Preprimary & Primary Education
In all cantons children have the right to a preschool education for at least one year. In some cantons two years of preschool education are financed. Preschool education is not compulsory; however, it is almost universally attended. An average of 99 percent of all children throughout Switzerland receive preprimary education during the year before they start compulsory education, and 63 percent attend for two years. In Switzerland the cantons and/or municipalities are responsible for organizing and funding preprimary education. Kindergarten is generally housed in a separate building from the primary grades.
In preprimary education, although the cantons follow slightly different curriculums, the aim is to promote social skills and to acquire the skills needed for primary school. Another important goal is to integrate foreign mother-tongue children and handicapped children into the school system and to identify children with learning problems. In Geneva, for example, almost half of the children do not speak French. In German Switzerland where dialect is spoken, non-German dialect speakers receive special instruction in the Swiss dialect. In the 1994/95 academic school year 23 percent of those attending kindergarten were of foreign mother tongue. A new curriculum came into effect during the 1994/95 school year for preprimary teachers in all the French-speaking cantons. In the German-speaking cantons, kindergarten teachers tend to follow the curriculum set by their professional associations.
In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, children attend kindergarten for approximately two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. They return home for lunch between the two sessions. In the Ticino, however, kindergarten usually stays open from 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. The organization of the school year is the same as primary education.
Kindergarten classes have between 17 and 19 children. In German- and Italian-speaking Switzerland, children stay in the same group for the duration of their preschool education. In contrast, in some of the French-speaking cantons, the teacher changes from year to year.
According to the Agreement on the Coordination of Education, children who have reached the age of six by June 30th are eligible for compulsory education. Each canton has its own laws regarding education, which defines the way in which compulsory education is organized. In 20 Swiss cantons primary education lasts six years, in four cantons for five years, and in two cantons for four years.
Cantonal authorities fix the curriculum. While a few regions have established common curricula, ultimately the canton is responsible for what is taught in separate subjects. With the exception of mathematics, foreign languages and some aspects of mother-tongue language classes, the teachers enjoy considerable freedom in deciding the content of the syllabus that governs the various subjects. There is little specialization in primary school and generally the teachers teach all the subjects. The only exception is specialized teachers in some schools in physical education and art.
The primary school curriculum stresses the teaching of the mother tongue as well as the fundamentals of science and mathematics. A second language is also introduced, usually in the fourth grade. In French-speaking Switzerland, German is generally learned and in German-speaking Switzerland, French or in some cantons English. Virtually all Swiss children attend primary school. In Switzerland in the 1994/95 school year there were 6,400 primary schools that enrolled 437,400 pupils. Of these pupils 18.7 percent were of foreign mother tongue.
The average class size in primary schools in 1994/95 was between 15 and 20. Most schools include children only at one level, but in remote areas one class may include different grades in one class. In general, children are not put in different tracks in primary school. Pupils receive a report card two or three times a year in which grades are given for each subject. The average grades at the end of the school year are used to determine whether the pupil should go into a higher class. Many cantons do not grade students in the first few years of primary school, but rather depend on assessment meetings and periodic reports. In all cantons there are regulations allowing for pupils to repeat a year. If after repeating a year, a student still experiences difficulty, parents in collaboration with the teacher and other school authorities decide whether to transfer the child to a special class. The trend is to integrate slower children into normal classes during primary school.
Throughout Switzerland, the first year at primary school comprises on the average approximately four hours of teaching per day. This increases to slightly over five hours per day in the final year at primary school. School is held in the morning and afternoon. Some cantons have school on Saturday mornings and one afternoon during the week free. Usually the children go home for lunch, however, there has been a trend towards children staying at school for the lunch pause, especially in urban areas. Depending on the canton, the school year comprises between 35.5 and 40 weeks.
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