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History & Background

Switzerland, located in the heart of Europe, is among the small nations of the world. It is 41,300 square kilometers and shares its borders and its three main languages with Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein. The Helvetic Confederation, the Latin name for Switzerland, can be divided into three natural regions: the Jura mountains in the northwest, the central lowlands between the Lake of Constance and Lake of Geneva, and the Alps in the south and east. Although the Alps and the Jura Mountains cover more than half of Switzerland, most of the Swiss people live between the two mountain ranges. The estimated population in 1998 was 7,374,000, including foreign workers, who made up almost 19 percent of the population. In the central lowlands are most of Switzerland's industries and its richest farmlands. Switzerland's capital city, Bern, and its largest city, Zurich, are located in this area. The population, with a density of 179 people per square kilometer is 68 percent urban and 32 percent rural.

The population is divided between three major and one minor language groups. According to the 1990 census of the resident population, 63.7 percent spoke German, 19.2 percent French, 7.6 percent Italian, 0.6 percent Romansch, and 8.9 percent other languages. German, French, and Italian are deemed official languages, whereas Romansch, which is spoken by less than 1 percent of the population in the Grisons, is considered a national language. With regard to religion, in 1990 some 46.1 percent of the population were Roman Catholics, 40 percent were Protestants, 5 percent belonged to other denominations, and 8.9 percent were "nonreligious."

Switzerland has limited natural resources, but it is a very affluent industrial nation. Using imported raw materials, the Swiss manufacture high-quality goods including electrical equipment, machine tools, and watches. They also produce chemicals, drugs, chocolate, cheese, and other diary products.

The Swiss have a long tradition of freedom. The Swiss Confederation was created over 700 years ago in what is now central Switzerland. The original defensive alliance formed in 1291 of the three mountain cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, gradually increased to 13 by 1513. Similar to other parts of central Europe, education started in church schools, which were primarily dedicated to training the clergy. It was not until the late Middle Ages that schools for reading and writing for more practical purposes were established in some towns. During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation era education was largely the privilege of the upper classes of society. As part of the new democratic system, elementary schools were established at the end of the eighteenth century. These schools provided education for a much broader cross-section of the population.

Education has played a very important role in the Swiss Confederation. The Swiss Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) developed many of the basic pedagogical approaches and teacher training principles that are used in many western countries of the world. Pestalozzi's ideas spread as far as the United States by the 1860s, and his theories influenced Friedrich Froebel, the German founder of the first kindergartens, as well as many other educators and philosophers. A report on Popular Education in France from 1861 that also analyzed Popular Education in Switzerland commented on the quality of Swiss schools.

The principle of direct democracy is an important part of Swiss democracy and firmly rooted in the federal constitution. The electorate frequently votes, either to elect representatives or to vote on initiatives or referendums. Decentralization and direct democracy are also an important part of the education system. Education has remained primarily the responsibility of the cantons (states) and municipalities. Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons, which enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy. The cantons are further divided into communes or municipalities, approximately 3,000 in all.

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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceSwitzerland - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education