School and Education in Switzerland


The country’s state of affairs is to a large extent based on direct democracy, which means that citizens of the citizen vote in a number of issues, at national and local level. The administrative apparatus is thus more decentralized than in any other country. The same applies to the education system. There is no federal or national education ministry.

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The cantons (states or counties) are responsible for education at all levels and account for 90 percent of all education costs. The country has four official languages spoken in different parts of the country (German, French, Italian and Romanian), and the teaching is conducted in the language spoken mainly in the area where the school is located. The country’s education system is thus difficult to describe as the variation is large between the cantons. 5 percent of the country’s elementary schools are run by private players.

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What is common in the country’s cantons is the following. Schooling is compulsory for 9-11 years, primary school (compulsory school) comprises 6-8 years and school start occurs when a child is 4-6 years. Quarterly sitting is applied if a student has not met the requirements for starting in the upcoming class. After primary level, students are allocated based on school performance and placed in types of schools and at levels considered appropriate for the individual student. Students who have the ability and willingness to study further go to Mittelschule (also called high school or canton school). As a rule, students move to high school when they are 11-12 years old. Education in high school or cantonal school usually lasts for three years but is in Italian-speaking cantons for four years.

The cost of education in Switzerland is high compared to the corresponding countries. As a nation, Switzerland has one of the highest educational costs per student in Europe, but also within the OECD. In addition, the country has one of the highest proportions of international students in higher education.

There are three types of upper secondary education: vocational education, secondary school in the general sense and specialized upper secondary education. The length of vocational training varies from two to four years and consists to a large extent of internship within a company or agency.

Switzerland Country Flag

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In this article, the canton of Zurich’s structure for education will be used as an example. The compulsory school in the canton of Zurich comprises elementary and high school, ie 10-11 years. The education system has the following levels and variants:

  • Elementary school (6 years), which is followed by high school (3-4 years) and then upper school (Oberschule) (2 years) and high school 4.5 years.
  • Elementary school (6 years) and then high school (6.5 years).
  • Elementary school (6 years), which is followed by apprenticeship in a company and then vocational school (Fachschule) and teacher training (Fachmittelschule).

Only upper secondary education grants admission to higher education. There are also other opportunities to gain competence by building on different courses.

The upper secondary school is divided into the following lines: general high school, new language secondary school, old language secondary school, economic high school and music gymnasium. Everyone grants admission to higher education unless the student completes the degree which completes the respective upper secondary education. 45 per cent of all pupils in upper secondary school continue in higher education. 30 percent undergo university education, the rest undergo some higher vocational education. The proportion of students in higher education is among the highest in the world. In addition to graduating from high school, there are a number of other complex alternatives or variants that also give admission to higher studies.

The line the student chooses at the high school determines which area of ​​higher education the person can access.

Ten of the country’s universities are run by the cottons, and there are two federal (national) universities (both of which are technical universities) and a college of engineering. It takes 4.5 years of studies for the undergraduate degree in higher education, but the college education lasts 3.5 years. Half of all students are women.

When it comes to further education or retraining, Switzerland is known for its vocational adult education. Every university must have a center for further education.

The country’s policy in this area is particularly aimed at women who re-enter the labor market after working at home. 80 percent of all organizers of adult or further education are private and comprise, for example, trade unions, religious organizations and companies.