Reference : Der Schulbesuch in der Schweiz um 1800
Dissertations and theses : Doctoral thesis
Social & behavioral sciences, psychology : Education & instruction
Arts & humanities : History
Educational Sciences
Der Schulbesuch in der Schweiz um 1800
[en] School attendance in Switzerland in 1800
Ruloff, Michael mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Education, Culture, Cognition and Society (ECCS) >]
University of Luxembourg, ​​Luxembourg
Docteur en Sciences de l'Education
Tröhler, Daniel mailto
Hadjar, Andreas mailto
Priem, Karin mailto
Osterwalder, Fritz mailto
Tosato-Rigo, Danièle mailto
[en] School attendance ; Switzerland ; Helvetic Revolution
[en] Analysis of school attendance in Switzerland in 1800 // The right to a free public education and in the meantime the duty to send children to school is found in the Swiss Federal Constitution. At the end of the eighteenth century, school attendance was already mandatory in several cantons, such as Zurich or Vaud. In 1800, the federal government introduced nationwide compulsory education. Unsettled is the question of the actual school attendance. Existing research conveys the image of rather bad and inconsistent school attendance in Switzerland at the end of the eighteenth century. Indeed, there were numerous reasons for children not to go to school: Many children had to work on their parents’ farm in summer. Therefore, in many villages, classes only took place in winter. But in winter, cold weather prevented poorer children with insufficient clothing from going to school. In proto-industrialised regions, where the domestic system was the main source of family income, children had to help out at home in summer and in winter. In many cases, they had to work and earn their own money. Mothers and fathers also kept their children at home for various other reasons: Since there were not enough schools in rural areas, many classrooms were overcrowded – sometimes, more than 100 children gathered in one classroom – and in a bad state with wet walls and no heating.
Despite the striking fact that education in the Swiss public is often depicted as the one and only resource of the country, there is not much research about the history of Swiss public schools before 1830 (the years after 1830, when most of the cantons introduced constitutions, are believed as the birth date of public school): There are almost no actual numbers or school attendance rates and only very few sources are to be found in the archives.
In the context of a multinational six-year scientific project, the data of the first nationwide school-inquiry (from the year 1799) had been transliterated, edited and published
The so-called Stapfer-Enquête with its answers from more than 2400 schools provides a unique opportunity to be concerned with school attendance in 1800. This standardized questionnaire can be seen as a unique source – it is the only nationwide school inquiry answered by teachers at that time. Teachers had to give answers about their income, the school building the subjects they taught as well as the number of students in the classroom.
With the help of the data of this inquiry (as well as data of other recently discovered and edited regional school inquiries), this dissertation aims to analyse school attendance in 1800. The core question is: How many children went to school in Switzerland in 1800? The first goal is to track down how many children really went to school in 1800. The analysis also aims to explicate possible motives for good or bad school attendance, with respect to gender, denomination, distance to school plus economic and sociological factors.
The question about relative school attendance – as an indicator of the level of education in a society and the quality of education in a specific country is relevant: The matter is of public interest – today and back then.
As shown above, there is a clear perception about school attendance in 1800. Some of the theories about this “low” school attendance still exist in the research of history of education: School attendance rates were specifically low in rural and catholic areas. Girls went to school more rarely than boys. The results of this analysis show another picture: Numerous rural and catholic schools used to have quite good school attendance rates and girls also went to school.
In order to get a clear picture about school attendance in Switzerland in 1800, this dissertation not only calculates school attendance rates (the sample consists of 126 schools), it also explains differences between high and low rates. By using quantitative and qualitative statistical methods, school attendance data are commented and compared.
Apart from doing so, the analysis builds a connection between the school attendance data and historic theory in order to explain the results in a greater context. It refers to previously existing research and clarifies to what extent arguments and beliefs about school attendance in Switzerland in 1800 have to be confirmed or contested. Furthermore, it develops new theses about schools and school attendance in Switzerland at the end of the eighteenth century. An important thesis is, that school attendance relies on the accessibility of the school (the distance between children’s homes and the school building) as well as the identification with and the financial support of public education in a local community. These three factors – accessibility, identification and financial support – have an influence on the quality of school personnel – back in 1800 and today.
Swiss National Fund (SNF)
Das niedere Schulwesen in der Schweiz am Ende der Frühen Neuzeit. Edition und Auswertungen der Stapfer-Enquête von 1798/99
Researchers ; Professionals ; Students ; General public

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