Swiss canton to introduce classes in English in bid to counter private schools

Secondary schools in the Swiss canton of Schwyz are set to be the first in central Switzerland to introduce bilingual German and English classes.

Swiss canton to introduce classes in English in bid to counter private schools
Photo: Depositphotos
The move has been made to counter the competition from private schools.
On Wednesday, the Great Council of Schwyz – the cantonal parliament – approved the move, despite opposition from the cantonal government, the Social Democrats and the Swiss People’s Party. 

The vote total was 65 for the measure, with 29 voting against. 

The bilingual classes will be available to students who will later go on to study at a Mittelschule/Gymnasium, the secondary school track which prepares students in Switzerland for university study. 

While it is the first time that bilingual education in English has been offered in central Switzerland – the name given to the central region which includes the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Obwalden, Nidwalden, Lucerne and Zug – it is not the first time in the country. 

A similar programme has been introduced on the wealthy Lake Zurich riviera, which received positive reviews and was popular. 

One of the major reasons for doing so was to counter competition from private schools, many of which have offered lessons in English for years. 

The programme was also encouraged to provide more options for development to gifted students in the region. 

The Schwyz government opposed the changes, saying it was not necessary and argued that it wasn’t the job of state schools to compete with their private counterparts. 

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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”.