Switzerland Public Schools

For many years I have put off posting about schooling in Switzerland as there is so much to cover regarding the Swiss Public School system. When we first arrived in Switzerland our only option was to put our kids in the public schools as we were not on an expat package and simply could not afford private schooling. So, with that said, we jumped all in— totally clueless to how the system worked.

Looking back, I am very glad we put our children in the Swiss Public schools. Our oldest is trilingual and younger two are bilingual. If private school was an option I don’t think we would have been able to give our kids the gift of languages, local school friends, and the whole Swiss immersion experience.

I can’t speak for the French part of Switzerland, but our kids have been through both the Swiss German and Swiss Italian Public Schools and overall we have been very happy with the Swiss Public School System, although, the road has not been easy. I wish we would have had a go-to book for all the ins-and-outs in the beginning, so I will try and summarize here for those who want to know more about the Swiss public schooling system.

Our oldest two children were three and seven when entering the Swiss Schools in Zürich. We started out in a temporary apartment in Zürich for a month before finding our home in Bonstetten. Our then seven year old was put into a one month language immersion class run by the Swiss Schools in Zürich. After our move to Bonstetten he started the third class. The Swiss are really good at teaching languages and children are fantastic at picking them up. Both boys attended the Swiss schools in Canton Zürich for seven years, before we decided to pack up and move south to sunny Italian speaking Ticino. Besides sunshine being a plus, the kids have the chance to start school a year earlier in Ticino.

Swiss German Schools (Zürich/Bern/Basel…)Swiss Italian Schools (Ticino/Tessin)
Starts Age 4 – (2 years of Kindergarten)Starts Age 3 (3 years of Asilo)
Primary School Grade (1-3) (4-6)
*in the 2nd class English is taught
*5th class French is taught
Primary School- Grade 1 – 5
*In the 3rd class French is taught
Secondary 3 years (Grades7-9)
(Classes are divided into A,B,C
The A class most challenging
and needed to get into many
Middle School -4 years (Grades 6-10)
*English is taught in the 3rd year (9th)
(Grades 8-10 classes
divided into A and
B classes)
Apprenticeship, specialized-schools or Swiss High-schoolApprenticeship, specialized-schools or Swiss High-school
To attend the Swiss High-school you
must pass an Exam to get in.
(Gymnasium, Oberschule)
To attend the Swiss High-you don’t
take an exam but need good grades
when exiting middle school. (Liceo)
*After high-school students who receive
their maturita can go on to University
in Switzerland

This is a rough overview of the Swiss school systems. There are many varying factors and many different paths you can take to get to University if you do not end up going the High-school route. It took me years to figure out the system. We now have our oldest at ETH University in Zürich, middle child in an apprenticeship program in Locarno and our youngest just started middle school in Lugano. Overall, we have been very satisfied with the system.

Two of our children are dyslexic and the Canton of Ticino has been very helpful in helping our children succeed. (This is another post I plan on expanding on in the future).

The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) has a website where you can find useful information regarding the public schooling in Switzerland.

Right off the bat I recognized differences between the Swiss German Schools and the Swiss Italian Schools, some of the differences really made me chuckle. Probably the most recognizable difference was the independence of the little ones attending kindergarten in the Swiss German Schools. The first few days I was accompanying my then four-year old to school and one morning I was greeted by the kindergarten teacher and politely asked to stop walking him to school. She told me he needed to learn to be independent and that he should walk to and from school by himself or with his other four-year old friends. Coming from California, this was a shock to me, but I began letting him go on his own. Fast-forward to life in Ticino where all of the parents accompany their little ones to and from school.

The second big difference between the two regions was lunchtime during the early years (Kindergarten/Asilo). In Switzerland the children come home from lunch and then return back to finish their schooling in the afternoon. I became accustomed to this in the Swiss German part but when we moved to Ticino, I was happily surprised to find out that during Asilo (kindergarten) it was obligatory for the children to stay at school during lunch. Once elementary school starts this changes and children return home again for lunch.

It took years for me to wrap my head around the idea that our children might not go to traditional High-school. I did not understand that there are many options and paths leading up to University and you can get there without the traditional High-school. We pushed our oldest to go to High-school (Liceo) not quite understanding all of our options, but after years of being in the Swiss schools we learned there are many different possibilities.

We have come to really like the idea of apprenticeship based learning and it was the right choice for our middle son. He can go on to do an extra year of schooling (La passerella “maturità professionale) and still attend a Swiss University.

A big applause to Switzerland for having such a diverse education system and many different paths leading children on to higher education.