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EXPLAINED: What are the rules for homeschooling children in Switzerland?

Homeschooling is not completely banned in Switzerland, but it is heavily regulated. Here’s what you need to know.

Children work through their studies at home
Homeschooling is not banned nationwide in Switzerland, but it is heavily regulated - while some cantons outlaw it completely. Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

The debate surrounding homeschooling in Switzerland – as with elsewhere in Europe – has been particularly fraught in recent years. 

Due to geographical problems accessing schools or the special needs of a child – as well as other practical and ideological differences –  parents have sometimes seen homeschooling as an alternative. 

One reason provided by foreign parents is a desire to teach their child in their own language. 

For parents from other parts of the world, particularly English-speaking countries, they are used to rules for home schooling children which are relatively relaxed. 

It can then be surprising when people arrive in Switzerland to find that home school can be either outright banned, or heavily restricted. 

This may be less of a practical problem in Switzerland in comparison to the United States or Australia, where distances are small, but for some parents it may be an ideological issue where they would prefer to homeschool their children rather than have this done at an educational institution. 

As with pretty much everything in Switzerland, if and how you can homeschool your kids will depend on the rules in place in your canton. 

Keep in mind that this guide refers to children who are being sent to school at home on a permanent basis, not children who are being taught at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

What are the rules at a federal level? 

Education for children is compulsory in Switzerland. 

However, the federal government leaves it up to the cantons to regulate the manner in which schooling is carried out – including homeschooling. 

A court case from 2019 sought to assert a right to homeschooling under the Swiss constitution, but this was dismissed. 

The Swiss Federal Court handed down a ruling which upheld the rights of cantons to restrict or even ban homeschooling. 

The court effectively said Swiss residents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children, allowing cantons the legislative power to decide upon whether or not it should be restricted. 

The case concerned a mother who wanted to homeschool her child in the city of Basel, where homeschooling is only permitted if the parent can show that school attendance is impossible. 

The Swiss constitution guarantees a right to privacy and family life, but the court said that this did not extend to homeschooling. 

What are the cantonal rules? 

Homeschooling is permitted to some degree in 16 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. 

It is completely banned in Ticino, while in others such as St Gallen and Zurich although it is allowed, getting permission to homeschool is seen as “virtually impossible”.

While getting up-to-date figures is difficult due to data privacy issues, around 140 children are homeschooled in Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton. 

In Lucerne, Valais, Freibourg, Zug and Schwyz there is a requirement that parents who homeschool are accredited as teachers, while Bern and Aargau allow homeschooling teachers to operate without an accreditation.

In Basel City, parents must show that school attendance is impossible – which is particularly different in the tiny canton (at least with a geographical argument). 

In the above case, the mother’s argument that the authorities were not doing enough for her gifted son was unsuccessful in court. 

According to Swissinfo, in 2019 no children were being homeschooled in Basel. 

Homeschooling is more popular in the French-speaking part of the country. 

Of the 1,000 children who are homeschooled in Switzerland, approximately 600 of them are in the canton of Vaud. 

Vaud and neighbour Neuchâtel are considered to be one of the most permissive of homeschooling in Switzerland. In these cantons, you only need to alert the authorities if you plan on homeschooling your children – although there have been recent signs this will be further restricted in future. 

Why is homeschooling banned?

Although in many English-speaking cultures homeschooling is common place, it is frequently restricted or banned throughout Europe.

While it is constitutionally guaranteed in Italy and Ireland, other countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden ban the practice. 

Common justifications for banning homeschooling include a need to ensure children receive the same moral and ideological foundation, a desire to ensure school attendance, a lack of social skills among homeschooled children and concerns about the standard of education.

Is this likely to change? 

There are some advocacy groups which have spent considerable resources and time pushing for more relaxed home schooling rules in Switzerland, some of which are run by internationals who want their children’s education to look a little more familiar to what they know. 

There are several federal and cantonal advocacy organisations for homeschooling which can be found online. 

However, given how slowly things happen in Switzerland – and the fact that the major advocates of homeschooling tend to be foreigners rather than Swiss – means that any widespread changes are unlikely anytime soon. 

Member comments

  1. I know several parents who have successfully homeschooled without any of the issues that Europeans governments use as reasons not to homeschool. Actually in every case of homeschooling I am familiar with, the children have excellent morals, are amazingly compassionate and very intelligent and successful adults now. Naturally my sample size may be too small to warrant as a scientific study. Nevertheless, I think the reasons for not permitting homeschooling are rooted more in making sure everyone is indoctrinated only in one consistent way of thinking (ie what the experts of our time think) rather than allowing children to naturally educate themselves with their intuitive curiosity which is quite amazing. This is why I love the Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf) school system as I think it combines both. A pity it can be expensive.

