“Strong School of Basel-Landschaft”: How to deal democratically with school questions

“Strong School of Basel-Landschaft”: How to deal democratically with school questions

Interview with Jürg Wiedemann, “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft”

Current Concerns: According to a survey published on 20 April by BKSD (Education, Culture and Sport Directorate of the Canton of Basel-Landschaft), around 60 percent of the surveyed secondary school teachers reject the competency-based Curriculum 21. That is not surprising me. However, it is extraordinary that a department of education makes such the survey and is responsible for this result itself. How did it come to this survey?

Jürg Wiedemann: Yes, that is pleasing and is undoubtedly the fact that Monica Gschwind, member of the government council, then member of the cantonal parliament, has actively supported the two parliamentary initiatives “Renunciation of Costly Collective Subjects” and “Introduction Curriculum 21”. Even today, she supports both requests. Last week she communicated this clearly at a press conference of the Education Council to present journalists. With the comprehensive survey, Monica Gschwind got a thorough overview which position secondary school teachers have concerning competence-oriented curriculum, collective subjects, passe-partout, level-separate lessons, educational cooperation. Her most important decision after taking office was the creation of the “Temporary stop group”.

What is the intention of the “Temporary stop group”?

The key educational players are represented in this board: The teacher’s association, trade unions, school board, the official cantonal conference, the office for elementary school, the department of education, and fortunately the group “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft” may participate. The board will meet every two weeks. Main task is the review of the reforms.
Monica Gschwind has virtually stopped the implementation of the reforms already decided partly on secondary level in the first few months after taking office, and put in place a transitional timetable and a transition curriculum. Both contain no collective subjects. The resulting time now the Department of education uses to check sound in which direction the educational policy in our Canton should go. The survey of the teachers serves Monica Gschwind as the basis for her future decisions.

Hasn’t Mrs Gschwind been a member of the government council for a long time yet?

No, only since 1 July 2015.

Then she was not a member of the EDK as they created the curriculum.

No, in the Canton of Basel-Landschaft the Department of education was previously fixed in SP hands; the last twelve years with Urs Wüthrich, SP-member of the government council, who received the not entirely flattering nickname „Reform Turbo“ in the population and from the teachers. The resistance in the population regarding education policy of the SP grew increasingly. Therefore, the sacking from the Government in the elections in spring 2015 has surprised hardly anyone. Monica Gschwind as member of the cantonal parliament supported numerous initiatives of the Left-Green Committee „Strong School of Basel-Landschaft“ which fought the SP education policy, which runs in the direction of comprehensive school with many initiatives and parliamentary initiatives. Many connoisseurs of the Basel-Land policy believe that Monica Gschwind (FDP) was elected thanks to the considerable support from the left, in particular the „Strong School of Basel-Landschaft“. This committee is politically left-aligned. In the board there are three independents and three members of the Independent Green.
The origin of the resistance against the educational reforms in Basel-Landschaft comes from the left. Thus, the left has been split. A preliminary reform stop could be realized with support of the parties of the center and the right.
In the parliament of the Canton of Basel-Land the Strong School of Basel-Landschaft could find in part significant majorities for the following requests: “Abandoning costly collective subjects”, rethink “introduction Curriculum 21” and “education quality also for weaker pupils”. Also the motion “Curricula with transparent content” by Regina Werthmüller who is also a member of the Board of Strong School is explosive. This motion requires that in the curricula of Basel-Landschaft content and subjects are relevant and not competence descriptions. This proposal was referred to the Government as binding implementation order. The Education Director must or better said may work out the corresponding legislation now.

Has the Parliament agreed to the initiatives?

Yes, the Parliament recommends to their people to approve all three of them. Also, the government says yes to the initiative “Education Quality also for Weaker Pupils”, to the others the Government goes without a parole.

In this case the initiatives have good chances to succeed on 5 June 2016?

The chances are fifty fifty. The opponents (SP, Green Party, and Chamber of Commerce) are strongly formed. The initiative “Education Quality also for Weaker Pupils” is very likely to succeed, because no one from the left and the right wing is against it. Parliament voted for the bill unanimously with only a few abstentions. Concerning the collective subjects and the new curriculum we hope for a majority. The collective subject bill has realistic chances, because only SP, Green Party, BDP Switzerland, and chamber of commerce have pronounced against it. Green-independents, CVP, EVP, SVP, and FDP advocate the bill.

