The Federal Constitution lays down the right to education and the obligation to attend school, but it is the cantons that are responsible for schooling.
This means there are currently 26 different education systems in Switzerland, although moves are underway to harmonise the country's educational system.
Several cantons have adopted the reforms, but opponents succeeded in delaying nationwide implementation of the measures beyond 2008.
Most pupils start school at the age of seven, after one or two years of nursery school. They usually stay in school for nine years before going on to higher education or training.
Overall, cantons are permitted to take their own independent decisions when it comes to the structure of their education systems, syllabuses and the dates of school holidays.
However, there is a Conference of Cantonal Directors of Public Education which ensures contact and harmony between the cantons.
Critics point to two main problems with the present system. It is not always easy to transfer between different cantonal systems and the school day is not always compatible with the hours of working parents.
These and other shortcomings are being addressed by a host of proposals put forward by the cantonal education directors. They want two years of nursery school and nine years of school for all, as well as binding regulations on the teaching of foreign languages, and all-day schools.
After school, pupils normally choose between apprenticeship schemes or higher education.
Switzerland is known as one of the few countries which practice a dual education system after compulsory schooling.
It combines apprenticeships in a company and vocational training at special schools in one course.
There are about 200 recognized apprenticeships in Switzerland. The most popular professional education is for office jobs and for shop assistants.
As in other countries school leavers find it increasingly difficult to get a place in a trade or a company of their choice and opt for an extra year at school.
The centre-right Radical Party wants to introduce a national education policy with all-day schools and harmonised school hours throughout the country.
Pressure to change is also coming from international comparisons, such as the Pisa study, which show that Swiss pupils are falling behind in some subjects.
Colleges have been set up which offer more job-focused diplomas.
And there are also two Federal Institutes of Technology, in Zurich and Lausanne, as well as ten universities in cities and towns across the country. But with budgets being cut and cost-cutting drives underway, faculties at different institutions are being merged.
Courses are being adapted to include European BA and MA degrees. Nowadays, about half the undergraduates are women.