1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Switzerland/Education

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Education.—Education of all grades is well cared for in Switzerland, and large sums are annually spent on it by the cantons and the communes, with substantial grants from the Confederation (these last in 1905 were about £224,000), so far as regards primary and higher education. Four classes of educational establishments exist.

a. In the case of the primary education, the Confederation has the oversight (Federal Constitution of 1874, art. 27), but the cantons the administration. It is laid down that in the case of the public primary schools four principles must be observed by the cantons: the instruction given must be sufficient, it must be under state (i.e. lay) management (ecclesiastics as such can have no share in it), attendance must be compulsory, and the instruction must be gratuitous, while members of all religions must be able to frequent the schools without offence to their belief or consciences (this is interpreted to mean that the general instruction given must be undenominational, while if any denominational instruction is given attendance at it must not be made compulsory). By an amendment to the Federal Constitution adopted in 1902 the Confederation is empowered to make grants in aid in the case of primary schools, while a Federal law of 1903, regulating such grants to be appropriated solely to certain specified purposes, provides that the term “primary schools” shall include continuation schools if attendance is compulsory. The cantons organize primary education in their territories, delegating local arrangements (under the control of a cantonal inspector) to a committee (Schulkommission) elected ad hoc in each commune, so that it is not a committee of the communal council. The general principles laid down by the Confederation are elaborated into laws by each canton, while the communal councils pass by-laws. Hence there is a great variety in details between canton and canton. The school age varies from 6 to 16 (for younger scholars there are voluntary kindergarten schools or écoles enfantines), and attendance during this period is compulsory, it not being possible to obtain exemption by passing a certain standard. Two-thirds of the schools are “mixed”; in the towns, however, boys are often separated from girls. The teachers (who must hold a cantonal certificate of efficiency) are chosen by the Schulkommission from among the candidates who apply for the vacant post, but are elected and paid by the communal council. Religious tests prevail as to teachers, who must declare the religion they profess, and are required to impart the religious instruction in the school, this being compulsory on the children professing the religion that is in the majority in that particular commune—consequently a Protestant teacher would never be appointed in a Romanist school or vice versa. The religious teaching occupies an hour (always at the beginning of the school hours) thrice a week, while special dogmatic instruction is imparted by the pastor, outside the school-house as a rule, or in a room specially set apart therein. The pastor is ex officio president of the Schulkommission, while the religious teaching in school is based on a special “school Bible,” containing short versions of the chief events in Bible history. The exact curriculum (code) is prescribed by the canton, and also the number of hours during which the school must be open annually, but the precise repartition of these is left to the local Schulkommission. The attendance registers kept by the teachers are submitted to the Schulkommission, which takes measures against truant children or negligent parents by means of a written warning, followed (if need be) by a summons before a court. The treasurer of the Schulkommission receives and distributes the money contributions of the cantons (including the grant in aid from the Confederation) and also of the communes, or of benevolent private individuals. The school hours are as a rule four hours (from 7 a.m. in summer and 8 a.m. in winter) in the morning and (in the winter) three hours in the afternoon, but on two afternoons in the week there is a sewing school for the girls, the boys being then free. There are no regular half-holidays. Private schools are permitted, but receive no financial aid from the outside, while the teacher must hold a certificate of efficiency as in the state schools, must adopt the same curriculum, and is subject to the by-laws made by the Schulkommission. On the other hand he is not bound by any conscience clause and can charge fees. A cantonal inspector examines each school (of either class) annually and reports to the cantonal educational authorities, who point out any deficiencies to the local Schulkommission, which must remedy them. There is no payment by results, nor do the money contributions (from any source) depend on the number of attendances made, though of course they are more or less in proportion to the number of scholars attending that particular school. Some favour the idea of making the primary schools wholly dependent financially on the Confederation. This course has obvious conveniences, but a first attempt was defeated in 1882, and the scheme is still opposed, mainly on the ground that it would seriously impair the principle of cantonal sovereignty, and immensely strengthen the power of the Federal educational authorities. By the law of 1903 the quota of the Federal subvention was fixed at sixpence per head of the resident population of each canton, but in the case of 61/2 cantons (the poorer ones) an extra twopence was added.

