FDP calls for scrapping English lessons in Swiss primary schools

FDP calls for scrapping English lessons in Swiss primary schools

In a new position paper, FDP. The Liberals have called for English and French lessons to be scrapped in Swiss primary schools. Representatives of the party have argued that trying to teach multiple languages in early education means students end up being masters of none.

FDP calls for end to English and French lessons in Swiss primary schools

In a position paper seen by the Swiss media, due to be ratified on June 22, the FDP has called for secondary and tertiary language classes to be scrapped in primary schools. Currently, in all but two Swiss cantons (Appenzell Innerrhoden and Uri), students begin learning a second language from the third grade onwards, and a third from the fifth grade.

In eastern cantons like Zurich, students’ first additional language is English followed by French. In Bern, Basel, Solothurn, Ticino and half of Valais, French is the first extra language then English, and in French-speaking Switzerland, German is the first additional language followed typically by English. 

Under FDP plans, the majority of English and French language courses for young people would be scrapped. If parliament would only choose to scrap one of the courses, cantons would be required to prioritise the four national languages, meaning English lessons would be on the chopping block.

Too many taught languages blamed for falling reading scores in Switzerland

In the paper, the party argued that Switzerland’s falling language scores in the latest PISA study are an “alarm signal” - according to the report, a quarter of Swiss pupils do not achieve a minimum standard for reading. The FDP blamed this development on the fact that primary school students are faced with having to learn multiple languages before being able to master one.

Speaking to Watson, FDP member and co-author of the paper Irina Bannwart, who is herself a speech therapist, argued that the “majority” of third graders do not have a good enough understanding of their mother tongue to afford to learn a second language. She added that it shouldn’t mean the end of English in Swiss education, arguing that courses in secondary and higher education would remain.

The claims follow a study from the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Public School Directors in 2017, which found that of primary school students with French as their first additional language, only 65 percent achieved a basic reading and comprehension level. While English classes yielded better scores, opponents argued that the results were still not worth it. 

Language teaching in Switzerland not good enough to succeed, say opponents

"The level of foreign language teaching in third grade is very low, and some of the teachers themselves do not have a great command of the language," added FDP cantonal councillor for Vaud Florence Bettschart-Narbel. Interestingly, the policy appears to have cross-party support, with Green Liberal Party cantonal councillor Alain Pichard telling Watson that “it is long overdue to abolish” additional language classes. 

For their part, the LCH umbrella organisation for teachers said that while they supported the idea of teaching French and English at primary schools, better guidelines, funding and training are needed to make it a success. LCH head of education Beat Schwendimann concluded that "successful foreign language teaching requires well-trained teachers, a selection of suitable teaching materials and sufficient time."

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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