By ELEANOR HEDGES DUROY, age 11
Have you ever wondered what school is like in other countries? In Switzerland, ninety-five percent of children attend free public school. Each Swiss canton (state) makes independent decisions about curriculum, vacations and school-day length. Switzerland has four official languages, so children attend school in the language that is most commonly spoken in their region. They start learning a second language (French or German) in third grade and often begin a third language (English) in fifth grade.
In general, Swiss primary schools have a five to eight week summer break, shorter than most schools in the United States, but they have more one to two week vacations during the school year.
Miriam (Mimi) Borella, a student in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino explains, “We have a summer break from late June until the end of August. We also have a week at the end of October, two weeks for Christmas, one week in February/March for ‘carnevale’ (Mardi Gras) and one week at Easter. I like it the way it is—a good summer and breaks throughout.”
In the German-speaking Canton of Bern, there is no school on Wednesday afternoons. Instead, children take extracurricular activities.
School field trips include cable car rides, train rides, mountain hikes and skiing.
Primary school children (grades one to six) study Mathematics, Nature, Humans and Environment; Language, Art, Music and Gym. After sixth grade, parents and teachers help children make a very serious decision between two educational tracks, one leads towards apprenticeships, the other towards university. Switzerland has low unemployment rates, so with either track young adults usually find employment after they complete school or training.
Apprenticeship: a training program where someone assists an expert in a certain trade until they learn how to work in the trade themselves.