b. The secondary schools are meant on the one side to help those scholars of the primary schools who desire to increase their knowledge though without any idea of going on to higher studies, and on the other to prepare certain students for entrance into the middle schools. The attendance everywhere is optional, save in the city of Basel, where it is compulsory. These schools vary very much from canton to canton. The course of studies extends over two to four years, and students are admitted at ages from ten upwards. The curriculum includes the elements of the classical and modern languages, of mathematics, and of the natural sciences. They receive no Federal subvention, but are supported by the cantons and the communes. In 1905 the cantons contributed £20,000 less than the communes to the total cost of about £234,000.

c. Under the general name of middle schools (Mittelschulen or écoles moyenues) the Swiss include a variety' of educational establishments, which fall roughly under two heads:—

  1. Technical schools (like those at Bienne and Winterthur) and schools for instruction in various professions (commerce, agriculture, forestry and the training colleges for teachers).
  2. Grammar schools, colleges and cantonal schools, which in some cases prepare for the universities and in some cases do not.

The expenses of both classes fall mainly on the cantons (in 1905 about £300,000 to £130,000 from the communes), who for the former class (including certain departments of the second) receive a grant in aid from the Confederation-in 1905 about £84,500.

d. As regards the higher education the Federal Constitution of 1874 (art. 27) empowered the Confederation to erect and support, besides the existing Federal Polytechnic School (opened at Zürich in 1855, having been founded by virtue of art. 22 of the Federal Constitution of; 1848), a Federal university (this has not yet been done) and other establishments for the higher education (see c. 1 above). This clause would seem to authorize the Confederation to make grants in aid of the cantonal universities, but as yet this has not been done, while the cantons are in no hurry to give up their local universities. There are seven full universities in Switzerland—Basel (founded in 1460), Zürich (1833), Bern (1834), Geneva (1873, founded in 1559 as an académie), Fribourg (international Catholic, founded in 1889), Lausanne (1890, founded in 1537 as an académie) and Neuchâtel (existed 1840-1848, re founded in 1866, and raised from the rank of an académie to that of a university in 1909). There is besides a law school at Sion (existed 1807-1810, re founded in 1824). In general they each (save Sion, of course) have four faculties—theology, medicine, law and philosophy. Fribourg and Neuchâtel both lack a medical faculty, while Zürich and Bern have distinct faculties for veterinary medicine, and Zürich a special one for dentistry (in Geneva there is a school of dentistry), While Geneva and Neuchâtel support observatories. The theological faculty is in every case Protestant, save that in Fribourg there is only a Romanist faculty (192 students in 1907), while Bern has both a Protestant faculty and also a Christian Catholic faculty (11 students in 1907), but no Romanist faculty, despite the fact that the Romanists (mainly in the Bernese Jura) form about one-sixth of the population, while there are not very many Christian Catholics. These eight academical institutions were maintained by the cantons at a cost in 1905 of about £155,000, while in the winter session of 1906 the total number of matriculated students (of whom 3784 were non-Swiss) was 6444 (of whom 1904 were women—Fribourg does not receive them), besides 2077 “hearers”—in all 8521. The largest institution was Bern (1626 matriculated students) and the smallest Neuchâtel (163), The Federal Polytechnic School is fixed at Zürich and now comprises seven departments—architecture, engineering, industrial mechanics, industrial chemistry, agriculture and forestry, training of teachers in mathematics, physics and the natural sciences, and military science, besides a department for philosophy and political science. It enjoys a very high reputation and is much frequented by non-Swiss, who in the winter session of 1905-1906 numbered 522 out of the 1325 matriculated students (women are not admitted). In 1905 the cost of the maintenance of the school (which falls entirely upon the Confederation) was about £56,000.