Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

Gifted Education in Switzerland: Widely Acknowledged, but Obstacles Still Exist in Implementation

Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

Gifted Education in Switzerland: Widely Acknowledged, but Obstacles Still Exist in Implementation

Article excerpt

National context and strategies

Political and educational structures in Switzerland

In order to understand the educational situation in Switzerland, it is im- portant to bear in mind that it is a small country of approximately 8 million people with a relatively high proportion of foreigners (23.8%). Demographic trends are influenced by multilingualism, with a number of different languages being spoken in the country's four regions: German (64.9%), French (22.6%), Italian (8.3%) and Rhaeto-Rumantsch (0.5%). Some 21% of the population re- port using another main language in their families instead of, or in addition to, the four so-called national languages (BFS 2014).

Switzerland is a modern federal state marked by strong federalism and direct democracy. This is expressed in two ways: in the strong autonomy of the 26 cantons and their municipalities, and in their direct participation in po- litical decision-making. However, it is not only the cantons that have a major influence on politics. As a result of the country's direct democracy, individual citizens also have a direct influence on the government via people's initiatives and referenda, with votes being held quarterly.

Within the confederation, the central government oversees specific na- tional areas of responsibility, such as foreign, military and financial policy. A collective head of state, consisting of seven members, governs national affairs. The responsibilities and processes of education are coordinated in the federal department of economics, formation and research.

One of the functions of the Constitution is to link the various interests of the particular cantons with the overall interests of the federal state. Responsibil- ity for education is predominantly in the hands of the cantons (with the excep- tion of national university and vocational policies). Therefore, each canton has its own policies and regulations regarding education, which relate closely to the specific population's understanding of education.

While the main responsibility for education and culture lies with the cantons, the 26 cantonal ministers of education form a political board known as the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK), which under- takes coordination on the national level. Legally binding inter-cantonal agree- ments (known as concordats) form the foundation of the work of the EDK. Although the EDK coordinates the work of the cantonal boards of education, it nonetheless has a subordinated function: the prior legislative power is mostly rooted in the cantons (EDK, 2014).

Gifted education in Switzerland: Benchmarks and positions

The education policies of all of the cantons declare in their charters the right of each student to be educated and fostered according to his/her indi- vidual abilities and possibilities. With these acknowledgements, they refer to the international declaration of Salamanca regarding the human right of indi- vidualised education (UNESCO, 1994).

In many schools, however, the reality is that teachers are mainly focused on teaching to the curriculum and the prescribed textbooks, some with more and others with less differentiation in their classes. For the majority of the pop- ulation, there is a high national awareness of the importance of utilising all human resources, from the perspectives of national economics, the need for expertise, and sustainability. Nevertheless, there is a lack of mandatory policies on gifted education. Thus there is a clear discrepancy between most people's ac- curate assessment of the importance of expertise and high achievements, on the one hand, and the classroom routines in many schools, on the other, with their tendency to teach to an average level that should meet the needs of all students.

In the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which aims to achieve a better understanding of the factors of effective teaching, the results of Swiss schools are above average in the ranking of high-end learning and high achievement; on the other hand, the results indicate very poor promo- tion of lower-end potential. …

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