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Good marks for first day back at Swiss schools

The re-opening of schools in Switzerland – after eight weeks of pupils being at home due to the coronavirus pandemic – has gone well, despite it being a “different kind of school day”, teachers and officials have said. 

On Monday, all compulsory schools (with pupils up to the age of 16) re-opened, but under national safety requirements drawn up by the Federal Office of Public Health, designed to protect pupils and teachers. 

Even if the first day went well, “it wasn’t a normal school day [on Monday] and it won’t be a normal day on Tuesday either,” the president of the largest teaching association, the German-speaking Swiss Teachers’ Federation (LCH), told Swiss public television, SRF. 

Teachers have to deal with the special hygiene measures – which include extra handwashing and keeping distance between adults and pupils (but not between pupils themselves, and no masks), said Dagmar Rössler. In her school, the children were extremely motivated, but also rather excitable. They were a bit taken aback by the protection measures, but got used to them quickly, she said.  

A soft start is needed to take into account those pupils who responded well to home schooling during the eight weeks of no school and those who have lost ground, she added. 

+ School barometer: one fifth of pupils ‘falling through the remote learning net’ 

Cantonal differences  

Not all pupils went back under the same conditions, as the cantons (who are in charge of educational matters in Switzerland) have taken different approaches.  

While the majority of German-speaking cantons opted for a full re-opening, many in French-speaking Switzerland, as well as the German-speaking cantons of Zurich and St Gallen have taken a step-by-step approach. Here, classes have been divided into two, with alternating schedules, for up to four weeks, before full classes resume. 

Canton Basel City’s head of education Conradin Cramer said that the start of lessons had “functioned really well”. The canton had opted for a full re-start, and only 2% of pupils had not turned up – which was better than expected. This showed that parents had trust in the canton’s approach, he said. The canton had previously come under criticism from some teachers and parents that it had not opted for a staggered return. 

In French-speaking canton Fribourg, which is running a staggered return, the number of pupil no-shows was also low, officials said, and there were enough teachers. 

+ Schools re-opening hit by lack of teachers 

Italian-speaking canton Ticino, which has been the most strongly affected by the coronavirus as it borders Italy, has also opted for half classes. SRF reported that fears that a second wave of infections could come were higher there than in the German-speaking part of the country. In Lugano, for example, more than 200 primary school children stayed at home on Monday.