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.

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

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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Why are primary school students in Switzerland not required to wear masks?

Schoolchildren in most of Switzerland have returned to school, and two more cantons will resume classes soon. But even though the number of coronavirus infections is surging, students in primary schools are not required to wear masks. Why?

Why are primary school students in Switzerland not required to wear masks?
No masks are required for younger students. Photo by AFP

Masks are not compulsory for younger students because, according to Swiss health authorities, children under 12 are not prone to being affected by Covid-19.

Unlike older adults with pre-existing medical conditions, “there are no groups vulnerable to the coronavirus infection among children”, The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) wrote on its website.

Covid-19 “is extremely rare in children and young people”, FOPH noted.

“So far, everything indicates that children are not transmitting the disease. Unlike the flu or other respiratory illnesses where children play a major role in the epidemic, with coronavirus it is different”, Daniel Koch, the former head of the FOPH’s infectious diseases unit, said in an interview with RTS television in May.

READ MORE: Masks or no masks? How some Swiss schools are re-opening this week

He added that based on all “serious and observational studies” children rarely get this disease”.

This stance has not been modified to this day.

However, two Swiss studies cast doubt on this claim. 

Research by the National COVID-19 Science Task Force found that the role of children in the transmission of this disease “remains highly uncertain”.

“We cannot currently draw firm conclusions about whether or not children can transmit the virus”, the report stated.

Another study, conducted by the Center for Emerging Viral Diseases, which is part of the Geneva University Hospital (HUG) and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva, concluded that “it would be naive not to consider children as transmitters”.

To date, 351 children under the age of nine have been tested positive for the coronavirus in Switzerland, FOPH figures show. 

But the real number may be higher, as not everyone has symptoms that warrant testing. 

An infant from the canton of Aargau died from the disease at the end of May.

He was infected with Covid-19 while in Macedonia and air-lifted to the Children's Hospital in Zurich for treatment. 

So should children in primary schools wear masks to contain infection?

According to World Health Organization (WHO), “children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks”. 

This means no masks for kindergarten classes.

For children 6 to 11, the decision should be based on several factors, including “whether there is widespread transmission in the area where the child resides”.

But “children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area”.

However, WHO advises parents and schools to “abide by local authorities on recommended practices in their area”.