The cantons will no longer have the final say on education after the Senate adopted a constitutional article to harmonise Switzerland's school systems.
Until now, there has been strong resistance to unification, but most cantons have admitted that the federal authorities must be able to impose change.
The aim of the reform is to create a unified education system for the whole country. The government will only intervene in issues such as the age when children start school, the length of schooling, educational targets and recognition of diplomas.
Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin said on Tuesday that this reform was just one step in the evolution of the Swiss education system, but added that it was an important development.
The Senate had little difficulty approving the constitutional article. Christiane Langenberger of the Radical Party pointed out that most resistance to change had now vanished, as shown by the fact that 22 cantons officially accepted the planned reform.
Social Democrat Gisèle Ory said the wide consensus on the article should be a guarantee that citizens will accept it when it goes to a compulsory nationwide vote next year.
The need for reform of the country's 26 educational systems has been felt for years, but attempts to harmonise them have few and far between.
As Langenberger points out, the intercantonal accord on school coordination – which dates back to 1970 – has only reached a few of its goals.
Only in French-speaking Switzerland have there been real attempts to coordinate the education systems. "Good coordination makes it easy for students to move around while preserving local specificities," said Christian Democrat Madeleine Amgwerd.
One recent example is the creation of a common high school for students from cantons Vaud and Fribourg.
Few senators raised doubts about the article. Christian Democrat Hansruedi Stadler said his biggest concern was that a uniform system would produce people who could only answer the needs of the economy.
His Radical colleague Fritz Schiesser warned that the bigger cantons could try to impose their views on the smaller ones. He added that the constitutional article would need to be adapted as the world changed.
Welcoming acceptance of the reform, Couchepin warned the Senate that it would not mean more federal money for schools.
The article now goes back the House of Representatives, where it should be rubber-stamped.
swissinfo with agencies
The Swiss education system faces the following challenges in the years to come:
Develop a national monitoring system for education
Introduce unified education standards
Earlier start to school
Promoting the first national language
Earlier start to foreign language education
Adapting school structures to society and family needs
Public schools have been the exclusive domain of the cantons until now.
Each of the 26 cantons has its own education law.
Attempts to unify or harmonise these educations sytems has met resistance from the cantons until now.
Any coordination has been carried out until now by the Swiss conference of cantonal education ministers.