5 key differences between Swiss state schools and US state schools

From school quality to educational pathways, what are the 5 key differences between Swiss state schools and US state schools?

1. School quality

While educational outcomes do vary among districts or regions, location is not strongly correlated to overall school quality. This might explain why Swiss parents are less concerned about school quality rankings than their US counterparts.
Interestingly, state schools are generally considered to offer better academic quality than private schools and generally pay their school teachers a far higher salary than independent schools.

2. Educational pathways

Unlike in the US, public middle and high schools in Switzerland are selective. At the end of elementary school, students in Swiss schools are placed into different educational pathways, based on performance and intended career paths. Depending on location, there may be up to four different types of middle school, ranging from advanced to basic requirements.

3. Security

Parents coming from the United States are often surprised to find that the school premises are neither gated nor fenced off. Schools in Switzerland are often located in the middle of the village or town and are easily accessible. Parents might worry about traffic but generally not about violence or assaults.

4. Student autonomy

From walking to school to choosing a career, students in Swiss schools are expected to be more autonomous compared to most of their peers at US state schools. Depending on location, levels of supervision and teacher involvement may also vary significantly.

5. Academic excellence

The US school system heavily relies on academic education programs in its secondary education systems. By contrast, the Swiss education system still places more emphasis on vocational education than academic degrees. Swiss educators firmly believe that their education system recognises that everyone’s strengths lie in different areas and that pursuing the academic path is not for all. 

This might be explained with Switzerland’s strong vocational orientation. While academic attainment in the US strongly correlates with median incomes and overall living standards, the same can not be said for Switzerland: Vocational education is not regarded at all as second best option for less intelligent students and companies are able to pick the best students for demanding apprenticeships in IT and banking.

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