Depending on the canton, pre-school education lasts one or two years. In the canton Ticino, the Scuola dell’infanzia lasts three years. Nearly 100% of children attend pre-school for at least one year and around 86% attend for two years. Attendance of pre-school education is compulsory in 17 cantons. In nearly all cantons, the municipalities are legally bound to offer at least one year of pre-school education.
Enrolment in pre-school
The cantons set the pre-school enrolment age. Children who have reached the respective age by the specified cut-off date are enrolled in pre-school at the start of the school year (autumn). At the parents' request, enrolment at an earlier or later date may also be possible. In the majority of the cantons, the minimum pre-school enrolment age is between 4 years, 0 months, and 4 years, 9 months.
The Intercantonal Agreement on Harmonisation of Compulsory Education (HarmoS Agreement) prescribe a two year compulsory pre-school attendance (cut-off date: 31 July, pre-school enrolment age: 4). The HarmoS Agreement applies to the cantons which have joined the agreement (implementation no later than the start of the 2015/2016 school year). In the majority of the cantons which have not joined the HarmoS Agreement or have not yet started the process of joining, at least one year of pre-school attendance is compulsory. A number of these cantons also offer a two-year pre-school education.
Learning objectives and organisation of teaching
Pre-school encourages the socioaffective, psychomotoric and cognitive development of children and prepares them for entry into school. There is no systematic assessment of performance and no selection. Each child is supported according to its developmental status and needs. The development of independence is emphasised, as well as individual, social and intellectual skills. The pre-school curricula have the same basis and educational objectives as the primary school curricula. However, pre-school curricula emphasise a holistic, interdisciplinary education, in accordance with the child's developmental status. Literacy and numeracy are introduced in the primary school curricula. However, relevant skills are practised in a preparatory manner at pre-school. For compulsory education, including pre-school education, the linguistic regions are developing and introducing new curricula, specific to each linguistic region. Assessment in pre-school occurs without numerical grades. Observation sheets and parent interviews are used as assessment tools.
The cantons specify the number of lessons per week. With core times or school-based day-care facilities (e.g. care facilities over lunch time and all-day pre-schools ), the cantons and their municipalities contribute to making the organisation of family-based day care easier for working parents in particular.
The Grundstufe and Basisstufe are organisational forms which combine pre-school and the first years of primary school. The cantons decide how to organise the first school years (pre-school, Grundstufe or Basisstufe).