More German-speaking cantons have decided that pupils should learn English as their first foreign language. The move looks certain to re-ignite a heated debate over whether English or a second national language should be taught first in school.
The education directors of six cantons in central Switzerland said in a statement on Thursday that from 2004/2005, English would be taught from the age of nine and French from the age of 11.
The directors said they were responding to public demand. They said it was only fair to offer pupils equality of opportunity as many private schools were already offering English first.
They insisted that the teaching of French would not suffer and that a pupil would reach equal competence in both French and English by the end of obligatory schooling at 15.
The cantons affected are Lucerne, Zug, Schwyz, Uri, Obwalden and Nidwalden.
One consequence of the decision is that some primary teachers will need retraining to be fully qualified to teach English.
Controversy over language teaching broke out in September when canton Zurich said it would introduce English first, at the expense of French, from 2003.
A meeting of cantonal education directors in November failed to find a solution to the issue and deferred taking a decision until June.
The issue has caused deep splits between those cantons which fear that giving English priority will undermine national unity, and those that see it as a crucial tool for children in the modern world.
swissinfo with agencies