Switzerland: Overwhelming approval for education reform

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sun May 21 20:52:53 UTC 2006

May 21, 2006 - 1:50 PM
Overwhelming approval for education reform

The education system will be more unified nationwide (Keystone)  Exit
polls released by the gfs institute show that 86 per cent of voters have
said yes to changes to the Swiss education system. The constitutional
amendment aims to harmonise the different school systems and give the
federal authorities a bigger say. The polls indicate at least 23 of the 26
cantons voted in favour, paving the way for the reforms to be implemented.
Changes to the constitution require a majority of the cantons as well as
of the popular vote. The authorities say the reform is intended to ensure
high standards of education and remove obstacles for students moving to
other schools, without infringing on the traditional autonomy of
Switzerland's 26 cantons in education matters.

Switzerland's school system has come in for increasing criticism after the
2003 Pisa study, an international survey of educational standards among
15-year-olds, revealed what critics called serious shortcomings in
reading, as well as considerable differences between the cantons. The
planned reforms include streamlining the total duration of compulsory
schooling and the starting age for children, as well as the mutual
recognition of diplomas and unified education standards.

Primary school to university

The federal authorities are to be given more power to force the cantons to
cooperate at the level of compulsory schooling and for universities.
Approval of the proposal could pave the way for more family-friendly
school structures and a solution to a dispute over the teaching of foreign
languages. The overwhelming majority of political parties and
organisations, as well as parliament and the cabinet came out in favour of
the education reform. Supporters, such as parliamentarian Kathy Riklin,
argue the regional differences stand in the way of an efficient system.

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin and Economics Minister Joseph Deiss,
who share responsibility on education and vocational training at a federal
level, point out the need for reform to remain competitive on an
international level and to boost science and research. "Education is key
to help ensure the prosperity of our country," according to Couchepin. The
head of the cantonal education authorities, Hans Ulrich Stoeckling,
believes that the federal authorities could play a bigger role as their
power is still restricted, leaving the cantons largely in control of

Fringe opposition

Opposition to the amendment came from some representatives of the
rightwing Swiss People's Party, and several small groups from the far
right and far left, including the Communist Labour Party. "The proposal is
an unacceptable attack on Switzerland's federalist system. It's the first
step towards centralisation," says People's Party parliamentarian and
teacher Oskar Freysinger. He argues unified standards would bring down
high education standards in some regions and a costly bureaucracy would
stifle competition among cantons. For his part, Communist parliamentarian
Josef Zisyadis is concerned that the federal bureaucracy would impose a
system lacking in practical relevance and that is out of parliamentary
democratic control.

Foreign language

Also on Sunday, voters in two cantons, Zug and Thurgau, rejected proposals
to limit the number of foreign languages taught at primary school level.
The electorate in the two cantons were effectively asked whether or not to
make English the only non-national language up to grade six. Foreign
language teaching has been a bone of contention in multicultural
Switzerland for years amid concerns that the national languages German,
French, Italian and Romansh might lose out. Eastern Switzerland, led by
its economic hub Zurich, favours English as a first foreign language,
while other regions have opted for a national language.


Under Switzerland's federalist system the country's 26 cantons enjoy a
large degree of autonomy in education matters. The Swiss education system
is built on a complex interplay between the federal, cantonal and local
authorities depending on the education level and the kind of institution.
All previous attempts to unify or harmonise the various educations systems
have met resistance from the cantons. Voters rejected a proposal for
unification in 1973.


Reforms planned for the Swiss education system:
National monitoring csystem for education Unified education standards
Mutual recognition of diplomas
Compulsory kindergarten
Coordination of the starting age for children
Adaptation of school structures to society and family needs
Reform of universities


Federalist Education System - State Secretariat for Education and Research
Reform of the education system  Interior and Economics Ministries (German,
French, Italian) (http://www.sbf.admin.ch/bra/index_de.html)
Conference of Cantonal Education Directors
Voting trends and results - gfs Bern polling institute (German)
Vote results - Federal Statistics Office (German, French)
swissinfo geo politics - vote breakdown by canton (German)
swissinfo - cantonal breakdown


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