculty of medicine. This place has a long tradition of chemical and medical research in Switzerland. In total, there are 12 Universities in Switzerland; ten of them are managed by the cantons, while two federal institutes of technology, ETHZ in Zurich and EPFL in Lausanne, are under the responsibility of the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation. In addition, there are seven regional associations of Higher Education Institutions for Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) which require vocational education and a special "Berufsmatura" to study. Switzerland has the second highest rate of foreign students in tertiary education, after Australia.

Many Nobel prizes were awarded to Swiss scientists. More recently Vladimir Prelog, Heinrich Rohrer, Richard Ernst, Edmond Fischer, Rolf Zinkernagel and Kurt Wüthrich received nobel prizes in the sciences. In total, 113 Nobel Prize winners stand in relation to Switzerland and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 9 times to organizations residing in Switzerland.[1] Geneva hosts the world's largest particle physics laboratory, the CERN. Other important research centers are the Empa and Paul Scherrer Institute which belong to the ETH domain.

Primary[edit]

Simplified Swiss education system

The obligatory school system usually includes primary education (Primarschule in German, école primaire in French and scuola primaria / elementare in Italian) and secondary education I (Sekundarstufe I in German, secondaire I in French and scuola secondaria / media in Italian). Before that, children usually go to kindergarten, but it is not required. The minimum age for primary school is about six years in all cantons but Obwalden, where it is five years and three months. The cantons Thurgau and Nidwalden allow five-year-olds to start primary school in exceptional cases. Primary school continues until grade four, five or six, depending on the school. Any child can take part in school if they choose to, but pupils are separated depending on whether they speak French, German or Italian.

Secondary[edit]

At the end of primary school (or at the beginning of secondary school), pupils are separated according to their capacities and career-intentions in several (often three) sections. Students who aspire to an academic career enter high schools (named "Gymnasium" or "Kantonsschule") to be prepared for further studies and the matura (normally obtained after 12 or 13 years of school at the age of 18/19) Students intending to pursue a trade or vocation complete only three additional years before entering Vocational Educations which are regulated by federal law and are based on a cooperation of private business offering educational job-positions and public schools offering obligatory school-lessons complementary to the on the job-education. This so-called "dual system" splitting academic and vocational training has its continuation in the higher education system. While the academic training leads to the matura and free admission to Universities, successfully completed vocational education give access to third level of practical education, the Fachhochschule. In the science literacy assessment of PISA, 15-year-old students in Switzerland had the 16th highest average score of 57 countries.

In the lower second level there are several different teaching and school models that may exist. Some cantons define a specific model, while others allow the individual municipalities to determine which model to follow.

Separated model[edit]

Pupils are allocated to institutionally separate school types, according to their performance levels. The structure is based on the principle of equal capacities among pupils. Generally, each school type has its own adapted curricula, teaching material, teachers and, in some cases, its own range of subjects. In general, there are 2 to 3 school types (4 in a minority of cantons), the names of which vary. In the structure with 2 school types, a distinction is made between the performance-based group at basic level (with the least demanding requirements), and the performance-based group at advanced level. In the structure with 3 school types, there is a performance-based group at basic level, a performance-based group at intermediate level and a performance-based group at advanced level. The requirements of the performance-based group at advanced level are the most demanding and this school type generally prepares pupils for transfer to the matura schools.[2]

Cooperative model[edit]

The cooperative model is based on core classes with different performance requirements. Each pupil is assigned to a core class according to his or her performance level. The pupils attend lessons in certain subjects in differentiated requirement-based groups (whereby the core classes are mixed).[2]

Integrated model[edit]

The integrated model does not use different school types or core classes. Pupils with different performance levels attend the same class and mixing is maintained. In certain subjects, teaching occurs on differentiated requirement-based levels.[2]

Tertiary[edit]

Tertiary education depends on the education chosen in secondary education. For students with a matura, university is the most common one. Apprentices who did a vocational high school will often add a Fachhochschule or a Höhere Fachschule to their curriculum. Switzerland has the second highest rate of foreign students in tertiary education, after Australia.

There are 14 public and generic universities in Switzerland, 10 of which are maintained at cantonal level and usually offer a range of non-technical subjects. Of the remaining 4 institutions, 2 are run by the Swiss Confederation and are known as "Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology".

Switzerland is well known for its advanced business education system. A number of world-class universities and MBA programmes, such as the International Institute for Management Development and St. Gallen, belong to that category. See also the list of universities in Switzerland.

