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Switzerland ranked ‘worst in Europe’ for being family-friendly

A study of family-friendly policies in OECD and EU countries released by the United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF) has ranked Switzerland lowest among European countries.

Switzerland ranked 'worst in Europe' for being family-friendly
Photo: AFP
The study, based on data from 2016, took into account national policies on paid parental leave for mothers and fathers, accessibility of childcare services offered up until school age (6 years old), and breast-feeding rates. 
 
Switzerland was ranked lowest among European countries (31st), just below Greece, Cyprus, and the United Kingdom.
 
 
This low ranking was due largely to a lack of fully-paid leave guaranteed to mothers, who get only eight weeks at full rate equivalent (or a total of 14 weeks at 80 percent of their salary), and fathers, who are not guaranteed any parental leave at the national level.
 
 

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Though the Swiss did slightly better in terms of childcare, they still found themselves in the lower half of the table when it came to childcare enrolment before and after 3 years of age.
 
The highest ranked country in the study was Sweden, which offers 35 weeks of fully-paid leave to mothers and 10 weeks to fathers, and where 97% of children aged 3-6 were enrolled in child care. Close behind Sweden were Norway, Iceland, and Estonia.
 
 

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Paid leave and childcare accessibility varied widely among the countries studied, and no country was consistently ranked highly in every factor considered. 
 
The top country in terms of maternity leave was Estonia, with 85 weeks at full pay, while the number one for parental leave was Japan, which offers 30.4 weeks, largely untaken by Japanese fathers. The only country to not offer any nationally-guaranteed full-pay parental leave was the United States.
 
Because data on childcare enrolment was not available in the study’s non-European countries, they were not ranked.
 
 
The report was released as part of UNICEF’s Early Moments Matter campaign, which aims to promote healthy brain development in young children.
 
“There is no time more critical to children’s brain development – and therefore their futures – than the earliest years of life,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “We need governments to help provide parents with the support they need to create a nurturing environment for their young children.

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FAMILY

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. 

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