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Swiss youngsters snub politics

Swiss youngsters were vocal in protesting against war in Iraq, but domestic politics leaves them cold Keystone

Swiss teenagers are far less politically aware than many of their counterparts in other democratic countries.

This content was published on July 11, 2003 - 18:57

Switzerland ranked 19th in a 28-nation survey of young people's knowledge and understanding of politics – a surprising result given the country’s system of direct democracy.

Poland ranked first, followed by Finland, Cyprus and Greece.

Colombia was bottom of the table. However, 66 per cent of young people there said they were interested in politics, compared with just 33 per cent in Switzerland.

Politically immature

Fritz Oser, a professor of pedagogy at Fribourg University who carried out the Swiss part of the survey, says the results show that young Swiss people are ill prepared to assume their full political role as adults.

The Swiss are called upon to vote on any number of local, regional or national issues four times a year.

“It’s very astonishing,” he told swissinfo. “It’s difficult to say why [we did so badly], maybe it’s down to lack of education, or maybe it’s a trend of not being [interested] in political issues.

“But by the end of their schooling, students should have a political identity and a basic knowledge about what’s going on in their country – and know how to participate in their democracy.”

Around 94,000 young people aged between 14 and 15 were interviewed in the Civic Education Study, conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).

Patriotism

Switzerland scored some of the lowest marks when it came to questions of patriotism.

Only a minority of young Swiss people said they agreed with statements such as “I love Switzerland” and “Switzerland should be proud of what it has achieved”. Only their counterparts in Germany, Hong Kong and Belgium gave their home countries lower marks.

But Switzerland scored its best result when it came to trust in state institutions, when it was given a clear thumbs-up, ranking third after Denmark and Norway.

In terms of their understanding of political issues, young people scored top marks in their knowledge of women’s rights – but they had scant knowledge of immigrants’ rights.

Oser believes that one way of addressing this discrepancy is to get more young people to play a role in social and political affairs.

“I think they should have more possibilities to participate in politics, either at school or through community activities.”

Oser also bemoans the lack of time given to politics and history on the school curriculum.

“We should definitely have more history teaching,” he says. “Young people have no knowledge about the past and how we developed and they don’t know how difficult it was to become a democracy. ”

swissinfo, Vanessa Mock and Joanne Shields

Key facts

Only 33 per cent of young Swiss people said they were interested in politics, compared with 66 per cent and 63 per cent in Cyprus and Columbia respectively.
Knowledge and understanding of politics was slightly below average in Switzerland.
Young people in Switzerland trust state institutions, but feel little pride at the sight of the Swiss flag, according to the survey.

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