Educational rankings[edit]

In 1995 Switzerland took part in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessment. TIMSS is an international assessment of the mathematics and science knowledge of fourth- and eighth-grade students around the world. It was developed by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) to allow participating nations to compare students' educational achievement across borders. In 1995, Switzerland was one of forty-one nations that participated in the study. They did not participate in later studies. Among 8th graders, Switzerland ranked 15th overall, 8th in math and 25th in science.[3]

A National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) study that used the TIMSS assessment among 12th graders found similar results. The Swiss students were in their upper secondary education and were attending either a gymnasium, general education, teacher training or advanced vocation training. In math, the Swiss scored a 540 (the average score was 500), and were 3rd out of 21. Their science score was 523, which was 8th out of 21. In physics, they scored 488 (the average was 501) and were tied for 9th place out of 16. The advanced mathematics score was 533 which was 3rd out of 16.[4]

The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report for 2010-11 ranked Switzerland as first overall. Under the fifth pillar of the report, Higher education and training, the Swiss had a score of 5.79, which is the fourth highest among all the countries surveyed.[5]

Cantonal school systems[edit]

While compulsory schooling in Switzerland is 9 years long, many of the specifics of the system vary by canton. In most cases, the primary level lasts 6 years, and the lower secondary level 3 years. In only a few cantons, the primary level lasts 4 (BS, VD) or 5 (AG, BL, TI) years and entrance to the lower secondary level thus occurs either in school year 5 (duration: 5 years) or school year 6 (duration: 4 years). In 17 cantons, it is compulsory to attend pre-school. In almost all cantons, the municipalities are obliged to provide at least one year of pre-school classes.[6]

This table shows the school system for 2009/2010 and how the lower secondary schools are organized:[7]

Canton Years of
Kindergarten
Years of Kindergarten provided Years of Kindergarten legally required Length of Primary School Length of mandatory Secondary School Separate Secondary Schools? Cooperative Secondary Schools? Integrated Secondary Schools?
Zurich 2 2 2 6 3 Yes No No
Bern 1 1 0 6 3 Yes Yes Yes
Lucerne 1 1 1 6 3 Yes Yes Yes
Uri 1 1 0 6 3 No No Yes
Schwyz 1 1 1 6 3 No No Yes
Obwalden 1 1 1 6 3 No No Yes
Nidwalden 2 2 1 6 3 No No Yes
Glarus 2 2 1 6 3 Yes Yes Yes
Zug 2 2 1 6 3 No No Yes
Fribourg 2 1 or 2 0 or 2 6 3 Yes No Yes
Solothurn 2 2 0 6 3 Yes Yes Yes
Basel-Stadt 2 2 2 4 5 Yes No No
Basel-Landschaft 2 2 1 5 4 Yes No No
Schaffhausen 2 2 1 6 3 No No Yes
Appenzell Ausserrhoden 2 2 1 6 3 Yes Yes Yes
Appenzell Innerrhoden 2 2 1 6 3 Yes Yes Yes
St. Gallen 2 2 2 6 3 No No Yes
Graubünden 1 1 0 6 3 Yes No No
Aargau 1 1 0 5 4 Yes No No
Thurgau 2 2 2 6 3 Yes No No
Ticino 3 3 0 5 4 Yes No No
Vaud 2 2 0 4 5 Yes No No
Valais 1 0 0 6 3 Yes No No
Neuchâtel 2 2 0 5 4 Yes No No
Geneva 2 2 0 6 3 Yes No No
Jura 2 2 0 6 3 Yes No No

Education demographics[edit]

During the 2008/09 school year there were 1,502,257 students in the entire Swiss educational system. In kindergarten or pre-school, there were 152,919 students (48.6% female). These students were taught by 13,592 teachers (96.0% female) in 4,949 schools, of which 301 were private schools. There were 777,394 students (48.6% female) in the obligatory schools, which include primary and lower secondary schools. These students were taught by 74,501 teachers (66.3% female) in 6,083 schools, of which 614 were private. The upper secondary school system had 337,145 students (46.9% female). They were taught by 13,900 teachers (42.3% female) in 730 schools, of which 240 were private. The tertiary education system had 234,799 students (49.7% female). They were taught by 37,546 teachers (32.8% female) in 367 schools.[8]

Notes and references[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]