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Swiss vote emphatically for education reform

The yes vote was one of the clearest results for ten years

(Keystone)

Switzerland's education system is to be reformed, after 86 per cent of the electorate voted in favour of a constitutional amendment.

The cabinet and education authorities welcomed Sunday's decisive result, which was marked by one of the lowest turnouts ever in a nationwide vote. Just 27 per cent of voters cast their ballots.

The reforms are aimed at improving co-ordination among the different school systems and giving the federal authorities a bigger say.

Voters in all 26 cantons approved the amendment, paving the way for the reforms to be implemented. Changes to the constitution require a majority of the cantons as well as of the popular vote.

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin, who holds the education portfolio, said he was pleased with the result but added that the federal government would be careful not to abuse its newfound powers.

His cabinet colleague, Economics Minister Joseph Deiss, said the reforms would make Switzerland more accessible as a centre for education, research and innovation, enhancing its leading position in the world.

The head of the cantonal education authorities, Hans Ulrich Stöckling, also welcomed the result, adding that it was important for the country's ten universities, two Federal Institutes of Technology and technical colleges to agree on common goals.

Supporters of the reform contend that it will ensure high standards of education and make it easier for students changing schools, but will not infringe on the traditional autonomy of Switzerland's 26 cantons.

Shortcomings

Switzerland's school system has come in for increasing criticism since the 2003 Pisa study, an international survey of educational standards among 15-year-olds, revealed what critics called serious shortcomings in reading, as well as considerable differences among the cantons.

The planned reforms include streamlining the length of compulsory schooling and the school starting age, as well as the mutual recognition of diplomas and unified education standards.

The federal authorities are to be given more power to force the cantons to cooperate at the level of compulsory schooling and university education.

The amendment could pave the way for more family-friendly school structures and a solution to a long-running dispute over the teaching of foreign languages.

Foreign languages

Also on Sunday, the electorate in two cantons, Zug and Thurgau, rejected proposals to limit the number of foreign languages taught at primary school level.

The electorate in the two cantons were effectively asked whether or not to make English the only non-national language up to grade six.

Foreign language teaching has been a bone of contention in multicultural Switzerland for years amid concerns that the national languages German, French, Italian and Romansh might lose out.

Eastern Switzerland, led by its economic hub Zurich, favours English as a first foreign language, while other regions have opted for a national language.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Under Switzerland's federalist system the country's 26 cantons enjoy a large degree of autonomy in education matters.

The Swiss education system is built on a complex interplay between the federal, cantonal and local authorities depending on the education level and the kind of institution.

All previous attempts to unify or harmonise the various educations systems have met resistance from the cantons. Voters rejected a proposal for unification in 1973.

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Key facts

Vote result: 86% yes to 14% no.
All cantons came out in favour of the reforms with approval rates between 59% and 93%.
Turnout: 27%.

end of infobox

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