Switzerland Education System: All The Essential Info

switzerland education system

If you are looking to send your kids to school in Switzerland or are moving there with your family then you are probably looking for some info about the Switzerland education system. Well, you have come to the right place.

The Swiss Education System is one of the best in the world and is globally recognized for its excellent quality. There is no doubt that students in Switzerland end up with a very well-rounded education and the job market recognizes this too.

Switzerland’s education system has it all from compulsory education to higher education and great specializations too that ensure students have the education and opportunities to follow their own passions at every stage.

Before sending your kids to school in Switzerland, you are going to want to know what’s on offer, the best way to navigate the system, and exactly what the rules are.

Join me as I run through everything you need to know about Switzerland’s education system from the rules about compulsory education, kindergarten, higher education, international schools, and lots more.

By the end of the article, you should know everything you need to in order to make a decision as to whether schooling in Switzerland is the right decision for you or your family.

Overview of the Swiss Education System

School Halden in Zurich
School Halden in Zurich

You will be glad to hear that the education system in Switzerland retains exceptionally high standards all the way from kindergarten to Ph.D. level.

The country uses a decentralized education system which means each of Switzerland’s cantons sets its own curriculum and policy. While this might create some differences in schooling from one canton to the next, it is nothing to worry about as a lot of it is the same across all of them.

Public school education is free in Switzerland and this includes all schools from kindergarten to primary school and even secondary school. There are, of course, high-end private schools available too but these are expensive.

Compulsory Education in Switzerland

Education is compulsory in Switzerland for all children from the age of 4 or 5 up until they are 16 or 17, lasting 9 years in total. This is on average as the actual length of compulsory education varies from canton to canton, but not by much.

For example, some cantons also make it compulsory for children to attend preschool for 1-2 years before going to primary school, while others do not.

In Switzerland, primary school lasts 6 years after which kids move on to lower-secondary school for a further 3 years. At this point, usually around the age of 16 in most cantons, they will have completed their compulsory education system, and the decision to attend upper-secondary education is up to them alone.

If they would like to attend Upper Secondary schools, they would complete it around 18/19 years of age, after which they can specialize or go to university.

Kindergarten/Pre-school Education

switzerland education system preschool

All children will begin their education at pre-schools, aka kindergartens, which accept students from age 4 and last for 2 years until they are 6 years old. This is not mandatory in all cantons, however, so it is best to check that it is available in all of them.

Sending your children to kindergarten is highly encouraged in Switzerland as it is a great way for them to learn how to socialize, make friends, and it sets a good foundation for early academic development.

Not only that, it is also a great place for parents to leave their children during the day so that they can continue on with their careers.

Kindergartens in Switzerland are all about teaching creativity and socialization to ensure the holistic development of young kids, and it certainly adds a lot to their ability to enjoy primary school from the get-go.

There are public and private kindergartens in Switzerland for parents to choose from, public kindergartens are free while a private kindergarten can cost up to CHF12,000 per semester.

Primary Education

Primary education in Switzerland is excellent as the Swiss Government provides primary schools with a lot of funding, and it is free, making it hard to beat.

According to Swiss Law, all children in Switzerland have to attend primary school which starts at age 6/7 and runs until 12/13 years of age.

Primary schools in Switzerland are all about teaching children a base level of foundational knowledge so that they can continue into higher education with a lot of options at their fingertips.

Children learn mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, physical education, and lots of languages too. In fact, the kids learn the language of the region (German, French, Italian, or Romansh) as well as a second language, plus English – Swiss kids are very multilingual.

Secondary Education

The Secondary education system in Switzerland is divided into two stages: lower secondary education and upper secondary education.

Lower secondary education, also known as Sekundarstufe I, is compulsory and usually lasts for three years whereas Upper Secondary Education lasts for 2 or 3 years and is optional.

Lower Secondary Education

switzerland education system lower secondary
Lower secondary education

Secondary schools teach children a large range of subjects during their lower-secondary education, and this is to ensure they have a broad, well-rounded education to base their further studies on.

The lower-secondary curriculum includes the majority of subjects one would expect such as mathematics, natural sciences, humanities, arts, and multiple languages (the language the school teaches plus a second language and English).

Kids begin their lower secondary education around the age of 12 and it lasts for 3 years all over Switzerland except in the Italian-speaking Ticino region where it lasts for 4.

The students are graded and have end-of-year tests. Parents will also have a meeting with their children’s teachers once a year, however, this system is not the same across all the cantons.

When students finish their lower secondary education, they do not go through standardized testing with a national exam or anything like that. This also marks the end of their mandatory education and they are free to choose what to pursue next.

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Upper Secondary Education

Upper secondary education, known as Sekundarstufe II, is up next in a teenager’s educational development if they choose to attend.

