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A Swiss first Pupils must remain in education until 18 in Geneva

Genevan pupil on a bike

Trailblazing: canton Geneva is working to top school drop-outs

(Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone)

Young people in Geneva now have to stay in education until they turn 18, which will see those with no post-school plans going back to school or starting an apprenticeship.

The aim is to ensure that young people are not marginalised and are given an extra chance to finish their education, said Anne Emery-Torracinta, head of the Public Education department in canton Geneva.

The initiative, which is unique in Switzerland, is pioneering in the fight against young people dropping out of school with no qualifications. Until now Geneva pupils could leave school at age 15.

Every year 1,000 young people, of which 550 are under 18, break off their studies. They subsequently find themselves hovering close to the margins of society. Even if they have the support of their parents or can count on a series of casual jobs, they are four times more likelyexternal link to find themselves long-term unemployed than their more qualified peers, experts say.

Bottom of class

Canton Geneva’s problem is a long-standing one. According to the Federal Statistical Office, Geneva was bottom of the class in 2015 in a cantonal rankingexternal link of how many young people had gained a first qualification. Only just over 30% of Genevans had finished vocational training by the age of 25 – less than half of the of the national average (65%).

In the smaller, rural cantons the rate was even sometimes over 80%. Cities and French-speaking Switzerland were lagging behind. Even Basel City, which was the second to last in the ranking, was 15 points ahead of Geneva.

The issue of school dropouts was taken into account when revising the Geneva cantonal constitution. In the new version from 2012, article 194 states that education in canton Geneva should remain compulsory until the age of 18. Known as FO18external link, it came into force at the beginning of the 2018 school year.

School or apprenticeship

This goes not mean that all young Genevans have to stay in school until they are 18. The requirement is for them to be receiving some sort of education. This could mean further studies, but it could also take the form of an apprenticeship in a company, according to Switzerland’s internationally-renowned dual system, which combines education and practical work experience.

+ Find out more about how it is considered a model for others here

On August 27, 400 “reintegrated” pupils under FO18 (the number will double by the end of the year) went back to school, alongside the 76,000 regular students.

The cost of the reform, which includes support measures, work experience, personalized training and creating extra apprenticeship places, is estimated at CHF16 million ($16.5 million) over four years. Officials say it is worth it. “FO18 is not a miracle solution but it’s an important element against dropping out of school,” Emery-Torracinta said.

A model?

Could the Geneva model set a precedent? Education is strictly the responsibility of the 26 cantons in Switzerland. There are harmonisation agreements, but the cantons do not always adopt them.

The Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Educationexternal link has not issued an official statement on the Geneva case. However, its head, Silvia Steiner, from canton Zurich, called the move “important and fair” in an interviewexternal link with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper.

In canton Neuchâtel, the political left has already filed a billexternal link calling for education to remain obligatory until 18 there as well. The cantonal parliament has yet to debate the issue.

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