"Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another."
The education system of the multilingual and federally structured Switzerland is unique because it is firmly rooted in the local municipalities, cantons and language regions. The primary responsibility lies with the 26 cantons. The federal authorities and the cantons share responsibility for post-compulsory education. The cantons and their local municipalities finance about 87% (2005) of public educational expenditures.
Due to the complexity of the system and the current differences between the cantons, the descriptions here provide only an overview. Contact your district or community local education department (Divisione della scuola) for details on your local schools particularly as Switzerland is undergoing an important period of change with regard to some key aspects of its education system which will make it much easier to harmonize systems between cantons, known as the HarmoS system.
According to the Federal Department of Education, “Most students in Switzerland (95%) complete pre-school and compulsory schooling at the state school in the municipality in which they live. 5% attend a private school”. State schools play an important role in integration: children who have different social, linguistic and cultural backgrounds all attend the same school. If a child is schooled in the Swiss system there is no charge and most school expenses are covered by the local community. Key features which differ from other countries are that children are expected to be more independent, for example going to and from school even at kindergarten age without adult supervision, Wednesday afternoons are free, there is no school uniform, most children go home for lunch and children are assessed continuously rather than by blocks of exams at the end of the school year with marks awarded for all the major subjects each semester. Two dates are set each year when parents are allowed to observe classes throughout the day which gives you a good feel for what your children are experiencing.
Be aware that if you are planning a trip home to visit family, written permission must be sought from the school authorities if it cuts into school time. Absenteeism and lateness are taken very seriously in Switzerland, and parents can be fined for not complying with the guidelines.
THE SWISS SYSTEM OR PRIVATE SCHOOLING?
You will need to make a decision as to whether your child will attend a state school or a private school. Although the temptation is for many International families to favour private schools the Swiss system should not be lightly dismissed. It offers a good standard of education with many advantages.
There are huge benefits of learning a second language and the younger your children the easier it will be for them to adapt to the new language and culture.
Depending on the canton and community in which you live, Swiss kindergarten is available free to children from three, four or five years of age. In Ticino your child must turn three years of age by September 30th to be eligible to enter kindergarten at the start of the coming school year. Children born after that date must wait until the next school year. However, due to the changes in the system, be sure to check with your local school board for accurate cut-off dates.
Be aware that kindergarten here is viewed as a place where children learn to socialise but are not expected to read or write. An unusual interesting alternative to conventional kindergarten is the "Waldkindergarten" where children are based outdoors and explore the natural environment.
It is mandatory in all cantons for all children to receive nine years of schooling after kindergarten. Children spend five years at primary school. If attending a Swiss primary school there is normally no choice as to which they attend and this is allocated by the local school authority. The five years are split into two cycles, normally with one teacher for each cycle. Teaching is organised from about 08:30 to midday when children usually go home for lunch, returning in the afternoon at around 14.00.
Academic subjects include Maths, Language, Science, History, Geography, Sports, Music, Crafts and Art. The teaching of a foreign languages - a second national language - also begins at the primary level. These are introduced at varying stages depending upon the cantonal guidelines. Religious Studies is optional and parents may withdraw their children from this if they wish.
In Canton Ticino, at the end of primary school children attend the local secondary school (Scuola Media) for the next four years. After the second year of Scuola Media they are devided into two different groups according to their grade average in Maths and German.
At the end of Scuola Media, students can decide to continue school for a further three years at the Gymnasium (Liceo), attend a specialised vocational school (scuole professionali) or enter an apprenticeship. The Swiss consider their apprenticeship system second to none.
The Gymnasium system is aimed at those children intent on a route to higher education at University.
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 federal state.
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.
Click here for a simplified diagram of the Swiss Education system by the EDK: http://www.edudoc.ch/static/web/bildungssystem/grafik_bildung_e.pdf
Source: www.edk.ch and www.ti.ch