Thoughts on Education

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.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on Education

  1. Isabelle

    Wow, what an interesting educational system. I always admired the idea of master/apprentice in an area that you would be interested in. I like the idea of customized education and opportunity vs. the one size fits all approach.


  2. Steve Ventola

    It is interesting to see how the educational system is in Switzerland. I was speaking with a patient I have who is from Germany yesterday who has been educated as a classical historian. It was enlivening to share with her what you have been presenting about education lately. She was very aware of the need to for people to think to prevent the cancer of tyranny. It has been good to find ways to expand our conversation into my world realizing there are individuals who are keen to the the pursuit of truth.


  3. Colin

    I think that we have a problem in the US, where those who might not have the inclination to continue schooling to the highest levels available are shunned, either forthrightly or in secret. It has become almost absurd! Jobs that used to require a high school education now require a college degree, and positions that required a college degree now require some sort of graduate education. Having been through the higher education system myself, I wonder if this trend toward more “schooling” is less effective than on the job experience would be for many jobs. I guess the question can be answered most practically by looking at how the different approaches to education work out in reality where they are being implemented.


  4. Lady Leo

    Very interesting. I’d be courious to see how their standard of living is affected. They have the reputation for superiority in many fields, I wonder what are some of the other social metrics like poverty rate, crime statistics and unemployment?
    They tried similar educational distinctions in the 50’s and 60’s in parts of the US but the vocational tracks were seriously lacking. I remember they taught drafting like you would sewing with no math support or the other studies you’d need to do something with it. I think the aim was to graduate from high school. It seemed there was little understanding of the value of learning to think as a corollary to inspired creativity and success. Preparing children to be successful citizens has to start with answering the question, What is a successful citizen?” What tools will they need to be of service to mankind? Certainly it will take the ability to think!


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