The Swiss educational system is known for its many and varied educational opportunities. There are several different ways to go about it getting a good education and the responsibility for education lies mainly with the 26 cantons.
As a rule, children attend kindergarten for one to two years. In most cantons, it is compulsory to attend for one year at least. Kindergarten aims to promote independence as well as the social and practical competence of children. There is no performance appraisal. The decision as to who can attend kindergarten and then school is regulated differently in the individual cantons.
There is no need to take an exam to enter primary school.
Primary school education
Primary schooling usually lasts six years and the curriculum is set by the cantons. The students’ performance is assessed with grades or course reports. Most children do not receive grades in their first year of school.
Grades range from 1 – 6 with a score of 6 being the best.
The children are taught a national language (German, French, Italian or Romansh, depending on the region), another foreign language, mathematics, history and political science and other subjects. A report card or a course report is given to the children twice a year.
State schools are free of charge.
Secondary school education level I
Secondary level I is divided into three tiers. There are schools with core requirements. There are schools with extended requirements, where students are accepted by recommendations of teachers (primary level). In some cantons, students have to take an examination.
There are schools that do not have any selection, i.e. comprehensive schools.
Further secondary schooling programmes are currently in the experimental stages. In secondary school level I, pupils are prepared for vocational training or transfer to secondary schools of upper secondary level II.
State schools are free of charge.
Secondary school education level II
Secondary level II is divided into different tiers: grammar school, technical college and vocational training courses. Students are typically 15 – 16 years old.
Students can obtain a vocational baccalaureate as part of their basic vocational training. Upon successful completion of the vocational baccalaureate, it is generally possible to study at a university of applied sciences without any further examinations. If you complete a year of studies called the Passerelle, you will be eligible for university entrance. Through one year of preparation (with final examination) you can gain access to the Pedagogical Universities (PH).
The Passerelle is a supplementary examination to the vocational baccalaureate. Passing this examination entitles you to attend university. You can prepare for this examination by studying on your own or at the appropriate schools.
Admission to a grammar school requires personal maturity. Attending a grammar school is considered to be a preparation for university studies. You can choose one major subject from 8 subjects/subject groups and an additional subject from a further 13 subjects/subject groups. Each canton sets its own admission requirements.
Grammar school graduates complete their secondary school with a baccalaureate. This allows students to enter tertiary institutions such as universities, teacher training colleges and universities of applied sciences . In some cantons there are grammar schools that specialise in certain fields, such as pedagogical subjects.
Adults also have the opportunity to obtain a baccalaureate via an alternative route. Those subject to tax pay little or no school fees. Typically, part-time study is offered and consists of both classes (individual days or evenings) and self-study.
Full time training is also sometimes available. Distance learning is less common.
Intermediate technical colleges (FMS) prepare students for certain professions, higher technical colleges or universities of applied sciences.
Each canton has its own admission requirements. The intermediate technical college is completed with a technical college degree (first degree) or a professional baccalaureate.
The tertiary level includes higher education (universities, universities of applied sciences, teacher training colleges) and higher vocational training. Higher vocational training is intended for experienced professionals. In this way, they can continue to specialise or further educate themselves.
Switzerland has 12 public universities, seven universities of applied sciences and 17 teacher training colleges.
Language of instruction
Depending on the region, there are four different languages of instruction in Switzerland: German, French, Italian or Romansh. Children learn a second national language as well as English during their school years.
The Swiss education system is notable for the fact that, in principle, it is possible for anyone to achieve their desired educational goal in a variety of ways. There are different options for attending a school, changing from one school to another, for obtaining additional training or for getting a baccalaureate as an adult.
For example, instead of going directly to a grammar school, pupils could attend an intermediate technical college and then obtain a professional baccalaureate with further study.
Swiss German is the language usually spoken by students amongst themselves and it is important for children to speak it so that they can integrate more easily into society. And, of course, everyone will be able to use it later on in their working lives.