A Primer on Swiss Education

Monday is the day I focus on topics about Switzerland and with the start of the new university semester one week away, I thought I’d give you all a quick overview over the Swiss education system.

Switzerland offers high quality education at all levels of schooling and its results can be seen in the excellent quality of life in the country. Children start going to Kindergarden at the age of around 5 and begin primary school at around 6 years old.

The first stage of schooling is mostly done in your hometown village and normally lasts six grades. Of course, as Switzerland is organized in cantons, details can differ from canton to canton. I only have experience about the process in Bern and Zurich. At age 12, after sixth grade, children are split into different categories based on their schooling performance and aptitude. These categories are not fixed, so if a child feels over- or underwhelmed, they can change categories.

In Zurich, kids can enter the “Gymnasium”, the school which leads to the Matura and allows them to enter universities, after sixth grade. However, they have to fulfil certain grading requirements and pass a canton-wide test. These schools are mostly located in the bigger cities of the canton and mostly require a bit of commuting to get to. During my years of schooling, we didn’t enter the “Gymi”, as it is called in Bern, immediately.

Instead, I went to middle school in my hometown, while staying on track for the Gymnasium. One of the main benefits was that I didn’t need to pass a test to get on the Gymnasium. The other tracks at middle school are now called Sek. A and Sek. B.

The students in these categories finish middle school after ninth grade at around age 15. They then have two options: Good students can decide to take the test for the Gymnasium (again) and can switch schools. The path most children take however is to look for an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are offered in various industries and companies and are the backbone of the Swiss job market. Popular apprenticeships are commercial apprenticeships, training as electricians or mechanics.

Taking on an apprenticeship does not prevent teenagers from getting tertiary education. They can try to achieve the “Berufsmatura” either during their apprenticeship or in one full-time school year after getting their diploma. The Berufsmatura enables them to go study at one of the Universities of Applied Sciences around Switzerland and earn a Bachelor’s degree. An apprenticeship is paid and takes three or four years to complete, depending on the job.

Meanwhile, students at the Gymnasium or Kantonsschule (canton school) work towards their Matura (something like a high school diploma), which is achieved after 12th grade between ages 18 and 20. With this diploma they can start studying at any subject at any Swiss university except for medicine. To study medicine, the numerus clausus, a special test, needs to be passed to get into the course.

I hope this overview has succeeded in explaining the special system of Swiss education. It is not the goal of the system to send as many students as possible to universities, but to ensure the highest quality in whatever vocation they choose. Through the apprenticeships, the quality of services in Switzerland is exceptionally high and much higher than in other countries I’ve lived or vacationed in.

If you have any questions, one of the best pages to check out is berufsberatung.ch, which offers a comprehensive overview about what jobs are out there.

Thank you for reading, I hope it was helpful!

Sincerely yours,

1 thought on “A Primer on Swiss Education

  1. Pingback: An Elusive Hero in 2013 (Recap) | An Elusive Hero

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