Teachers deny using bad language

Are teachers from Germany the answer to a perceived lack of language skills in Swiss schools? swissinfo C Helmle

Teachers in Switzerland have dismissed calls for extra staff to be brought in from Germany to boost pupils’ German language skills.

This content was published on July 8, 2004 - 09:48

Their comments follow claims by a senior education official that children taught in the Swiss-German dialect end up with poor grammar.

The row comes amid a widening public debate over quality standards at Switzerland’s primary schools.

In a newspaper interview, Hans Stöckling, a senior education official, said more teachers were needed from over the border to improve education standards in Switzerland.

“A teacher from Germany is an asset for every school staffroom in Switzerland,” he told the “NZZ am Sonntag”.

Stöckling, who is head of the country’s 26 cantonal education departments, also suggested that High German should be spoken in pre-school kindergarten instead of the commonly spoken Swiss-German dialect.

He cited a study, which showed that pupils with a German teacher had better language skills than those with Swiss teachers.

German is one of Switzerland’s four official languages, but the most popular spoken language is Swiss-German dialect.

Insult to teachers

His comments were seized upon by the Swiss Teachers’ Association, which described them as an “insult to Swiss teachers”.

“It does not help to build trust in Switzerland’s education authorities if a president makes such blunders and shows little respect for Swiss teachers,” the union said in a statement.

Beat Zemp, the union’s president told swissinfo that Stöckling had “obviously forgotten” that Germany ranked behind Switzerland in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

The study, published in 2001 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, revealed poor literacy standards among Swiss teenagers.

Zemp admitted that some Swiss teachers might overuse Swiss dialect in schools, adding that their knowledge of German grammar might be less than perfect.

“But I think these are isolated cases,” he said.

Rightwing bandwagon

The union has accused Stöckling of jumping on the bandwagon of a parliamentarian from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.

Two months ago Hans Kaufmann said Switzerland needed more teachers from Germany to improve standards at Swiss schools. Kaufmann also said they were cheaper to hire.

The Swiss Teachers’ Association said Kaufmann’s comparison of teacher salaries in Switzerland and Germany was misleading and unfair.

“Besides we are not allowed to pay teachers from Germany lower wages. This is covered by measures that came into force with the introduction of the free movement of people from the European Union,” said Zemp.

Under an accord regulating access to the Swiss labour market, German citizens can now apply freely for a job in Switzerland.

“Stöckling’s comments are an own goal,” said Zemp. ”What we need are better Swiss teachers, and that is why we have reorganised teacher training.”

Zemp added that it was counterproductive to talk of hiring teachers from Germany when an increasing number of young Swiss teachers were having difficulty in finding jobs.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

In brief

Swiss teachers have dismissed calls for extra staff from Germany to improve the standard of language lessons.

German is a main subject in most schools in Switzerland.

However, Swiss-German dialect, as well as French, Italian and Romansh are commonly spoken in everyday use.

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Key facts

About 63.9% of the Swiss speak Swiss-German, 19.5% French, 6.6% Italian, 0.5% Romansh and 9.5% another language.
School regulations require that every child learn a second national language.
Education is largely the responsibility of the country’s regional authorities.

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