Education In Switzerland

Compulsory Education

Compulsory education in Switzerland is offered free of charge to all children, regardless of resident status, and generally lasts eleven years. Though there are minor differences in organization among the cantons, children are generally grouped by age into the following divisions:

 

  • Primary, which comprises one-to-two years of kindergarten (and an additional optional third year of kindergarten in Ticino) and five-to-six years of primary school, depending on the canton
  • Lower Secondary, which comprises three-to-four years (depending on the canton) of further academics and career guidance and orientation

In most cantons, kindergarten instruction is informal and focused on learning the rules and norms of school and how to behave in a group. In primary school, children learn more formal academics, including reading, writing, maths, environmental sciences, social sciences, physical education, art (including music and handicrafts), and religious studies. Older primary children also learn a second national language and English. In lower secondary school, children continue to learn formal academic subjects and are offered home economics, career guidance, and orientation toward further education. At this stage, children may be tracked into pre-academic or pre-vocational streams depending on ability and interest.

 

Most cantons do not provide students with a certificate of completion at the end of compulsory school, and there is no national exam for admission to upper secondary school. Instead, cantons are responsible to establish frameworks for placement decisions, some electing to rely upon the results of standardized assessments and others  relying on non-standardized tests and teachers' recommendations.

 

Upper Secondary Education

While there are modest differences in program organization from canton to canton, upper secondary education in Switzerland is divided into two tracks, vocational education and training and general education:

 

  • Vocational education and training usually consists of practical, on-the-job training in companies contracted to provided training within their respective sectors, as well as theoretical, classroom-based education provided by a vocational school. These programs may last two years, and provide a certificate, or three-two-four years, and provide a diploma. 
  • General education usually consists of three-to-four years of academic instruction at a Baccalaureate schools, depending on the canton. In certain cantons, students may attend Baccalaureate schools at the lower-secondary level, extending the duration of the program to six years. Successful completion results in a federally-recognized Baccalaureate diploma.
 
Because there is no stigma associated with vocational training, and because vocational trainees routinely receive an apprentice’s salary, many students — even high achievers — choose to pursue vocational education. In fact, the large majority of students in Switzerland go on to vocational education and training, and 90% of those students complete their programs. The general education track is pursued mainly by those students who wish to obtain the credential required for tertiary education. Admission to a Baccalaureate school generally requires strong academic performance and positive teacher evaluations; some cantons also require prospective Baccalaureate students to sit an entrance examination. 

Special Education
Special education services are provided to children with documented disabilities free of charge by local school authorities. Eligibility guidelines and service provision vary from canton to canton. In general, children with specific learning disorders, such as dyslexia of dyscalculia, attend mainstream schools and receive special education services, such as instructional accommodations, speech therapy, or support classes. Children with more complex needs or global developmental disabilities, such as a global intellectual disability, may receive instruction in special schools, either for some of all of their classes. There are sometimes delays in the establishment of service, as the Swiss education system is transitioning from a more segregated to a more inclusive model of education. Therefore, it is important to secure the support of your child's pediatrician, neurologist, psychiatrist, therapists, and/or any other treating professionals. Disability rights advocacy organizations, such as Procap and Pro Infirmis can also provide valuable guidance and assistance to parents of children with special needs.
 
For further information on the structure of the Swiss education system, please visit SwissEducation.Educa.ch.