Switzerland has seven million inhabitants. It is a democracy where citizens vote several times a year on a series of issues. The national average income, US$33,453 is one of the highest in the world, writes Nicholas Pyke.
In 1992 public expenditure on education reached 19 per cent of total public spending. The average among Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development countries is about 12 per cent.
Each of the 26 cantons in Switzerland has its own system of education, department of education and school law. Curriculum and textbook decisions are normally made by the canton, whereas teaching methods are down to teachers themselves. There is a strong bond between the citizens and the education system, but change is often slow as all major decisions are put to a popular vote.
Most Swiss children spend one or two years in kindergarten before going on to primary school. Primary education lasts from four to six years in the different cantons. Secondary education also varies. In some cantons there is a streamed, comprehensive system. In most, the schools are divided on ability into two sorts: one third of the pupils attend schools with comparatively basic requirements, the rest attend schools with more advanced requirements. Compulsory schooling lasts nine years and the school-leaving age is 16.
Upper secondary education is divided into four major types: academic schools designed for university entrance; general education schools; teacher education institutions; and vocational training institutions. The maturity schools offer five types of programme a) with emphasis on Greek and Latin b) on Latin and modern languages; c) maths and science; d) modern languages and e) economics.
More than 70 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds enter vocational training. For most, this takes the form of an apprenticeship involving three to four days a week in practical training at a business and one day a week in theoretical and general study at a vocational school.
The length of the school year is 39 or 40 weeks on average. The average class size in 1993-4 was 20 pupils in primary schools and 19 in secondary.
In primary schools all teachers have the same educational background and teach virtually the whole range of subjects.
The economic status of teachers in Switzerland is excellent. In primary, the starting salary ranges from US $48,000 to $68,000 (Pounds 28,742 to Pounds 40,718) and the maximum salaries range from $76,000 to $109,000 (Pounds 45,508 to Pounds 65,269). In lower secondary schools the starting salaries range from $54,000 to $75,000 (Pounds 32,335 to Pounds 44,910) and the maximum is from $77,000 to $116,000 (Pounds 46,107 to Pounds 69,461).
Information taken from National Contexts for Mathematics and Science Education published by Pacific Educational Press (tel 001 604 822 5385) for the Third International Maths and Science Study