A reasonable new curriculum for secondary schools is on the brink of emerging

Do you think the parliament of Basel-Landschaft would stop and reject the curriculum, if the curriculum initiative succeeded?

At the moment, the curriculum Secondary School Basel-Landschaft, which is based on the Curriculum 21, is being compiled. In assigning the motion Werthmüller, the parliament clearly communicated how the curriculum should be formulated. Given that these acquirements will be fulfilled, the Parliament will approve it. I am also convinced that we need a new curriculum. This must be targeted on the three different performance specifications and clearly define contents and topics for each school year and for every single subject. When the people on 5 June approve to the education bill “Introduction Curriculum 21”, the Education Council has to fulfil the demands of the Parliament, if it doesn’t want to risk that the Parliament will refuse its approval to the new curriculum. Not the competencies will be decisive, but if the contents are clearly defined. This also means, that the by Curriculum 21 declared three three-years-cycles have to be cracked and full-year-targets have to be determined. This suits “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft” fine. If our curriculum bill will be refused, the Curriculum 21 liking Parliament could decide in private, alone, and final. Then the future curriculum would be near Curriculum 21. The vast majority of the teachers recognise in this competencies oriented Curriculum 21 a considerable risk for the educative development of the students.

You want to crack the cycles?

Yes, this is our purpose – at least for secondary school. We want clear defined contents for each year and each subject. In addition, we want to retain the three performance-levels A (general level), E (advanced level), P (grammar school preparing level) at our secondary schools. A curriculum for secondary school must meet the requirements of those three profiles. This way it would be quite far away from the competencies-oriented Curriculum 21, which brings students into line and standardises them. Additionally, it makes the teacher a learning coach who does no longer give founded class tuition, but predominantly coaches, controls, and measures the students’ character traits psychometrically. This is an outdated comprehensive school concept that I reject.

And the primary school?

At the primary school as well?

At the primary school Curriculum 21 is already in force. This is a dilemma indeed. Now we have stopped Curriculum 21 for the moment only for secondary schools, but not for primary schools. First we perform the necessary corrective work on the secondary school curriculum and then we take care of the primary school.

Yes, we should ....

At the primary level, the “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft” could submit two popular initiatives: “Stop the burning out of pupils: withdrawal from the failed Passe-partout Language Project” and “Stop the excessive demands on pupils. One foreign language at primary level is sufficient.” [see “Committee wants to cancel ‘Passe-partout’. Initiative: The “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft” is collecting signatures for withdrawal from the Foreign Language Project”; in: “Basellandschaftliche Zeitung” from 15 October 2015. Passe-partout is an agreement between six cantons on foreign language teaching at primary schools; note Current Concerns]

That is good. I thought especially secondary teachers would join in the “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft” ...

The address- and e-mail file of the “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft” counts around 4,200 people. These include parents that are concerned by the introduced educational reforms. The index has nearly 2,000 teachers, who therefore are in the minority. These include many primary school teachers.
The Committee “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft” was established by parents who reject the unfortunate forced displacements of students to other secondary schools. By means of these shifts the canton wants to fill classes to save costs. Parents have launched an initiative thereto. Arising from this parent movement, the Strong School Baselland was founded.
The initiative

“Education quality also for occupationally weaker students” (KVS)

The “Kaufmännische Vorbereitungsschule” (Commercial Prep School, KVS) is a bridge offer for students who cannot find an apprenticeship, but would like to complete a business education. The KVS is one year. During this period, the young people receive education again in the most important subjects targeting in commercial direction. The KVS is a successful school, about 96 percent of the leavers start an apprenticeship or a secondary school and complete successfully.

What happened that the government wants to eleminate such a successful school?

The KVS did not suit Senior member of the government council Urs Wüthrich. In Basel-Landschaft we have several bridge offers for young people after leaving school, several independent schools, each with its individual character. This educational diversity has tradition in our canton and is a guarantee that almost 100 per cent of Basel graduates succeed in changing into the labour market. The cantonal administration of the era Urs Wüthrich wanted to abolish two schools – the KVS and the two-year vocational preparation school (BVS 2). With the support of the “Strong School” the teachers of the KVS and the BVS 2 successfully have refused to accept that. The vote campaign “No to the hypocritical relief framework law” was successful. At the ballot box approximately 56 percent rejected the austerity measures, which would have led to the closure of the BVS 2. This was the first major success of the “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft”. The initiative “Education quality even for academically weaker students/young people”, which was established to prevent the abolition of the KVS, will also be submitted to the public vote on 5 June. Even this template has good chances of success.

