Zurich schools use algorithm to ensure right mix between Swiss and foreign pupils

Zurich schools use algorithm to ensure right mix between Swiss and foreign pupils
There are language disparities among primary school students in Zurich, but a new algorithm ensures the right proportion of foreigners in each classroom.

According to Sunday’s SonntagsZeitung newspaper, the percentage of foreign students in high-income areas of the city is below 20 percent, while in other neighbourhoods the proportion can reach 75 percent.

Authorities in Switzerland want to even out those numbers.

This uneven distribution of immigrants “is problematic because the social composition of schools has a demonstrable effect on student performance”, said Oliver Dlabac, researcher at the Centre for Democracy, which is attached to the University of Zurich.

“If you want more equal opportunity, you can do it only with a stronger mix”, he added.

Dlabac is part of the team which developed an algorithm allowing schools to achieve parity between foreign and Swiss students in Zurich’s classrooms.

To determine the right proportions, the software uses data from a census carried out in classes from the first to the third year of primary schools.

“These are complicated calculations. A human could never take all of them into account”, Dlabac said.

The algorithm could be used in the future in other Swiss cities with a high concentration of immigrants, he said.

Overall, foreigners constitute about a quarter of Switzerland’s population.

According to government statistics, 27.3 percent of primary school students in Switzerland are foreign, but some cantons have a higher ratio than others.

In Geneva, for instance, 43 percent of students come from abroad, while that figure is only 9 percent in Switzerland’s smallest canton, Appenzell Innerrhoden.


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