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Education Zurich and Bern voters in favour of common curriculum

Boy in classroom with hand to head

At stake is what boys like this will learn in Swiss schools.

(© KEYSTONE / GAETAN BALLY)

A common school curriculum in Switzerland's German-speaking cantons is a step closer to reality.

Voters in two of Switzerland's most populous cantons - Zurich and Bern - came out in favour of the syllabus, Lehrplan 21, by rejecting an initiative that would have hindered its introduction.

It can now be used from the next school year.

Under Switzerland’s federal structure, education falls under the jurisdiction of each of its 26 cantons. Over the past few years, the cantonal education heads drew up common syllabi – one for German-speaking cantons and another for French ones – after Swiss voters approved a constitutional article to harmonise education.

But it’s the same Swiss style federalism that leaves the final decision on the common curriculum’s introduction to each canton. The transition to a single syllabus in French-speaking regionsexternal link has already gone ahead.

The initiatives in both Zurich and Bern were similar in calling for the possibility to put the final decision on the curriculum's content to voters.

Lehrplan 21: the philosophy

The Lehrplan 21 is based on competencies – with goals on what the pupil should know by a certain class level rather than what should be taught to them.

Some subjects will be taught together as one unit. For example: Natur Mensch Gesellschaft (Nature, People, Society) will encompass geography, physics, chemistry, biology, history, political education, and society issues. The idea is to make pupils aware of how today’s problems are interlinked.

Foreign languages: in 2004 the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Directors of Education agreed that children should learn 2 foreign languages: a second national language and English. It is up to cantons which language is learned first. This strategy was started before the Lehrplan 21, but the Lehrplan 21 has taken it over and adapted it. The language issue - how many pupils should learn and fears over the popularity of English over national language French - remains unresolved.

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