“I can only take responsibility for what I consider as being correct”

Interview with Oskar Freysinger, Head of the Department of Education and Security of the Canton of Valais

Current Concerns: As head of the „Department of Education and Security“ of the Canton of Valais you published on 1 March the bilingual pamphlet “10 Thesen über die Schule” (10 theses on school, see page 15). In this pamphlet you present your conceptions of education. What prompted you to choose this approach?

Oskar Freysinger: Since the 60s, education has been dominated by ideologies of the left. All education reforms of the last decades were marked by Marxist thought. It was time that an educational minister, moreover, a trained primary and secondary school teacher with 27-year teaching experience, confronted these dated ideas with one that is comprehensible, based on guiding principles of any successful learning. I wanted to calm parents and teachers and provide a kind of orientation about what guides my work as a governing council.

Critics of your theories claim that you did not underpin this with sufficient evidence broadly enough and that you did not take into account children with behavioral problems or the integration of foreign students. What do you think?

Why should I broadly support my educational policy principles as department head? Then they would no longer be mine. In addition, I would thereby bring about a lasting quarrel, and either end up with a washy paper or nothing at all. I can only take responsibility for something I consider as being appropriate and that constitutes a foundation of my actions. This pamphlet is not a legal text, nor an action paper with concrete measures, but education philosophical reflections. It seemed to me important to be honest to citizens when it comes to my views of education. The fact that this would trigger a debate I was aware of and this was desired. Children with behavioral problems and foreign pupils are first of all pupils. The ten theses apply to them as to others. Their specific needs must be approached adequately, but do not belong in a general position paper.

So far, there is resistance to Curriculum 21 in 13 Swiss cantons. They ask for cantonal popular initiatives to gain a broad democratic participation in the decisions on this controversial curriculum, which is introduced by cantonal executives without real discussions. In Upper Valais, the Curriculum 21 currently suspended. How did this happen and why?

I do not consider Curriculum 21 as a monolith which can be imposed on schools as it is. We have had reforms of this kind in abundance and the results are well known. I consider this gigantic work rather as being a catalogue that needs to be adjusted. Anything that enhances the quality of the school is acquired, anything that compromises the tried and trusted is avoided. This requires a slow process, an evolution and not a revolution. A working group is to coordinate certain aspects with the Valais school system and prepare for their acquisition. In no case, however, some basic principles which ensure the high quality of education in my canton are to be questioned. Among other things, the pedagogical freedom of teachers is to be guaranteed, and there needs to be a healthy balance between imparting knowledge and competences.

The French-speaking cantons have already introduced the new curriculum (Plan d’études romand – PER). Are there fundamental differences to the Curriculum 21 of the German-speaking cantons?

The differences are as follows: The plan d’études romand – PER defines the teaching content (Contenus d’apprentissage) which have to be accomplished in the course of compulsory education in French-speaking Switzerland. On one hand, the PER describes what students need to learn, and on the other hand the curriculum allows teachers to decide when and to which extend to situate their subjects within the overall education of the students.
In PER certain expectations/goals are assumed. In PER competencies are recognized in the field of cross-curricular skills.
Curriculum 21, however, describes for each subject or field levels of skills and competences which the students acquire in the course of elementary school. The focus is on the skill (competence as a goal – ability or skills versus knowledge). The Curriculum 21 stands for competency oriented lessons.
Just knowing about this discrepancy between the two parts of the canton, belonging to the same school system, shows that caution is required.

Mr Freysinger, thanks for the interview. •

(Interview Jean-Paul Vuilleumier)