The Swiss education system is recognized as one of the best in the world, yet it might seem a bit complicated to a foreigner. Also, this system is recognized for its ability to integrate the children of foreigners and immigrants into the society (keep in mind that 25% of the entire population of Switzerland are foreigners).
The institution responsible for the education policy in the country is the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation. Considering that Switzerland is a confederation with lots of rights and responsibilities given to the local authorities, the majority of decisions about school learning policies and alike are made at the regional level. The language of studying also depends on the region in which you live.
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The basics of the Swiss education system
Typically, the compulsory education in Switzerland lasts from 9 to 11 years, depending on the canton you are residing in. Public schools provide high-quality education services, while being completely free of cost. Even the children of illegal immigrants are obliged to attend the public schools. Even though the compulsory education is free, you might be asked to buy/pay for books and school trips. However, there are no requirements for a mandatory school uniform.
The typical structure of education in Switzerland is something like the following one:
- Primary education;
- Lower secondary education;
- Upper secondary education;
- Tertiary education.
Kindergartens and primary education
Even though attending kindergartens is not mandatory for children, many of parents, especially those who emigrated to Switzerland, make a decision to make their children attend kindergartens with a purpose of integration into the society and learning new languages.
Not more than 5% of the Swiss population decide to send their kids to private schools
Depending on the canton you live in, children go to a primary school at 4 or 6 years old. In the given Swiss education system, studying at a primary school lasts for up to 6 years. At this point, children are not separated according to their educational achievements.
Lower secondary education
At the age of around 11-12, children have to enroll in middle schools that, depending on the canton, can be called either Kantonschule or Gymnasium. There, children study for 3 three years, though in some cantons it may be up to 4 years. The typical topics studied at this point are: vocational preparation, career guidance, home economics, health and physical education, art and design, music, civil education, history, geography, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, English, and other foreign languages.
Twice per year, the parents of the children get a report about their achievements: 2 stands for insuffience, 4 stands for sufficient, and 6 stands for the best mark.
Upper secondary education
Upper secondary education is not compulsory in the Swiss education system, though more than 90% of the Swiss pupils decide to continue their education at the age of 15. There are the following institutions of upper secondary education: vocational education and training schools (VET schools), baccalaureate schools, and upper secondary specialized schools.
VET schools last for 2-4 years and provide both technical and practical training, and the students can enroll in universities after receiving a FED diploma. Baccalaureate schools provide general education required for entering a university. A bit more than 5% of the pupils enroll in the upper secondary specialized schools, which provide professional training for specific jobs, such as education, social work, and health care.
In the Swiss education system, higher education includes studying at vocational schools, technical schools, and universities that are spread across the country. See more about this issue in the other posts of this section.