Standards of education in Swiss primary schools are to be harmonised within the next three years under plans unveiled on Thursday.
The proposals follow a 2001 Europe-wide report which found that 20 per cent of 15-year-olds in Switzerland could not understand basic written information.
In Switzerland education is the responsibility of the cantons, which means there are 26 different school curricula.
But the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Directors of Education has decided that action must be taken to harmonise and improve school standards.
The conference’s president, Hans Ulrich Stöckling, said the European study – known as the Pisa report - showed that the countries with the best results were those with national education standards.
His comments came as cantonal directors of education unveiled details of a new phase in a long-term programme of education reform first launched two years ago.
Targets will be set for the end of the second, sixth and ninth years of school and will apply to the teaching of languages, mathematics and natural sciences.
Tests will be introduced, but the authorities say these would be designed to assess the efficiency of the new system rather than the pupils.
Stöckling stressed that the introduction of nationwide standards should not be seen as a move to strip cantons of their power to decide on educational matters.
“We can’t and won’t determine a national teaching plan for Switzerland,” said Stöckling. “[The new reforms] are designed to show the goal but not the way.”
The standards, the criteria for which have yet to be fully determined, are due to come into force in 2007.
The proposals also envisage that children could start school at the age of five – one year earlier than under the current system.
Thursday’s plan of action comes just three months after cantonal education directors decided that all primary schools must teach at least two foreign languages.
The plans – which have faced stiff opposition in some cantons – envisage that primary schools would start teaching two foreign languages by 2012.
One would be a national language, while the other is almost certain to be English.
Cantonal education authorities have also announced that they want to boost education standards by improving teacher training programmes in Switzerland.
swissinfo with agencies
The introduction of performance standards is aimed at harmonising education in primary schools across Switzerland.
The new system is scheduled to come into force in 2007.
A 2001 OECD study, dubbed the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), revealed poor literacy among Swiss teenagers.