Studies show that the political interest and political knowledge of vocational school students is deeper than that of high school graduates. Their trust in politics is also particularly deep.
Sarah BelgeriRingier journalism student
For years, the federal government has had a cash box with which it could support political education at vocational schools. And that is well filled: in 2021 there were a good 63 million francs in it.
Almost half was spent on various projects in the field of vocational training – or “special services in the public interest”, as the relevant article in the Vocational Training Act puts it. This includes, for example, the translation of teaching materials or vocational training fairs. The other half was not even used. And projects that are intended to promote political education? No centime flowed into them. And that during the last ten years.
Vocational students distrust politics
That would be sorely needed. Because: Studies show that the political interest, political knowledge and trust in politics and state institutions is lower among students at vocational schools than among those at high schools. The latter also take part in voting much more frequently.
Political scientist Cloé Jans from the GFS research institute says the same thing. For years she has been conducting the Easyvote studies, in which people between the ages of 15 and 25 are asked about their political interests. In the two years of the pandemic, “the gap between vocational schools and high schools widened again,” notes Jans. The political scientist cannot say why this is so. “But I have the feeling that there is a certain resignation at the vocational schools.”
Five requests in ten years
There were definitely efforts to carry out projects in the field of political education. The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) has received five inquiries in the last ten years, as the latter reports on request. Only: No project was ever carried out.
“Following the initial discussions between the inquirers and SERI, only one request was actually submitted as a project outline,” says Tiziana Fantini from SERI. But this request was not approved either.
No specific reference to vocational training
Reason: The project proposal, which had been submitted by the umbrella organization of Swiss youth parliaments (DSJ), could not be pursued further because it was judged to be “development of offers and teaching materials”.
You have to know that SERI is allowed to translate teaching materials for language minorities for vocational training, according to the relevant article in the Vocational Training Act. However, the federal government may not promote the creation of teaching materials or courses.
«Obstacles are extremely high»
Another reason why all applications failed: According to SERI, there was no specific reference to vocational training. Christian Isler, co-managing director of the DSJ, finds this criterion particularly incomprehensible. “Political education is important for every job,” he clarifies.
The DSJ also had to experience that hardly any project met the criteria for financing. “The hurdles are extremely high,” says Isler. He talks about the “Politics and Media” project, which aimed to promote media skills among young adults and included, among other things, teaching materials and panel discussions with politicians. This was also rejected on the grounds that the federal government would not support the development of teaching materials.
SVP relies on personal responsibility
There are efforts to strengthen political education. For example, the importance of political education was emphasized in the Council of States as part of the current legislature plan for 2019-2023.
Most recently, the Bernese SP National Councilor Nadine Masshardt (38) submitted an initiative that wanted the federal government to promote political education at vocational schools more – but without success. Resistance came mainly from the bourgeois side. There is a risk of double subsidies, warned Andrea Gmür-Schönenberger (58), a member of the Lucerne Central Council. And the Thurgau SVP Councilor of States Jakob Stark (64) argued that political education should be the responsibility of parents and students. The accusation that teachers were too left-wing could also be heard again and again from SVP circles.
Something is happening at the cantonal level
“Sufficient studies come to the conclusion that school is an important place to develop political interest,” says Isler. The argument of personal responsibility does not count for him. “If there is no political interest in the parental home, this disinterest will probably be passed on.”
In Berne, the importance of political education is always emphasized, says Isler. “It’s about time something was done. Especially in this day and age, when democracy is not a matter of course.”
Even if the possibilities for promoting political education at the federal level are currently limited, the topic seems to have arrived at the cantonal level at least. They are currently working on setting up a cantonal working group on the subject of political education.