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CHILDREN

Readers’ verdict: Switzerland is great for kids but bad for parents

That seems to be the general conclusion of our reader survey into raising kids in Switzerland. Read on to find out why.

Readers' verdict: Switzerland is great for kids but bad for parents
File photo: Depositphotos
A recent study by UNICEF suggested Switzerland is the least family-friendly country in Europe. 
 
Assessed according to its policies on parental leave and childcare provision, among other things, Switzerland was ranked last of 31 countries, just below Greece, Cyprus and the UK. 
 
So is it really true? We asked our readers what they thought and the results are fascinating. 
 
The good
 
Most of our readers were in agreement that there are plenty of benefits for children growing up in Switzerland.
 
Nature’s on the doorstep
 
A major plus for families in Switzerland is the abundance of outdoor activities available to everyone, in simply stunning countryside.
 
“We live close to the mountains, close to the lake, the city is not very far, nature is pure and the Swiss take pride in taking care of their country,” said a reader from canton Schwyz.
 
“Kids are so free and families have so many activities to enjoy together, especially in nature!” agreed Nadia Mills from the Zurich area.
 
Your kids are pretty safe
 
Switzerland is regularly voted one of the safest countries in the world, so what better place to bring up your children? 
 
Kids are encouraged to “embrace freedom”, said one reader, and that’s apparent in the Swiss culture of letting kids walk to school on their own or with their friends. 
 
“We feel safe letting our kindergarten age daughter walk on her own to school, it is important for us that our children feel independent and safe at a young age,” said Paula Jiménez from the canton of St Gallen.
 
“There are so many good things, but the fact that kids from the age of four plus can walk safely to and from school is probably top of my list,” enthused David Forster from Zurich.
 
Healthcare is top notch
 
It doesn’t come cheap, but the healthcare system in Switzerland is one of the best in the world. For mothers, costs related to pregnancy and birth are completed covered by insurance, with no deductible. Though children must be insured from birth, premiums are lower than for adults and there is no deductible for children up to the age of 18. 
 
And, for your money, you get a good quality service.
 
“The entire pregnancy/birth support here far exceeded what I would have gotten in the US,” said reader Colleen Waiz from Basel.
 
Your kids grow up multilingual
 
Many readers were enthusiastic about the school system here, with one saying “Schools are highly organized and of great quality. The children have many opportunities to learn in and out of classroom.”
 
And, of course, one of the great benefits for foreign residents is that their kids will naturally pick up at least one of Switzerland’s official languages, and potentially learn a second, too.
 
“The exposure to a multi-lingual environment” is a major plus, said Geneva resident Matthew Snell.
 
Access to nature is one of the great things about raising children in Switzerland. Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss-image.ch
 
 
The bad
 
Kids may benefit from Swiss life, but the same can’t always be said for parents. The majority of the bad points about raising kids in Switzerland relate to how it negatively affects parents, according to readers. 
 
Childcare is expensive
 
One thing most readers agreed on is that childcare is very expensive here, sometime prohibitively so. Unlike in the UK there are no free nursery hours, and a full-time nursery place can cost up to 20 percent of a family’s income, depending on where you live. What’s more, it can be hard to find a nursery place at all.
 
“Finding daycare close by and reasonably affordable” is very difficult, said reader Matthew from Lutry in canton Vaud, who says the childcare for his three children under five costs 4-5 times what it would have cost in his home country. “The pricing is insane! And needing to match my vacation days to the three weeks each year the daycare is closed. And being dependent on family schedules if short-term needs arise.”
 
Daycare is “too expensive, but for working mothers who also want their kids to be early integrated in the country it is a must,” said Liliana da Silva from Zurich.
 
Maternity leave is short and there’s no paternity leave
 
With women receiving just 16 weeks maternity leave (less than the six months generally recommended for breast-feeding) and men having no statutory paternity leave, parents in Switzerland often struggle to achieve a work-life balance.
 
“We have two children, my husband had in both cases one day of parental leave. We do not have any family near, my husband had to use 20 days of his vacations to be with me and our babies,” said reader Paula.
 
“My partner got one day of parental leave (and that was the day I gave birth), which I think is a real scandal,” said a resident of canton Schwyz. “I really could have used his presence and for him it was also a missed opportunity to live the first couple of days with our newborn. Two weeks should be a minimum.”
 
Careers may suffer
 
The result of policies like these? Many parents feel Switzerland doesn’t support modern families. The cost of childcare and the short length of maternity leave means women often feel obliged to stay at home instead of going back to work. 
 
“It is difficult, nearly impossible, to grow financially. If both of us work then we pay for childcare, more taxes, transportation, etc. Which means that the second income will not make a difference other than giving the stay-at-home parent the feeling of individual career growth without any other benefits. We believe that it is not family-friendly because we can only have one income that does not let us save for the future or have vacation,” said reader Paula.
 
Another reader, Karen Herzog, spoke of the “old fashioned attitude regarding women as bad mothers for working when they have kids”, while Liliana da Silva agreed that “The system relies on woman taking care of kids. Very little support to working mothers in this country”.
 
“Be prepared that one of you won't be able to have a career unless you can afford huge creche bills…” said Vaud resident Rachel Bailey.
 
Another contributing factor is nursery holidays and school hours. Many schools send children home to eat their lunch, making it difficult in families where both parents are at work. 
 
“School hours don't work if mothers wish to enter the workforce, these worked well in 1930 but not today anymore” said John from Schaffhausen. 
 
File photo: Depositphotos
 
 
The verdict
 
Swings and roundabouts?
 
So, despite Switzerland being recently named ‘the world’s best destination for expats’, it isn’t all rosy when it comes to family life. The answer? Well, it’s different for everyone, but the one thing all parents can try and do when they move here or decide to start a family is do their research and be prepared. 
 
As Zurich resident David puts it: “Kids have much greater freedom here, but it is different for parents and can be more challenging. The key is to accept the challenges and work to figure out how to deal with aspects that might be frustrating (such as kids coming home for lunch). It is definitely not a country that is set up for both parents to work 100 percent.”
 

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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. 

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