Education special: a decentralised system with high standards for private as well as public schools, Swiss education did not seem apt to change. Nevertheless, education in Switzerland is now undergoing one of the biggest changes in history.

AuteurHeddema, Renske


The Swiss have taken education a long way since famous Swiss pedagogue Pestalozzi identified 'the hands, heart and head' as central elements in 18th-century education. For the better part of two centuries--dating from Pestalozzi's How Gertrude Teaches Her Children, written in 1801--the system evolved step by step, but today, its very structure is being transformed at a dazzling speed.

Primary and secondary level schools are getting new national standards. For the first time in history, the cantons are giving up a bit of their cherished autonomy in favour of a better overall standard. 'HarmoS', as the reform is called, is now halfway through, and the first phase will be implemented in the fall of this year. According to experts, the current synchronisation of the 26 Swiss cantons is nothing less then revolutionary.

Moreover, the whole field of higher education has recently concluded the first phase of the so-called 'Bologna reforms'. The streamlining of programmes and diplomas into new Bachelor's and Master's degrees will allow more transparency and comparisons between universities and between schools of higher education.

Although not bound by EU laws, Switzerland has chosen to be Euro compatible. This also means new measures to assess the success of reforms at all levels.

The Swiss private schools keep in line with a mandatory system of quality control. Members of the VSP (Association of Swiss Private Schools), who haven't undergone a quality test by the beginning of 2008, are threatened with expulsion from the organisation.

On the whole, the global economy and European regulations have forced the Swiss to centralise their educational programmes and adopt international rules in shaping them.

Inconsistency the rule

There are huge variations in the teaching programmes, books, and even the holidays of the Swiss cantons. Even neighbouring cantons such as Zurich and Aargau have totally different systems resulting in practical problems, especially for families with children.

This restricts the free choice of schools and mobility, even if the country is small. The problem is aggravated when a student applies for a job or university in another canton. If a university cannot accept the credits earned in another system, admission becomes conditional. For example, the varying standards in i_ mathematics among freshmen have prompted ETH Zurich to introduce entrance examinations in the subject.

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