Key terms: Public expenditure on education / Educational standards / HarmoS / Quality development and quality assurance in the field of education / Linguistic regions' curricula / Legal framework conditions in special needs education / Mobility and exchange
The total period of compulsory education amounts to eleven years. Primary level – including two years of kindergarten or a first learning cycle – comprises eight years. Lower secondary level takes three years. In the canton of Ticino, lower secondary level (scuola media) lasts for four years. Generally, compulsory education sets in for children at the age of four.
In a few cantons of German-speaking Switzerland, there is no obligation to send children to kindergarten, or only an obligation of one year. Nevertheless, the vast majority of children in these cantons attend kindergarten also for two years. In several German-speaking cantons, municipalities can choose to run a first learning cycle (called 'Grundstufe' or 'Basisstufe'), which combines kindergarten and the first one or two years of primary school. In this organisational form, four to seven or eight year olds are taught together in the same class. In French-speaking Switzerland, the two kindergarten years are usually included in what is called «cycle 1» or «cycle primaire 1», which lasts for four years. The canton of Ticino offers in addition to the two compulsory years of kindergarten, an initial, voluntary year for children from age three.
Organisation of compulsory education
The cantons are responsible for compulsory education. According to the intercantonal agreement on the harmonisation of the compulsory education, the linguistic regions harmonise the curricula and coordinate the teaching materials. The schools are organised by the municipalities.
Public compulsory education is free of charge for all children. Public institutions are attended by 95% of children. The obligation to attend school also applies to children who do not have a legal residency status. Pupils with different developmental statuses, capabilities, social backgrounds, linguistic backgrounds and behavioural characteristics all attend the same school. This heterogeneity regarding the pupils' capabilities and talents, along with the cultural heterogeneity in the classes, poses considerable challenges for the school. The school guarantees to teach all pupils according to their abilities. The pupils receive differentiated, individualised tuition and are supported individually by regular school teachers or, if necessary, by specialists (e.g. special needs education teachers). Measures to be promoted in regular school include the support of talented pupils, promotion of language skills, promotion of language skills for children who are native speakers of foreign languages, support in individual subjects, speech and language therapy, psychomotor therapy etc. If the need for support goes beyond the possibilities of regular instruction, enhanced measures are taken.