Upper secondary lasts about 3 years on average and it is a chance for students to specialize in what interests them most and align it with their intended future careers.

There are a few options to choose from for students in upper-secondary education. If they would like to go to university, then the academic route is available. They can either study for the Swiss Matura or the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, both of which are globally recognized qualifications for university admission.

The other option is to join Switzerland’s vocational education and training (VET) system which is highly regarded worldwide. This vocational option combines both classroom learning with practical, on-the-job training, giving students excellent knowledge and experience in their chosen field.

Tertiary or Higher Education

switzerland education system tertiary

Higher education in Switzerland comes in the form of universities, universities of applied sciences, and specialized institutions where students can gain bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

A lot of the public universities in Switzerland, which are excellent, are also very affordable and can even be free for Swiss residents.

There are a huge range of programs on offer for students to choose from including humanities, natural sciences, engineering, social sciences, business, and more.

Swiss universities are ranked among the top places for higher education around the world and this in turn attracts a lot of international students. Entry into the job market from Swiss universities is also excellent.

Switzerland’s specialized institutions which include art, music, and hospitality management schools are also some of the best in the world. In fact, Switzerland has some of the highest employment rates globally for students who graduate from this type of institution.

Scholarship Opportunities & Financial Aid Options

Switzerland is excellent at understanding the importance of providing financial support to students. There are multiple scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options on the table and these are not only on offer for Swiss residents but for international students also.

Swiss Government Scholarships

The Swiss Government offers scholarships to international students through a system called the Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students (FCS). These scholarships are specifically made to provide financial support for students wanting to do research, doctoral studies, and postdoctoral studies in Switzerland.

Canton Scholarships

Each canton in Switzerland may offer its own scholarship programs to support students pursuing higher education within the canton. It is worth checking out what each canton offers.

University Scholarships

Swiss universities also provide their own scholarships and grants to both Swiss and international students. These scholarships are usually given based on merit, financial situations, or on specific criteria/fields of study.

Private Foundations

There are quite a few private foundations and other organizations that also provide financial aid to students in Switzerland. These scholarships are usually based on specific fields of study, research projects, or exceptional academic achievement.

International Schools in Switzerland

switzerland education system international student

Switzerland is home to a lot of amazing international schools so that their expat population can learn in their home language if need be.

These international schools follow different educational systems, including the International Baccalaureate (IB), British, American, French, and German curricula.

Some of the best international schools in the world are in Switzerland but they are usually quite expensive to attend, however, some of them do offer scholarships to elite candidates.
Here are some of the best international schools in Zurich.

Multilingual Education in Switzerland

Switzerland’s multilingual environment is a unique aspect of its education system. The country has four national languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh.

The language that students learn, is the language of the region. For example, German is predominantly the leading teaching language in German-speaking cantons, French in French-speaking cantons, and Italian in Italian-speaking cantons.

Bilingual or trilingual cantons will provide education in two or three languages to ensure no students are left out. This multilingual approach is pretty amazing as most students come out speaking 3 languages.

However, the multilingual education system can make it very hard for expat children to join public schools as they might not be proficient enough in the “teaching language” (French/German/Italian). This goes back to the need for international schools.

Homeschooling in Switzerland

switzerland education system home schooling
Home schooling

Homeschooling is allowed in Switzerland but it has to follow rather specific regulations and requirements, which vary across each canton.

Parents interested in homeschooling their children must comply with the guidelines set by their respective cantonal education authorities.

The guidelines usually involve providing a comprehensive education plan, regular assessments, and ensuring that the child receives a well-rounded education in line with the national curriculum and its standards.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the quality of education in Switzerland like?

The quality of education in Switzerland is very high, hence why Swiss educational institutions are so well-respected around the world. Students who have degrees from Swiss universities and vocational schools are very employable in the job market.

Is schooling in Switzerland expensive?

The cost of schooling in Switzerland is either free or it is very expensive and this depends on whether children attend public or private schools.

Public schools in Switzerland are generally funded by taxes and therefore have lower or no tuition fees whatsoever. 

However, private schools and international schools have much higher tuition fees of around CHF 30,000 per year or more. 

It is also important to consider the costs associated with education in Switzerland as it is not a cheap country to live in. Think about living expenses, and additional expenses such as books, supplies, extracurricular activities, as well as tuition when making your budget.

Do Swiss schools provide support services for students with special needs?

Swiss schools are excellent at providing inclusive education and support services for students with special needs. 

Each canton has its own special support system which may include specialized teachers, individualized teaching plans, and additional resources to ensure they accommodate all students’ diverse learning needs. 

The schools will also work closely with parents along with educational specialists to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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