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Why Swiss kids still have to go to school during heatwaves

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Why Swiss kids still have to go to school during heatwaves
The old tradition of sending kids because of the heat is now nothing more than a myth than in Switzerland. Photo: AFP
16:20 CEST+02:00
Despite forecast maximums of up to 39C in Switzerland this week, school children in the country won’t be allowed to stay home. Here’s why.

As soon as temperatures start to climb above 30C in Switzerland, school kids begin to talk about the possibility of being sent home.

However, these days, the old tradition of sending kids home is definitely more myth than reality.

According to Swiss daily NZZ, the tradition of cancelling school classes during heatwaves ended as early as the 1980s in Zurich. 

Read also: Working in a heatwave - the Swiss employment laws you need to know about

Meanwhile, the last time children were sent home in Basel was in 2003, during the extremely hot summer of that year.

“There used to be the option of deciding at 9am if classes would go ahead or not,” Simon Thiriet of the Basel-Stadt education department told the Blick newspaper. But he said this was no longer the case.

The story is similar in Lucerne with Regula Huber of the cantonal education and culture department saying sending children home because of a heatwave would not be feasible these days.

'We cannot simply send kids home'

“Schools have a duty to supervise [children]. We cannot simply send the kids home while the parents are working,” she said.

And this is the crux of the issue. While many Swiss women once stayed home after they had children, this is no longer the case. Many women now go back to work, even if it is only part time.

Read also: Switzerland ranked 'worst in Europe' for being family-friendly

Just over three in four women (75.7 percent) with children aged under four were active in the Swiss labour force last year. That's compared to 67.4 percent in 2010. For mothers of children aged 4 to 12, this rate was 83.2 percent in 2018, while it was 85.5 percent for mothers of children aged 13–17.

Teachers must get creative

The upshot is that teachers must find creative ways to dealing with the heat – and that may have nothing to do with ensuring the curriculum is followed to the letter.

At the kindergarten level, this include substituting gym classes for outdoor water fights, while for school-aged children it might mean rescheduling tests and exams in the morning when concentration levels are higher.

Meanwhile, Stefan Roth with the Swiss Society of Paediatrics told NZZ that children were “basically healthy and strong and the healthiest population there is” in Switzerland.

But he said that during periods of hot weather the same rules applied for children as for adults. They need to drink plenty of water and avoid physical exertion in the hottest part of the day.

And for children who are still hoping to be sent home, there is one small glimmer of hope – at least in the eastern canton of St Gallen. Here, classes must go ahead from 8am to 12pm, but the theoretical option remains to postpone afternoon classes if weather conditions are extreme.

 

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