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League table fails to impress teachers

The latest rankings are making some teachers hot under the collar Keystone Archive

Swiss teachers have dismissed a league table showing which cantons have the best schools as a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.

This content was published on May 3, 2005 - 09:15

Rankings based on the performance of schoolchildren in 12 cantons and Liechtenstein were published for the first time on Monday.

Top of the charts in mathematics, science and problem-solving was canton Fribourg. However, in reading – the fourth discipline tested – it came third after Liechtenstein and Thurgau.

The report, which was compiled by the Federal Statistics Office, has left the Swiss Teachers’ Association fuming.

Its secretary Urs Schildknecht told swissinfo that he was disappointed with the so-called "closer look" at the Swiss results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) 2003.

"We were very surprised with the lack of adequate explanations and nothing new has come out," said Schildknecht.

He added that the report merely confirmed certain trends that the teaching profession had been aware of for some time.

"What we already knew from the international study was that children of parents with a low level of education, and those with social and cultural origins from abroad, perform a bit worse [than their Swiss peers]," he said.

Not alone

The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education was also unhappy with the findings. President Hans Ulrich Stöckling told a news conference that he was "somewhat disappointed".

"We knew already from previous Pisa studies that social origins can influence a pupil’s performance and that there are differences between girls and boys," said Stöckling.

He added that a further weakness with the report was that the cantons included in the study represented only three-quarters of pupils receiving compulsory schooling.

Gabriela Fuchs, the conference’s spokeswoman, echoed Stöckling’s sentiments.

She told swissinfo that the organisation had hoped the report would contain more data-based explanations for the differences between cantons.

She said this would have delivered interesting results, which could have been used for the further development of the school system.

"Actually this is not the case," added Fuchs.

However, both teachers and the cantons were not entirely displeased with the report. They saw disguised praise in the study for the way children were schooled in Switzerland.

Stöckling stressed that the results proved that, despite the absence of a uniform schooling system in Switzerland, "the different systems can still produce very good results".

"On the basis of the report, one cannot say whether 'cooperative’ or 'selective’ scholastic structures attain better results," he said.

In both systems, pupils are divided into classes according to their abilities; in the former, however, this only takes place in certain so-called "main" subjects.

None the wiser

When asked why regional differences existed, both the teachers and the cantons stressed that they were none the wiser after the latest report.

"As far as the differences between cantons are concerned, the report offers hardly any firm explanations. One remains in the realm of speculation," said Stöckling.

Schildknecht speculated that scholastic performance in certain cantons was affected by the "social and cultural origins, and heterogeneity of pupils".

He cited the examples of Zurich, which came in the middle of the rankings for reading, and Geneva, which was bottom of the class for maths and second to last for reading.

According to Schildknecht, these two cantons were affected by phenomena common in urban areas, such as pupils who do not speak a national language well, "who come from a background where reading is not taken seriously, and who are not interested in our education [system]".

Looking ahead

As for the future, the cantonal educational directors said they would continue with their Pisa action plan, which aims to improve reading standards across the country.

The Swiss Teachers’ Association is calling for "a strong political will" to push forward measures to improve schooling, rather than wasting taxpayers’ money on similar studies.

Schildknecht said Switzerland needed to think long and hard about whether to pour more money and resources into attempting an in-depth analysis every time the Pisa results were announced.

At the moment, a Pisa study is carried out every three years. Schildknecht says the time elapsing between studies should be longer and suggests ensuring that a pupil is tested at least once during their nine years of compulsory schooling.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza

Key facts

Every three years, the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) measures 15-year-olds in four categories; maths, reading, science and problem-solving.

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In brief

In the Pisa 2003 survey, Switzerland came seventh in maths, 11th in reading, ninth in science and eighth in problem-solving.

Cantons Fribourg, St Gallen Thurgau and Valais were all above average.

Bern, Geneva, Ticino and Vaud were at the bottom of the rankings.

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