Fabulous cheese. Elegant and complicated watches. Excellent engineering. Unflappable punctuality. Discreet banking. Nobel Prize winning scientists and engineers. These are just a few of the things that the tiny country of Switzerland is recognized for around the world. I am compelled this morning to ask what produces excellence in so many fields?
The educational system in a country has a lot to do with its output. My recent consideration of the system of education we have in the United States prompted me to look further afield, and I must say that the system of education in Switzerland was not what I expected. I am delighted this morning to share what little I know on the topic (gleaned from a conversation with my Swiss cousin who lives in central Switzerland and who is of Bernese descent).
If you are unfamiliar with Switzerland, it is an unusual blend of languages and local dialects, customs and primary influences. There are four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romanish. The German spoken in Switzerland is mostly a group of Alemannic dialects collectively known as Swiss German, though most written communication is in Hochdeutsch or Standard German. Interestingly, the dialects typically do not exist in written form, but are passed down orally.
As for the educational system, the Swiss system is quite diverse as authority for the schools rests mainly with the Cantons (the equivalent of our states). Primary school begins at the age of six in all but one canton (the Obwalden, where my cousin lives) and ends at the age of 12 or so typically. Unlike in the USA, only roughly 20% of the population of students continue on to Gymnasium or as it is called in the USA “high school”, a track that culminates at the age of 18-19 with a final exam called Matura, which then opens the door to a university education.
The remaining 80% of students typically enter a trade or vocational track, which requires 3 more years of schooling followed by vocational education and training, where the student continues with school 1-2 days per week and works in a private enterprise 3-4 days per week, where they gain practical and technical skills.
This system may not seem compatible with the notions of equal opportunity and the right to the pursuit of happiness, but in my estimation it does provide for its students in ways that our one-size-fits-all approach to education in the USA does not. It seems that it gives students a chance to choose, based on their personal inclination, an approach that best suits their educational goals and career interests. And it provides them with an honorable approach to following through on the choice they make.