The Swiss educational system

All Swiss children are required to attend 9 years of school. This is after 2 years of kindergarten. The usual age to start school is 7.

Switzerland’s schools are organized in a decentralized way insofar as different cantons may vary slightly in their systems. In the canton of Zürich, children attend 6 years of elementary school. After that, there is a choice between 3 different levels of secondary school or grammar school. In order to enter grammar school, the children have to pass an entrance exam. Students attend grammar school for 6 years (between the 7th and the 12th school year) before graduating with the Swiss Matura exam (‘Eidgenössische Maturitätsprüfung’).

Grammar school/university

The first two years at grammar school (7th and 8th school year) is referred to as the orientation stage: All the students study the same subjects and are taught in their core class, i.e. with the same group of students, throughout the whole two years. During the second year (8th school year), the grammar school students choose their Matura profile. Classes are re-grouped accordingly for the subsequent four years at school. At KZO, the students can choose from all profiles offered in Switzerland. These are:

  • the profile of old languages (‘Altsprachliches Profil’ A) focusing on either Latin or Ancient Greek
  • the artistic profile (‘Musisches Profil’ M) focusing on music and art
  • the science profile (‘Naturwissenschaftliches Profil’ MN) focusing on applied maths and sciences
  • the modern language profile (‘Neusprachliches Profil’ N) focusing on modern languages and literature
  • the economics profile (‘Wirtschaftsprofil’ W) focusing on economics and accounting

When students at KZO reach their 11th school year, they follow what is called a ‘self- study semester’. This means that the students do independent work and fulfil larger assignments set by their teachers. Class-time in 6 subjects (German, French, English, maths, sports and the students’ chosen specialised course) is reduced to 1 lesson a week, which is usually reserved for small-group tutoring and dealing with specific questions from the students. This project aims to foster students’ independence and to prepare them for the demands imposed on them at university.

The last year of grammar school (12th school year) is the so-called ‘Wahlkursjahr’, where students can choose from an offer of courses and therefore tailor their education even more to suit their personal interests than is possible within the set Matura profiles. The subject areas that are covered within the core curriculum are maths, German, French, English, geography, introduction to economics, sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), sports as well as music and arts.

The final year of grammar school is also a time when students get prepared to research and write up a larger project (‘Maturarbeit’), with the intention of preparing them to write academic papers.

After completing either four or six years at grammar school and passing the Matura exam, students are eligible to study at all Swiss universities – which offer the BA/MA system.

Scondary schools / apprenticeships / colleges of higher education

Children who choose to enter secondary school can enter grammar school via an exam after 2 or 3 years (the 8th or 9th school year). Likewise, a change from grammar to secondary school is possible, either from the student’s free choice or because s/he has not fulfilled the requirements to pass the probationary period, which is between August and the end of January during her/his first year at grammar school.

Secondary school students who do not wish to continue with a school career can start an apprenticeship. This is training on the job with 1 to 2 days of school every week. Any grammar school student who has completed 9 years of school also has the choice to take up an apprenticeship if s/he decides not to carry on with grammar school until graduation.

Apprentices with the necessary academic skills can enter colleges of higher education. Their final qualification is comparable to that of university graduates, naturally with a stronger focus on practical professional experience.

Translated by Nicole Küpfer
Edited by Jola Svalina