Main differences between the Swiss and the US school system

School system SwissUSA
Years of schooling/ entrance ageIn the majority of cantons, obligatory school starts at the age of 4 and lasts 11 years (except for Ticino)
Students have to attend school until the age of 16. Kindergarten starts at the age of 5.
School structure/ syllabusPrimary school (Primarschule) Grades 1-6
(or 1-8 including 2 years of Kindergarten)
Lower Secondary school (Oberstufe): Grades 7-9
Upper Secondary (Mittel-schule not to be confused with US middle school!): Grade 10-12 

Elementary School (Grades K - 5),
Middle School (Grades 6 - 8),
High School (Grades 9 - 12). In some cases, elementary goes up to grade 6 and high school is divided into Junior High School (Grades 7 - 9) and Senior High School (Grades 10 - 12).
Secondary school and differentiation/ ability trackingPerformance-differentiated system in lower secondary (grades 7-9), ranging from ability grouping (ability sets in different subjects) to ability tracking (different ability schools).
Depending on region between 2-4 different ability tracks.
In the US, ability tracking is frequently associated with increased ethnic segregation and therefore seen as contro-versial. 
While some schools group their students in higher and lower level subject groups, most implement differen-tiated instruction through school-wide enrichment programs or advanced placement options in high school. 
FinancingSplit across cantons, municipalities and the federal state. (Federal state 17.3 %, cantons 52.2 % municipalities 30.5 %.). Less wealthy cantons and munici-palities get subsidised by wealthier cantons. 
As a result, similar level of resources in Swiss state schools. Switzer-land annually spends 14'922 $ per year per pupil
Each federal state can decide on how much it spends on education. Financing is split between the federal state and counties. The share of the county mainly comes from property tax, as a result big regional differences.The USA spend annually over 11'500 $ per student per year
Maximum number of students in a class26 students23-26 
Non-state schools and other school forms5% private schools, under 1% homeschooling10% private schools, over 4% of pupils are homeschooled
School subjects2 modern foreign languages are compulsory in primary school, only in the lowest ability level of lower secondary school, students are allowed to drop one of two languages
Only ten out of 50 federal states make learning one foreign language compulsory, usually Spanish.
School system and curriculum Regional differences but overall a unified school system and similar curriculum Heavily decentralised with great variations in organisational structure, standards and syllabus.
School exit certificates and state graduation examinations

No graduation exam after the end of compulsory school.
Exit examination only at the end of the 4 or 6 year academic Gymnasium or higher secondary track (Matura or maturitè). Different types of Matura diplomas.   
Students usually leave school with a high school diploma. Around half of all federal states have high school exit/graduation examinations in place. 
High school graduation rateMatura (vocational and academic high school diploma) rate: 38 %High school graduation rate: 82%
School weeks and holidaysSchool weeks per year: 38/39 weeks Annual school holidays: 13 weeks

School weeks per year: 36 weeks Annual school holidays: 16 weeks

Leave a Comment