Most Swiss primary schools to resume full lessons 

First day back at a school in canton Bern Keystone / Alessandro Della Valle


Zurich and St Gallen - the last two German-speaking cantons operating split primary school classes as part of their post-coronavirus lockdown plans - have confirmed they are to go back to a full timetable by June 8.  

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This leaves Canton Ticino, the hardest hit by the coronavirus, as the only canton to continue the split class system after that date. 

On Friday, Zurich and St Gallen announced that they would go back to a full primary school timetable on June 8, after a month of staggered classes (half a class at a time).  

All compulsory schools (with pupils up to the age of 16) re-opened on May 11, after the government decided that primary school pupils were at little risk of transmitting the virus.  

However, on Friday the authorities announced the first death in Switzerland of a young child from the consequences of the coronavirus, plus two cases of child infections in Basel. 

+ Switzerland reports first covid-19-related child fatality 

Under Switzerland’s federal system, it’s the cantons that are in charge of educational matters – which resulted in a variety of approaches to re-opening, much to the worry of many parents and teachers. The move to re-open was also watched internationally.  

+ Uncertainty reigns as schools re-open amid coronavirus pandemic  

Cantonal mix 

While the majority of German-speaking cantons opted for “almost back to normal” – with a regular school timetable – many in French-speaking Switzerland, which was more strongly affected by the coronavirus, chose two weeks of staggered schooling. German-speaking economic powerhouses Canton Zurich (also more strongly affected) and Canton St Gallen (less so) were the exceptions. 

In Italian-speaking Ticino, which borders Italy, is leaving the split classes system in place after June 8. The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK), told swissinfo.ch on Friday that to its current knowledge it was the only canton to do so.  

The canton says the system will continue until school summer holidays, which start earlier than many other cantons, on June 20. What happens after the holidays is not yet decided. 

Older pupils 

Post-compulsory schools, such baccalaureate schools which prepare pupils for university and vocational schools for apprentices, will be allowed to re-open for on-site teaching on June 8, under strict hygiene and social-distancing guidelines.  

However, Canton Zurich’s director of education Silvia Steiner, also the head of all cantonal education directors, on Friday criticised the government guidelines as too strict and called on the government to ensure a return to normal teaching schedules, something which every pupil deserved. 

Cantonal differences are well illustrated in Basel: while Canton Basel City is opting for full on-site teaching for upper schools from June 8, Canton Basel Country will keep to distance learning until the summer holidays. Canton Zurich will have half classes. 

International  

Meanwhile, earlier this week Denmark said that sending children back to schools and day care centres - Denmark was the first country in Europe to do so - did not lead to an increase in coronavirus infections, according to official data. This confirmed similar findings from Finland.  

The United Kingdom has also announced that primary schools would gradually reopen from June 1, and while Swiss neighbour Germany is gradually re-opening schools, France has already done so for most primary and some middle schools. 

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