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International rankings showcase Switzerland’s school struggles

Strong in mathematics but getting worse in reading, the PISA rankings have highlighted just how much Switzerland’s schools are struggling to keep up.

International rankings showcase Switzerland’s school struggles
Photo: Depositphotos

High school students in Switzerland have shown a marked decline in reading competency, according to the updated PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings. 

The main bright spot for Swiss students is in mathematics, where Switzerland was well above the OECD average, while Switzerland also ranked strongly in science. 

China and Singapore topped the rankings in each of the main categories, while Estonia and Japan also featured prominently towards the top of the list. 

Reading woes: Bad and getting worse

The ranking of high school students in reading may have been in line with the OECD average, but it placed behind many other European countries when it comes to reading comprehension. 

Indeed, Switzerland’s score of 484 points put it seventeenth out of European countries, while it ranked 27th overall. 

Perhaps most troublingly for Swiss school authorities is how much things have declined. Switzerland’s score was 492 in 2015 and 509 in 2012. 

The study also found that half of the students surveyed do not read texts for enjoyment, while one quarter of Swiss school students have trouble reading simple texts – an increase of four per cent from the previous study. 

Poor reading levels have been an increasing problem in Swiss schools. Image: Depositphotos

‘Significantly below’ previous years

As noted by the authors of the study, the decline in Switzerland – in all categories – has been considerable. 

“In 2018, mean performance in reading, mathematics and science in Switzerland was significantly below mean performance in PISA 2006, 2009 or 2012,” said the OECD. 

“The decline in performance was particularly marked since 2012. Overall trends followed similar trajectories at the top and bottom of the performance distribution.”

Immigration contributing to poor scores

According to the authors of the survey, a major reason for Switzerland’s decline in reading capacity is due to the high proportion of Swiss teenagers who have an immigrant background. 

One in three (34 percent) of students in the age bracket come from an immigrant background, one of the highest proportions in the OECD.

This has increased by ten percentage points in the past decade. 

“In Switzerland, in 2009 as well as in 2018, immigrant students scored about 50 points below non-immigrant students in reading,” the authors said. 

The OECD suggested that Switzerland could follow the lead of Canada, Australia, Estonia and Ireland, who have managed to score highly despite also having high immigrant populations. 

The results in these countries show “disadvantaged young people could attain above-OECD-average reading skills with enough support”. 

Image: OECD

Good in science, better in maths

The news for Swiss schools was better in science and maths. 

Switzerland ranked fourth overall in Europe for mathematics after Estonia, Poland and the Netherlands, while the performance in science was ranked as “statistically significantly above the OECD average”. 

The Federation of Swiss Teachers (LCH) said that while the results in maths and science were positive, changes in education policy were needed to boost reading comprehension. 

“The average reading performance is not satisfactory, the LCH said in a statement

“There is a need for action in the areas of reading literacy, early intervention, the use of digital technologies in schools and the promotion of giftedness.”

What are the PISA rankings?

Produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the PISA study is the world’s largest international comparative school performance study. 

The 2018 edition took into account 600,000 pupils from 79 countries took part, including 5822 from Switzerland. 

Since 2000, hundreds of thousands of students aged 15 have been tested every three years in the fields of mathematics, reading and the natural sciences. This year, the focus of the study was reading. 

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This year the main focus was on reading competence. The tests are now carried out primarily on computers, with pupils having to complete various tasks in order to assess their competency in different subject areas. 

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EXPLAINED: What are your chances of getting a job in Switzerland from abroad?

Many people dream of working in Switzerland, where salaries are among the highest in the world. But depending on your nationality, finding employment here may not be easy.

EXPLAINED: What are your chances of getting a job in Switzerland from abroad?
Your country or origin determines if you get a job in Switzerland easily. Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

Looking for work in Switzerland while you are abroad is not a problem. All you have to do is look at online listings and find a job that suits you. 

The hardest part is actually getting hired.

Your passport is the decisive factor in whether an employer offers you a job.

If you are a citizen of the European Union or EFTA states (Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein), finding a job here is easier than if you are from another country (known in Switzerland as a ‘third nation’).

Workers from EU / EFTA can work in Switzerland freely for up to three months, but they have to announce their arrival to cantonal authorities in their place of employment.

If you intend to work in Switzerland for more than three months, you have to register with the local authorities and apply for a residence permit, which you can also use as a work permit.

But to receive a residence permit, you need a written confirmation of employment.

The same rules apply to cross-border workers, except that they are required to return to their countries of residence at least once a week.

“No border-zone regulations apply to EU/EFTA nationals”, according to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

“They are free to take up residence in any one of the EU or EFTA states and work in all parts of Switzerland”, SEM added.

READ MORE: Jobs in Switzerland: Foreigners ‘less likely to be hired than Swiss nationals’

What about people from third nations?

This is where things get more complicated.

If you are a citizen of non-EU / EFLA state, you must meet strict employment conditions before being offered a job.

Each year, the Federal Council issues a certain number of work permits for non-EU citizens. In 2021 (as in previous year) this figure is 8,500.

From this quota, 4,500 people will be granted a residence permit B, and the remaining 4,000 will receive a short-term residence permit L, entitling them to work in Switzerland for up to one year.

And British citizens, who are no longer part of the EU?

From January 1st, 2021, people from Great Britain are subjected to the same rules as other citizens of third nations.

However, the Federal Council decided that Swiss companies can continue to recruit specialised employees from the United Kingdom, setting a separate quota for British workers.

In 2021, 3,500 work authorisations are reserved especially for UK nationals — 2,100 B permits and 1,400 L permits. That’s in addition to 4,500 non-EU permits.

If you come from outside the EU / EFTA and see a job listing you like, you can apply in the usual manner — send your CV and other documents required by the company.

READ MORE: ‘Unprecedented crisis’: New figures show stark impact of pandemic on all Swiss job sectors

But you will be considered for a job only if you are a highly qualified specialist in your field or another skilled professional. This means you should have a degree from a university or an institution of higher education, as well as a number of years of professional work experience.

In addition, the job you are seeking can’t be filled by a Swiss national or people from EU / EFTA states, which the employer has to prove before offering you a job.

If you do get hired because you fulfil all these criteria, your employer will apply for a work permit. Cantonal authorities will then decide, based on the quota system mentioned above, whether to grant the authorisation.