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Switzerland

Overview

The official name of Switzerland in Latin is Confoederatio Helvetica. The abbreviation CH appears in mail addresses, postage stamps, and license plates.

The country of Switzerland was first formed in 1291 from three small regions known as cantons, which united against surrounding aggressors. Over the next 350 years, several other cantons joined the confederation and in 1648 Switzerland became an independent nation. More cantons joined and in 1815 the final boundaries were established. Throughout the centuries, linguistic groups which spoke German, French, Italian and Romansch were integrated into the confederation. German, French and Italian are the official languages of the country, and educational documents appear in these languages. Romansch is used in schools in the canton of Graubünden, but educational documents are not seen in Romansch. Switzerland today has 23 cantons, three of which are divided into half-cantons, which makes 26 political units. There are about seven million inhabitants, and the literacy rate is 99 percent.

The country, a democratic federal state, is governed by a federal assembly, headed by a Federal Council of seven selected representatives from different cantons and linguistic parts of the country. Each year one of the seven representatives serves as president for a one-year term. The cantons have considerable authority over their own government.

Education

Switzerland has no official ministry of education. The educational system strongly reflects the vocational and professional needs of a highly industrialized small country. The federal government controls vocational education and medical education to ensure uniformity of training. There are two federal institutes of technology. All other universities are the responsibility of the cantons in which they are located. The cantons have authority over the educational system within their area. However, due to increased mobility, major attempts have been made to structure educational programs to permit students to transfer between cantonal education systems.

Vocational/professional training at the secondary level is ingrained in the educational system. Many programs include an apprenticeship in the chosen field. A federal certificate is issued on successful completion of an apprenticeship, indicating the graduate is a qualified professional for employment in a particular field. In recent years, the academic component of the vocationally oriented secondary programs has been substantially increased. The Berufsmaturität (professional examination) has been introduced and qualifies successful graduates for admission to the Universities of Applied Sciences.

For students who wish to pursue a strictly academic track leading to university programs, gymnasium (academic upper secondary) programs exist, culminating in a Maturität (maturity examination). Graduates are qualified for admission to the universities in most fields (a few fields require a specific secondary program for admission).

Switzerland has a long history of neutrality. The creation of the European Union, of which Switzerland is not a member, has forced some changes to the political and educational structure of the land. The creation in 1995 of the Universities of Applied Sciences is one such change. In 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations. The country also subscribes to the Bologna reform. The names of some credentials changed in 2005 to Bachelor and Master degree terminology.


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