Amid debate over allowing homeschooling in Switzerland, what are the reasons why parents choose to educate their kids at home?
The Swiss federal court’s recent decision that there was no constitutional right to home schooling in Switzerland, following an appeal by a mother who wanted to home school her gifted son in canton Basel city, has brought the practice into focus - and generated a lot of reader feedback.
Why, some of our readers wondered, do parents choose to homeschool their children in Switzerland in the first place, given that the country’s education system is generally considered to be high-quality?
Switzerland’s 26 cantons are in charge of educational matters, and as such have differing policies on homeschooling (see box). This is why the mother took her appeal to the federal court, as her home canton of Basel city is among the more restrictive when it comes to home education.
According to a recent Tages-Anzeiger newspaper surveyexternal link, there are now over 2,000 homeschooled children in Switzerland, with the trend rising. In the top five cantons, the numbers have doubled or even tripled over the past five years.
Homeschooling is permitted in 16 of the 26 Swiss cantons. According the Tages-Anzeiger, Vaud had the most homeschooled pupils (650), followed by Bern (576) Aargau (246) and Zurich (240). Basel City, which among other things requires proof that a child cannot attend a regular school before permission is granted, has no homeschooled pupilsexternal link in these figures. Italian-speaking Ticino is also not present.
Some cantons, like Vaud and Neuchâtel, simply require the authorities to be informed, but in Bern and Geneva you must apply for permission to homeschool. Valais and Fribourg even require a parent to be a qualified teacher. Zurich takes a middle way: requiring a teaching qualification after the second year of homeschooling. Several cantons, such as Neuchâtel, and even Vaud, are moving to tighten restrictionsexternal link. A motionexternal link has been handed into parliament to harmonise homeschooling across the country.end of infobox
Overall, homeschooled pupils in Switzerland make up just 0.2% of thoseexternal link attending compulsory school (ages 6-15). By comparison, in the United States, approximately 3.3%external link of the school-age population is homeschooled.
Living the family ideal
Willi Villiger, president of Homeschooling Association of Switzerland, has said in various media interviewsexternal link that homeschooling was originally practised by small number of evangelical Christian families in Switzerland. Now it’s more popular among families who want to live according to their ideals, building education into their daily lives. Parents who homeschool often fear that children could lose their “natural joy of learning” in school, the teacher and father of ten homeschooled children has saidexternal link.
Villiger also highlights two other groups: parents who are unhappy with the quality of their local schools and parents forced to homeschool due to their child’s psychological or health problems.
Bilingualism, gifted kids, bullying
This tallies in with an academic article by law professor Johannes Reichexternal link from 2012 – one of the few studies on homeschooling in Switzerland – which, having looked a court decisions and media reports on homeschooling, reaches much the same conclusion. It adds in factors such as wanting to teach bilingually, enjoying teaching your own children, and catering to children’s needs as other reasons.
Additional factors were negative experiences at regular schools, including with the behaviour of other children and bullying, and financial reasons, like not being able to afford a private school. Some cantons may also allow the practice for young musicians who go on tour or for children whose parents go on tour.
What do parents say?
While the canton Basel city mother involved in the federal court case argued that her the local education system was not doing enough for her gifted sonexternal link and that her faith in the system was shattered, these parents in Vaud took their eldest son out of school as he was struggling. Finding it worked for them, they subsequently homeschooled their other three children.