Schooling in Switzerland is a responsibility devolved to the cantons, meaning there are 26 different education systems in the country.

The cantons are currently trying to harmonise their practices after Swiss voters approved a constitutional article to harmonise education. This has taken place in the French-speaking part of the country, but there is still resistance in some parts of the German-speaking Switzerland.

For detailed descriptions of the system, see the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education for an overviewexternal link and a chartexternal link that shows how the system works.

Primary and secondary education

Compulsory education in Switzerland lasts 11 years. Most pupils start primary school at the age of six or seven, after one or two years of kindergarten. Secondary I is the stage after primary education. Pupils are given a basic general education, but at this stage they are usually tracked into an academic or a vocational stream.

Apprenticeship system

At the age of 16, pupils move to Secondary II level, which generally lasts three to four years. Almost all young Swiss go to some kind of Secondary II school. More than two thirds are streamed into vocational training. This means the trainee spends most of his or her time working for an approved employer but attends a vocational school for one or two days a week.

This is the apprenticeship system, a particular feature of education in Switzerland as it is in Germany. Young people can now choose from about 300 recognised apprenticeships in Switzerland. For details of the system, see the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation.external link

Academic education

About 20%-30% of young people continue their secondary education at a senior high school (or gymnase in French, or gymnasium in German): a school which provides a particularly intensive and demanding general academic education. Pupils are 19 or 20 by the time they finish. If they obtain the school leaving certificate (matura or maturité), they are qualified to go to university or to one of the two Federal Institutes of Technology.

Tertiary level

Apprentices can obtain a federal vocational baccalaureate (Berufsmaturität or maturité professionnelle), which enables them to study at a University of Applied Sciences (UAS). These are university-level colleges offering vocational training in a variety of fields, from computer science to hospitality. They provide tertiary education which includes practical work experience. There are also 17 Universities of Teacher Educationexternal link in Switzerland.

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