Since the Swiss educational system is organised in accordance with the federal political structure, with each canton responsible for its own education system, there can be significant variations from region to region.
Generally children attend public schools. They are free of charge.
Children are not yet required to attend kindergarten, but most children do. They are not taught to read and write, but develop their social capabilities. Children may attend kindergarten for one or two years, starting at the age of four, five or six depending on the date of birth (different for the Cantons) and the duration of the Kindergarten.
The Obligatorische Schule is mandatory for all children. The Obligatorische Schule starts at the age of seven and lasts at least eight, usually nine years. During the last three years of compulsory schooling Switzerland provides different levels of education.
Children who perform well in elementary school may transfer to Gymnasium at about the age of 13 or after the 8th or 9th year of elementary school, depending on the track they would like to attend. You may choose different tracks, such as for example the maths and science program or modern languages. All secondary schools lead to the so called Eidgenössische Matura ("federal graduation diploma") which is recognised at all universities in Switzerland and at most universities in foreign countries.
List of Swiss Secondary Schools (d/f/i)
Vocational education and training provides two thirds of young adults in Switzerland with a solid professional basis for lifelong learning and offers a wealth of job prospects. Training in the industry combines with vocational college training is the most common form of basic professional training. Depending on the profession, an apprenticeship takes two to four years. Apprenticeships include all kinds of professions, from handicraft (mechanician, carpenter, baker, hairdresser etc.) to office worker (secretary, bookkeeper, IT specialist etc.).
There are numerous higher specialist schools and universities of applied sciences and arts (Fachhochschule), some private universities as well as ten cantonal universities (Universität) in Basel, Berne, Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, Lucerne, Lugano/Mendrisio, Neuchâtel, St Gallen and Zurich and two Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich and Lausanne. To be eligible to attend university, a student must have successfully completed his/her studies at the Gymnasium.
Private schools have a long tradition in Switzerland, above all in the French-speaking part of the country. They are primarily attended by foreign children and benefit from a reputation which extends beyond national boundaries. However, quality naturally has its price.
Swiss Federation of Private Schools: www.swiss-schools.ch