Get together in a matter with like-minded people

Is it that you always try to put something through in company with the Parliament?

On the Board of the Committee of the “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft” there are two district administrators, Regina Werthmüller (independent) and myself as representative of the Greens Independent. Until spring 2015, we both were in the Green Party of Basel-Landschaft. There I was excluded by the electoral support of Monica Gschwind in the executive council. Did you get that?


I was expelled from the Greens and from the party, because with Monica Gschwind I have supported a commoner in the election campaign of the Governing Council. Thereafter, Regina Werthmüller and about a dozen other people have left the Greens of Basel-Landschaft and founded the new party, the Greens Independent. Along with the three district councillors of GLP (Green Liberal Party) Regina Werthmüller and I constitute a new five-member group in the district. In the last months our group was able to submit many initiatives which were hatched by the Strong School Baselland. It is encouraging that we often find majorities in the district administrators. Here we get education policy course apace. This would be impossible without a majority in parliament.

Although I do not really understand why those who want a good education for the youth, should be conservative ...

Criticism of the school reforms comes more often from the left. In the brochure “Einspruch” (objection), which attracted attention all over Switzerland, numerous politically left thinking people expressed strong resentment against the reforms.  As for example, SP-Councillor Anita Fetz, the renowned pediatrician and author Remo Largo and SP-Councillor Alfred Steinmann or the former Basler SP- Party Chairman Roland Stark.

But with only one single question, for instance the criticism of Curriculum 21, one could also get together cross parties ...

In order to be successful, a solely civil or left committee is not enough. The resistance has to be non partisan. Political motions do have good chances of success when managing to bring on board parliamentarians of the Left, the Greens and the bourgeois parties.

Thank you, Mr Wiedemann, for the very stimulating conversation.     •

* * *
The Canton of Basel-Landschaft has developed an exemplary, fundamentally democratic model in the educational system. The headmistress of Education does not realize the EDK constructs across teachers and parents. Much rather, she is interested in what teachers as professionals consider as right and useful and what not.
The “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft”, an organization of volunteers, standing for a good school, to every problem arising launches a people’s initiative or submits through their representatives in Parliament a venture (postulate, motion, Parliamentary Initiative). In order to move on quickly, they try to achieve,  whenever possible the consent of the  parliamentary majority. Thereafter, if the four-fifth majority that is necessary for a legislative amendment is not reached in Parliament, the people vote at the ballot box.
A realistic determination which initiators elsewhere have already encountered as well is: The best way to attract a majority in parliament and among the people is with a politically broad-based committee.

(Translation Current Concerns)

(Kopie 2)

No more teaching foreign languages to very young children in primary school

mw. As Jörg Wiedemann reported in an interview in March 2016, the “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft” has also submitted two popular initiatives to curb the evidentially burdensome and inefficient foreign language learning in primary school:
•    Stop the overtaxing of pupils: one foreign language at primary level is enough
•    Stop the burning out of pupils: withdrawal from the failed Passe-partout-Language Project*

Both initiatives came about on 28 April 2016, the first with 1969, the second with 2024 valid votes.
*Passe-partout is an agreement of the six cantons BE, BL, BS, SO, FR, VS, that has uniformly organized the foreign language teaching at primary schools since August 2011: All the pupils learn French from the 3rd year of primary school and English from the fifth year, with unified teaching materials.
With its two initiatives the initiators of the “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft” demand that the canton of Basel has to cancel the inter-cantonal agreement and postpone the teaching of English to the secondary school (from year 7).

From the “Strong School of Basel-Landschaft” – argumentarium

“The native language as a basis for the foreign language acquisition:

By a conscious examination of the own native language, the understanding of language is promoted in itself. Thus, the language learning is facilitated. The grammatical concepts and linguistic structures that are dealt with in German classes thus facilitate the learners’ access to foreign languages. Someone who has good reading and writing skills in the native language can also profit from learning a foreign language. These correlations are consistent not only with the experience of language teachers they are scientifically proven among others by the recently published long-term studies of the linguist Dr Simone Pfenninger from the University in Zurich. For the targeted support of the native language in primary school, the second foreign language should be consequently taught only at the secondary level.”

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