In Switzerland, most children go to public schools. Private schools usually are expensive and people tend to think that students of private schools probably didn't make it at the public school. Public schools include Kindergarten, Volksschule ("elementary school"), Gymnasium ("secondary school") and Universitäten ("universities"). Most municipalities provide kindergarten, primary and secondary schools. Most cantons provide at least one secondary school. There are eleven universities in Switzerland, nine are run by cantons, and two are run by the confederation.
After elementary school, kids may either choose to go to secondary school or to start an apprenticeship. In the later case, after finishing the apprenticeship, it is still possible to start an academic career at either a secondary school or a so called Fachhochschule (FH) ("technical college").
In Switzerland, every child must attend at least the elementary school. Our country provides various schools at different levels. Because the cantons are responsible for the educational system, the names, the subjects, the starting age of the students and the duration vary significantly between the cantons. The rest of this document therefore focuses on how it works in the canton Zürich.
Unlike school, children are not required to attend Kindergarten, but most children do go to Kindergarten. Children may attend Kindergarten for one year or two years. Because they are supposed to start school at the age of seven, they go to Kindergarten when they are five and six years old.
Volksschule ("Elementary school"):
The Volksschule ("elementary school") is mandatory for all Swiss children. They must either attend the public school or must go to a private school. Elementary school starts at the age of seven and lasts at least eight, but usually nine years. The Volksschule is divided into Primarschule and Oberstufenschule:
- In Zürich, Primarschule lasts six years. Usually, the children have only one teacher who teaches all subjects.
- Oberstufenschule lasts three years. Usually, there are at least two teachers for each class, one teaches some, the second the other subjects. There may be other teachers for some special subjects like gym, needlework, cooking and so on.
Oberstufenschule itself is divided into three different levels: They used to be called Sekundarschule, Realschule and Oberschule, but there were some recent changes to that. Today, the schools still provide three different levels, but students will be assigned individually to one level per subject. This is true for major subjects such as math, native language and first foreign language only; all other subjects are taught per class.
- Sekundarschule is the highest level. Some apprenticeships require this level of education. It is particularly required if a student wants to attend a Gymnasium ("secondary school") afterwards. Sekundarschule includes math, geometry, native language (German in case of Zürich), first foreign language (french in Zürich), geography, history and more. In addition, students may attend other subjects like a second foreign language, usually English or Italian.
- Realschule basically teaches the same subjects but not to the same extend.
- Oberschule takes care of students who have difficulties in learning.
After Primarschule, students can also choose to go to Gymnasium ("secondary school") directly without going to the Oberstufenschule; in this case, the Gymnasium takes 6½ years instead of 4½ years.
In Switzerland, most kids start a Berufslehre ("apprenticeship") after elementary school. Depending on the profession, an apprenticeship takes two to four years. Apprenticeships include all kinds of professions, from handicraft (mechanician, carpenter, baker, hairdresser etc.) to office worker (secretary, bookkeeper, IT specialist etc.). Apprentice will get trained at a company or organization, but also attend school for one or two days a week. Some companies also provide additional classes on their own.
After apprenticeship and depending on their education, young people can either start a job or join other schools for further education, including so called Fachhochschulen (previously known as Höhere Technische Lehranstalt, "technical colleges").
Gymnasium ("Secondary school"):
There are various types of Gymnasia ("secondary schools") with different emphasis and major subjects.
There are eleven Universitäten ("universities") in Switzerland, nine of them are run by a canton, two are run by the confederation. In general, the universities run by the cantons provide non-technical subjects, whereas the universities run by the confederation provide technical subjects. The later are therefore called "Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology".
To be able to attend an university, a student must have finished a Gymnasium and own a graduation diploma. The study at an university usually lasts four and a half years.
One of the technical universities run by the confederation is located in the German speaking part of Switzerland, the other in the French speaking part.
The two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology are currently adapting their education process to the so called "Bologna declaration", an attempt of the European universities to align their educational program to make it not only easier, but also possible for a student to change from one university in one country to another university in another country during his or her study.
The education is now broken up into two parts similar to the education in the USA:
- a bachelor study (three years)
- a masters study (one and a half or two years)
After a successful completion of the masters study, one can start working on a thesis in order to get a doctor title. This takes usually three to four years.
Fachhochschulen ("Technical college"):
After an apprenticeship, a young person can still start an academic career. Depending on the profession, she or he may attend a Fachhochschule ("technical college"). A technical college provides a similar education as the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology but not to the same extend. While an engineer ETH (graduate of one of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology) has a stronger theoretical background, an engineer FH (graduate of one of the technical colleges) usually has more practical experience because she or he had finished an apprenticeship which lasted four years. The study lasts three and a half years.
There are many different opportunities for a child to get an education. The curriculum below shows some of the most common pathways through the educational system. Of course, there are many other ways to get an education and there are other schools and possibilities especially in the area of continuing education.
At Undergraduate level:
Tourism, Business administration, Tourism Marketing Management, Banking, Communication design, Human resources, Accounting, Sports management, Media Science, Systems Engineering, Civil Engineering, Multimedia Production.
At Postgraduate level:
Hospitality Management, Tourism, Business Administration, Entrepreneurship management, information science, Engineering.