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Commission warns against segregation in Swiss schools

A federal anti-racism commission on Monday warned against separate classes for Swiss and foreign students, saying this would lead to an unacceptable “apartheid society.”

This content was published on August 23, 1999 - 16:47

A federal anti-racism commission on Monday warned against separate classes for Swiss and foreign students, saying this would lead to an unacceptable “apartheid society.”

The Federal Commission on Racism told a news conference in the capital Berne that parents’ concerns about the percentage of foreign students in Swiss classrooms should be taken seriously. But it warned against randomly singling out foreigners and pushing them into educational ghettos.

The average percentage of non-Swiss students is 22 percent but can reach up to 90 percent in certain urban areas, according to the commission.

It supported the idea of providing special educational help for refugee children who would likely return to their home regions soon. But the commission said it firmly rejects political calls for separate classes.

“Such institutionalized and long-term separation (of Swiss and foreign) students would eventually lead to a system of apartheid that would, in the long term, pose a threat to Swiss democracy," says the commission in its report.

Instead of making non-Swiss students the scapegoats of anti-foreigner sentiments, educational authorities should work to find new ways of teaching mixed classes, the commission suggested.

There have been two test models in cantons Sankt Gallen and Lucerne where Swiss and foreign students are taught in separate primary school classes.

But the commission said that kind of segregation must end as quickly as possible and it condemned the projects as absurd.

In many cantons, foreign children who do not speak German, French or Italian sufficiently well are taught in separate classes but are eventually integrated into the regular schools system. German, French and Italian are the official languages in the respective language regions of Switzerland.

However, not least in light of the influx of Kosovar refugees in the past year, there have been repeated political calls in Switzerland to teach foreign children separately.

Some parents are arguing that the level of education drops because of the presence of what they consider to be too many foreign students who do not speak German well enough.

The commission says that many Swiss parents appear to be afraid that the foreigners in the classrooms will eventually pose a threat to the future of their own children.

The anti-racism body told the news conference it was important that the Swiss see multiculturalism as something positive and enriching, rather than as threat.

From staff and wire reports.

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