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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. 

Member comments

  1. I know several parents who have successfully homeschooled without any of the issues that Europeans governments use as reasons not to homeschool. Actually in every case of homeschooling I am familiar with, the children have excellent morals, are amazingly compassionate and very intelligent and successful adults now. Naturally my sample size may be too small to warrant as a scientific study. Nevertheless, I think the reasons for not permitting homeschooling are rooted more in making sure everyone is indoctrinated only in one consistent way of thinking (ie what the experts of our time think) rather than allowing children to naturally educate themselves with their intuitive curiosity which is quite amazing. This is why I love the Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf) school system as I think it combines both. A pity it can be expensive.

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SWISS TRADITIONS

EXPLAINED: Which pets can’t be kept alone in Switzerland?

One of Switzerland’s most unique laws is a prohibition on keeping ‘social’ animals alone as pets. But which animals does this rule apply to?

EXPLAINED: Which pets can’t be kept alone in Switzerland?

Most people get pets to counter their own loneliness – but what happens if the pets themselves get lonely? 

Like the clown who entertained the village but was never able to laugh or smile, the lonely pet is a sad tale. 

Fortunately in Switzerland, loneliness among pets has been outlawed – or at least minimised, through a series of 

Certain animals which are considered to be ‘sociable’ cannot be kept alone, nor can they be kept in small cages or enclosures.

Under Article 13 of Switzerland’s Animal Protection Ordinance (TSchV), these animals must be accompanied by another animal of the same species, i.e. providing them with the company of another animal – or that of a human – will not be sufficient.  

Which animals does Switzerland consider to be ‘social’?

Working out which animals are considered social and which are not can be difficult, especially as the section itself does not lay out an exhaustive list. 

In practice however, there are several animals which are considered social and must be kept in pairs as a minimum. 

These are guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, rats, degus (Chilean rodent), chinchillas and ferrets. 

READ MORE: The 12 strange laws in Switzerland you need to know

Rabbits can be kept alone only after they are eight weeks old, as younger rabbits are considered social animals. 

Hamsters on the other hand can be kept alone – in fact, ‘gold hamsters’ are loners and should be kept alone, according to the Swiss Veterinary and Food Safety Ordinance

Dog owners are recommended to allow their animal to have contact with other dogs, however this is not mandatory. Cats can be kept alone but should be allowed outside regularly. 

The list isn’t limited only to mammals, however. 

Goldfish must also be kept in pairs, along with budgies, lovebirds, Japanese quails, macaws, cockatoos, parakeets, parrots, canaries and finches. 

Where one animal dies, you are required to quickly replace it, so that the one which remains is not lonely

If you cannot, the Swiss authorities ask that you give your animal to a home or another pet owner, so it won’t be lonely for too long. 

There’s also Zurich’s ‘guinea pig rental’ service, whereby you can get some temporary company for your pet in times of need. 

While it may sound like a laughing matter to some, more and more is being understood about how animals interact and deal with stress. 

Animal behaviour such as plucking out feathers or scratching fur is now being understood as a consequence of loneliness. 

“The law reflects our perception of how animals are kept in a species-appropriate manner,” Jean-Michel Hatt, Professor of Zoo, Home and Wildlife Medicine at the University of Zurich, told Germany’s Welt newspaper when the law was passed in 2008. 

“Especially with budgerigars and guinea pigs, the legal obligation to keep at least two of them is really the minimum.”

What happens if you break the rules? 

Generally speaking, you will receive a caution and an explanation about the rules at first instance, as presumably many would be unclear about the laws and how they apply. 

However, there are some relatively harsh penalties for those who continue to refuse to observe the rules. 

Persistent violations could see you receive a fine of up to CHF20,000, which is a lot more expensive than an additional budgie. 

At worst, you could even find your own loneliness increasing exponentially, as animal neglect carries with it a maximum jail term of 180 days in Switzerland (at which point you’ll probably begin to understand how the guinea pigs feel). 

What other rules should pet owners consider? 

In addition to reflecting animals’ social nature, it also seeks to protect their privacy. 

An animal enclosure must allow for space where the animal can retreat in private wherever it likes. 

So if you’re thinking of building something and want to stay consistent with Swiss law, try and construct something like a share house for your pets, with both a common area and a place where it can get some well-deserved privacy. 

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