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CHILDREN

How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

What can families anticipate with regard to raising children in Switzerland and in which ways does it differ from the United States? Here is a look at some of the main differences.

How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Moving to a new country can come with a pretty big learning curve – especially if you’re moving with family.

Schools

Switzerland offers the choice between public, private, international, and boarding schools. Public schools are however the norm for the vast majority of kids – of about 5,000 schools in Switzerland, only about 300 are private.

International schools are a popular option for families that have been in international schools in other countries, or if they’re keen on their kids being immersed in and developing their English.

Some of the top boarding schools can be found in Switzerland, with families from all over the world sending their kids to them. Wait lists can be long, but this sleep-away option is available for kids ages 3-18. 

Approximately 95 percent of Swiss parents send their children to public schools because they are free and because the educational system is such high quality.

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

Many international parents opt for public schools so their kids can pick up the local language and make local friends. Public schools in Switzerland are fantastic and your child will have access to a solid education complete with activities and outings.

There are physical education activities in addition to recess and bi-monthly trips for swimming lessons, and often ice skating in the winter. 

Parents and students alike will almost immediately notice a difference in the amount of homework that comes home.

Heather Wittkopp has two sons that go to a private school in the German-speaking region, near Zug. She recalls the struggles back in Pennsylvania.

“It was very stressful and we would constantly be studying. We fought about it. It was hours of homework. It was not a good situation.”

When asked if things have gotten better since their move to Switzerland about two-and-a-half years ago, her tone completely changes.

“Coming here to the international school was just eye opening. It’s amazing what they learn here, but it’s also that the pressure isn’t there. In the US you’re constantly memorising for tests. And here, it’s more like they’re teaching for the real world– like how to think outside the box.

They’re doing a lot of projects where you’re constantly with people and you have to collaborate and you have to work with all different types of people and figure out how you can work together in a team.”

Getting to-and-from school 

While the US has a heavy drive-to-school and drop-off culture, parents in Switzerland are actively encouraged not to use cars to bring kids to class. Most kids walk, though it’s common to see children on bicycles or scooters heading to school. 

There are high levels of social trust in Switzerland which means children, most as young as four and five years old, start learning to walk to and from school alone.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

Not only is this practice of raising independent children a family affair, the whole community is supportive and aware of it. There are crossing guards at all major streets who help students as they go to classes and as they go home for lunch or after school. 

When asked about her thoughts on the level of social trust and the independence culture, working mom, Lara Junod says, “It’s pretty amazing that in this day and age, you know, in 2022 with the world that we’re in, that this can still exist. It shows that people do look out in your community.”

Originally from New York, Lara has lived with her husband and six-year-old daughter in French-speaking Lausanne for the past three years. “They teach them here to be quite independent, quite young.”

International schools are a popular choice for foreigners in Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

International schools are a popular choice for foreigners in Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Home for lunch

A two-hour lunch break is scheduled into the day, allowing for students to head home and have lunch with their families. If the parents work, however, there are after-school programs for which children can be signed up.

These programs provide lunch and care for the two hour break and primary school children will return to school for the rest of the school day before coming back to the after-school care program.

In the evening when the program shuts down, children are either picked up or will walk back home on their own. 

READ MORE: What is emergency childcare in Switzerland and how do I access it? 

Extracurricular activities

Each canton offers weekly sports activities for children in kindergarten and primary school during the school year. The cost for the weekly activity is minimal and offers children something to do after school, gives them an opportunity to make new friends, and learn new athletic skills.

An example of some of these would be some of the traditional sports played in the US, but also fencing, sailing, American football, dance, and yoga, among others. 

Daycare Quality

What about babies and younger kids who aren’t old enough to start kindergarten? There is a mixture of for-profit and not-for-profit childcare throughout the country.

Some daycare centres offer full immersion in the local language while others offer bilingual care (the local language and English). In public, not-for-profit daycare, parents can still expect a child-focused curriculum that supports young children’s development and growth. 

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for homeschooling children in Switzerland?

It’s imperative to note that the cost for daycare in Switzerland is very high, costing around 2,500 Francs per month, per child, although some subsidies are available depending on the overall household income.

Due to this and in conjunction with traditional values, many children will stay home with a parent until they are of kindergarten age.

There are, however, play groups which allow for parents with babies and younger children to network and for both child and parent to socialise. Play groups can be for a couple hours at a time and are offered through churches and community centres several times per week. 

Home life

While things at home will probably carry on much as they would in the United States, there are some nuances to living in Switzerland.

For example, there are dedicated quiet hours to which everyone adheres.

From 10 o’clock at night until 7 A.M., people are quiet.

Additionally, there is a quiet hour from noon until 1P.M., so people can have a relaxed lunch and potentially quiet time for a lie down.

Finally, Sunday, in its entirety, is a quiet day.

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