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Switzerland TravelSwitzerland guide / Education in Switzerland

Education in Switzerland

The Swiss put a high premium on education due to the landlocked country's relative lack of natural resources
The Swiss put a high premium on education due to the landlocked country's relative lack of natural resources. As a result, Switzerland has one of the best educational systems in the world. Each canton is responsible for their own education systems - including kindergartens, primary schools, and universities - so education may vary between cantons. Some cantons teach foreign languages in grade four, but other cantons may teach foreign languages starting in a later grade. This can cause some difficulty when moving children between cantons with different educational standards.

The attitude to public schools in Switzerland is quite proud. Most children go to public schools, because private schools are quite expensive. There is also an attitude that kids in private schools couldn't do well enough in public schools. The four levels of public school are Kindergarten, Volksschule, Gymnasium, and Universitaten, from youngest to oldest. Switzerland is home to eleven universities, two of which are run by the federation and nine of which are run by cantons. When children finish with elementary school, they have two choices: go to secondary school or begin an apprenticeship. If a child chooses to start an apprenticeship, he or she may still have an academic career at a secondary school or at a technical college (Fachhochschule).

Education is mandatory for every child in Switzerland, at least at the elementary level. The ages at which children begin school vary among the different cantons. Because Zurich is the most heavily populated canton, any further details about the educational system will be based on what is done in Zurich.

Kindergarten is required, and children attend Kindergarten to learn school readiness skills like how to sit quietly and pay attention to the teacher. Kindergarten may last one or two years. Then at age seven, children begin elementary school, or Volksschule. This, too is mandatory for all Swiss children. They may choose public or private school. Elementary school lasts eight or nine years. Some schools offer an extra year of school for children who have not decided what educational course to pursue. Children who are not old enough to begin their secondary training may attend this extra year of school too. Primarschule and Oberstufenschule are the two phases of Volksschule. Primarschule lasts for six years, and usually one teacher teaches all subjects in his or her class. Oberstufenschule lasts three years. Often there are two teachers per class, with the teaching duties divided between the two. There are also teachers specifically classes like gym class, cooking and other special topics. There are three basic levels of Oberstufenschule, and children are assigned to one level for each subject they are studying. Sekundarschule is the highest level of elementary school, and it is required for children who want to go to a Gymnasium. Here students learn math, their native language, and a foreign language. Children who attend Realschule take the same subjects as those in Sekundarschule, but the coursework is not as rigorous. Children who have learning difficulties or special needs attend Oberschule. Depending on what age children are when they go to Gymnasium, it will take either four and a half years or six and a half years.

After elementary school, many children begin an apprenticeship. The apprenticeship may take two to four years. Professions for which students serve an apprenticeship include cosmetology, carpentry, mechanics, baking, bookkeeping, information technology, and secretarial skills, among others. After the apprenticeship, young people will either take a job, go to another school for more education, or attend a technical college.

Some secondary schools, or Gymnasia, have an emphasis on mathematics and science, and also include instruction in two foreign languages. Other Gymnasia focus on modern languages with math and sciences taking a secondary role. There are even Gymnasium schools that focus on economics, music and art, and sports. When students finish Gymnasium, they are awarded a diploma recognized at all Swiss universities and most universities in other countries.

As for the Universitaten, those overseen by the cantons emphasize non-technical subjects, while those run by the entire Swiss federation concentrate on technical subjects. To attend, students must have a diploma from a Gymnasium. Universitaten study lasts four and a half years, on average.

Young adults who have had apprenticeships can still attend a Fachhochschule, or technical college. Students at these schools generally have more practicum-based training than those who attend a Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Study at the Fachhochschule lasts for three and a half years. Night school, or Abendtechnikum is a part time course of study where the student works at a job in the daytime and goes to school evenings and Saturdays. This course of study takes six years.

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