The Swiss school system is considered to be among the top ones in the entire world and is incredibly successful in integrating children of the immigrants into the Swiss society. At the same time, the Swiss school system obliges all children – even the children of illegal immigrants – to attend the compulsory primary school until the age of 15-16.
The services of public primary schools are completely free of cost even for illegals, though you might be asked to pay for school trips, books, and other learning materials. There are also international schools, where study people of some foreigners, since it is easier for them to study in a native language and alike. However, the majority of parents decide that their children should go to public schools because: (a) it is an easier and faster way of integrating into the society; (b) it is a high-quality education for free.
Considering how the Swiss state functions, local authorities are responsible for the functioning of the schools and the teaching programs there. However, they must agree on the policy with the federal body responsible for education – the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation, or shortly SERI.
How the Swiss school system is structured
Children in Switzerland start their education the following way:
- Pre-school education (kindergartens up to the age of 4-6 years old).
- Primary education (lasts from 4 up to 6 years, whereas the children enroll in primary schools at the age of 6).
- Lower secondary education (lasts for 3 or 4 years and is the last stage of the compulsory school learning).
- Upper secondary education (lasts between 2 and 4 years and prepares the pupils to enroll in a university or pick a profession).
In Switzerland, children are not obliged to visit kindergartens before going to a primary school, though the majority of parents opt to do so in order to develop their communication skills. At the age of 6, children enroll in primary schools and study there from 4 to 6 years, depending on a region of the country. At that point, the children are not divided into groups according to their achievements.
Even though the public schools are free in Switzerland, they are considered to be among the best ones in Europe
The lower secondary education starts at the age of 11 or 12 and children have to master most of the general subjects like math, physics, geography, history, etc. At this point, children receive marks twice per years: 2, 4, or 6, whereas 6 is the best mark and 2 means insufficient. Those children who progress fast can jump over one year of studying. Those who lag behind should study a year more in the same class, but it is not considered something as a shame in Switzerland.
There are different upper secondary education institutions (VET schools, baccalaureate schools, and specialized schools), which either prepare the pupils to enroll to a university or to get a job in the sphere of education, health care, or social works. As you can notice, the Swiss schools are attended by the children of all ages and abilities and not separated in different groups.
Schools for children with special needs
The Swiss school system also provides education for children with special needs, which may last since the birth up to the age of 20. Each local authority has specialists who come to assess the children’s disabilities and decide whether they may access ordinary Swiss schools with some support or they need to attend schools for children with special needs.
An opportunity of home schooling
Legislation on this issue significantly varies across cantons. While in some cantons home schooling is allowed, it is banned in the other cantons. If it’s allowed in your region, you need to notify the local department of education every year and teach the children according to their instructions. In order to find out more about this issue, contact your local department of education.