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Parliament reins in educational autonomy

The federal authorities could have a say in school matters

(Keystone)

The Swiss parliament has taken a step towards harmonising the education system in the country's 26 cantons.

The House of Representatives approved plans to give the federal authorities more say in coordinating schooling in a bid to improve education standards.

On Wednesday the House came out overwhelmingly in favour of restricting the traditionally far-reaching powers of the cantons in educational matters.

Under the proposed constitutional amendment the federal government would act as arbitrator if the various cantonal education departments are unable to agree on a standard age for school beginners.

Other issues where the federal authorities could be called on to break potential deadlock include the mutual recognition of diplomas as well as common education goals and quality standards.

Coordination

Many speakers in parliament said the cantons were unable to guarantee a sufficient degree of coordination among the authorities in the different regions.

They also stressed that Switzerland risked losing its reputation as a country with high education standards if it failed to improve cooperation.

However, some parliamentarians from the rightwing Swiss People's Party and the Communist Party cautioned against giving the federal authorities too much power over the cantons, arguing that this could undermine the country's federalist structure.

The bill now goes to the Senate for further parliamentary debate. The final decision on the issue lies with the Swiss electorate.

Cantonal education directors have in the past welcomed attempts to harmonise the Swiss education system.

They said a constitutional article would allow the federal authorities to play a bigger role. But they are adamant that the government in Bern should only be allowed to intervene as a last resort.

Radical proposals

Last year the centre-right Radical Party announced separate proposals to introduce a national education policy.

It argued that the reforms discussed in parliament were not far-reaching enough and would fall short of ensuring that Switzerland remained competitive.

The Radical Party wants a uniform national school system, including a return to universal grades, a standardised school age and more focus on language learning, notably English as a first foreign language.

Switzerland is divided into four linguistic regions. More than 63 per cent speak German as their first language, while 20 per cent are French- and a further 6.5 per cent Italian-speakers. The Romansh-speaking minority makes up 0.5 per cent of the population.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Switzerland's education system is organised on a cantonal level.
Parliament has begun debate on moves to limit cantonal autonomy on education matters.
The Swiss electorate will have the final say on the constitutional amendment.
Previous attempts to give the federal authorities a bigger role in education matters failed at the ballot box.

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