The Swiss are very proud of their educational system. In a country with no natural resources, an educated and skilled workforce is seen as an important pillar of the economy. However, Switzerland has no federal education authority or national curriculum. This can make moving between different cantons with children a frustrating experience, not only with regard to the language of instruction.
Depending on the canton, the main language spoken in the classroom is German (in its Swiss varieties), French, or Italian. Traditionally, the second language would be one of the remaining two official languages of Switzerland. In recent years, however, there has been a trend towards teaching English as the first foreign language at school, followed by a second national language.
While the different cantonal education departments enjoy complete autonomy when it comes to policies and funding, the basic school system and the various types of schools are more or less the same across the country. Elementary education starts with nursery school or kindergarten for children aged between three and five. Kids who have reached the age of six start with free and compulsory primary education.
After about six years of primary education, pupils proceed to stage I of secondary education. There are different types of schools for stage I. So, from year seven to ten, children follow either the vocational option or a more academic path until they have completed compulsory education.
Stage II of secondary education again offers different schools for different purposes. It lasts three to four years, leading either to subject-specific qualifications for certain professions or to the Swiss high-school diploma. The latter entitles its holder to attend university.
Expat parents who would like to enroll their children in a Swiss school should contact the education department of their canton to find out more specific details.
Most Swiss children go to state (public) schools. However, there are over 40 bilingual or multilingual international schools in Switzerland, some of them private, some under federal control. Most of them offer the International Baccalaureate, plus several other programs leading to country-specific university qualifications.
The website Swiss Group of International Schools has a list (including contact details and a short profile) of its international schools across the country. There are others, for example the International School of Central Switzerland, which can be easily found on the Internet.
Admission policies depend on the individual school, but previous school performance records and health checks are required by most admission boards. Tuition fees can be as much as about 30,000 CHF per year for children in higher grades.
For more information on the school system in Switzerland, both public and private and including a list of selected international schools, please refer to our dedicated article on education in Switzerland.
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