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Foreigners suffer disadvantage in school career

Children from migrant backgrounds are less likely to continue with their education after obligatory school than those with Swiss parentage, a study has found.

Fewer foreign children than Swiss children are making it into Secondary II level – an apprenticeship, senior high school (gymnasium) or vocational school – which comes after children have finished their obligatory schooling at around age 16, according to a report in the SonntagsZeitung.

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In all, 46% of foreign children had to repeat a year, dropped out of their apprenticeship or gymnasium, or took a year’s break. Among Swiss school leavers, it was 31%.

“This difference of 15% is massive,” said Stefan Wolter, professor for theEconomics of Education at the University of Bern, and co-author of the study, in the article. It translates to 3,000-4,000 more young foreigners than young Swiss falling behind at this stage of their education, he said.


The study’s authors say that “competence differences” are one reason. For example, the latest PISA test showed that 15-year-old pupils with a migration background on average lagged a year behind their Swiss counterparts, according to the newspaper.

Also, foreign parents are more likely to push their children into gymnasium or a demanding apprenticeship, “even when their children are not qualified enough for this,” Wolter added.

There was hardly any difference between children from a Balkan background and the Swiss, which researchers attributed to people making realistic educational choices. But among the Germans and Portuguese, for example, there was a tendency to take a year out and retry if the right grades for gymnasium were not achieved. Swiss children with average grades might go straight into an apprenticeship, Wolter observed.

In addition, many foreigners did not fully understand the Swiss education system – or underestimated the value of apprenticeships – and chose the wrong path for their children, Wolter said. Raising awareness among foreign parents of how to make the right choices would help, he added.