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Study Day schools focus more on childcare than learning

An art class during the lunch break at the Bungertwies day school in Zurich, Switzerland


Children in German-speaking cantons who take out-of-school-hours educational activities during the first two years of primary school perform no better than others and in general all-day primary schools do not meet expectations, a survey has found. 

A continuous school day with lunch, as found in many other countries, is not the norm in Switzerland and varies by canton. In fact, there are only around seven such state schools in the country, with the rest being privately run. 

In recent years, in recognition of the changing reality for families, some schools have introduced full-day schools, providing children with a hot meal, educational activities and care on the school premises while the school is closed. This extended education is also referred to as student clubs, day-care centres or day structures, depending on the canton.

However, a new study external linkby the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has found that these types of schools are not achieving the desired impact on students. 

"In their current design, the offerings are not having the hoped-for effect," said Marianne Schüpbach, professor of primary education at the University of Bamberg, Germany, who led the study. "Attendance in the first two years of school had no effect on educational achievement.” 

The study analysed the development of 2,000 first and second grade students at 53 all-day schools in 13 German-speaking cantons, as well as the quality and use of out-of-school-hours education offerings.

Not many benefits

Researchers found that extra classes helped improve the mathematics results of students from poorer families. But children from poorer immigrant backgrounds who took extra classes demonstrated no additional language benefits than those who did not sign up. Also, the survey found that day school did not give children any benefits in terms of social behaviour. 

Overall, the educational quality of extra curricula-type activities has improved slightly over the last ten years and is qualified as average to good. However, the main elements of out-of-school-hours classes and care still focus on completing homework, and providing lunch and an afternoon snack. 

While unstructured games are particularly important for all-day schools in German-speaking cantons, there are very few structured activities on offer in the areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics or language-related, the study found.

Room for improvement 

"This is the main difference between extracurricular programmes in other countries, like the United States, which offer ongoing, stimulating, targeted and clearly structured programmes to specifically support languages or areas like social behaviour. At all-day schools in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, there is a lot of room for improvement of the learning setting and the offerings," said Schüpbach. 

"In German-speaking Switzerland, all-day schools are more oriented towards child care and less towards education.”

Summing up, the authors said out-of-school care was mostly used by students whose parents were immigrants and from wealthier families. They were generally too expensive for middle-class families. 

"It might be a good idea to rethink the cost structure, so that extended education offerings could also be affordable for families with middle-class incomes, and to ensure a healthy mix of students,” said Schüpbach.

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