Zurich , Switzerland

Putting Quality into Multi-Ethnic Schools (QUIMS)

Volksschulamt des Kantons Zürich

January 27, 2010

A program for quality assurance in multi-ethnic schools builds academic success and cohesive communities

Syllable division in Nordstrasse School

Syllable division in Nordstrasse School

However evasive the Swiss passport may be, Switzerland is currently home to one of the highest populations of immigrants in Europe.

In Zurich, 25 per cent of all school children are from other nationalities and around a third of all students speak another language other than German at home. The educational attainment of these students is cause for concern; even those among the second generation lag behind their native peers, particularly in the areas of science, math and reading.

The immigrant population of Switzerland is almost 24 percent, higher than many “classic” immigrant countries like Canada, the US and Australia. However, Switzerland also has the lowest naturalization rate in Europe. This means that while many of these Swiss residents are second- and third-generation descendants of immigrants, they remain foreign nationals and their children are being left behind.

Meeting The Challenge

Against a background of growing numbers of middle-class families leaving inner city districts with ethnically diverse populations, the Canton of Zürich recognized that educational reform was required to reduce inequality in education, to integrate all students into schools and promote social cohesion.

In 1996, the canton initiated a school improvement project “Quality in multi-ethnic schools”(QUIMS) that would lead to the gradual development of an area-wide model of quality assurance in multi-ethnic schools as well as send a powerful political message against social segregation and for a common public primary school.

The QUIMS project aims at raising the standard of education in these schools for all students, so that they will be equally attractive to Swiss middle class parents and pupils and their non-Swiss peers. Secondly, the project strives to close the gap between the achievements of different social groups (as reported by international PISA scores). A third goal is to improve students’, parents’ and teachers’ satisfaction with the school environment.

How it works

QUIMS began ten years ago as an experimental pilot program. Today it is part of the legislative framework of the Canton of Zurich and mandatory for all public schools (grades KG to 9) who have more than 40% or more of students from immigrant backgrounds (excluding Germany, Austria and citizens of Lichtenstein) or who are not native language speakers. QUIMS offers extra financial and professional help to these schools, with the caveat that the money must be used to develop special projects in line with the aims of the programm based on local needs.

All QUIMS schools customize local programming based on three obligatory fields of action, including:

  • Language Support: including promoting literacy for all students using language competence assessments, creative work for oral and written proficiency as well as support for integrated “native language and culture lessons;”
  • Attainment Support: Using a variety of learning methods to support cooperative learning, problem solving and to increase the involvement of parents and mentors; and
  • Integration Support: Building a shared culture of appreciation, respect and understanding through the use of intercultural mediators to liaise between parents and teachers; and the establishment of parent councils.

QUIMS schools are well-supported to ease the transition to the new quality standards. They receive well-structured schemas for school development and additional support from the educational administration, including advisory services, professional development, materials, handbooks, local networks and evaluation.

Before the QUIMS measures can be implemented, a dedicated QUIMS officer is selected to receive training through a special certification process conducted by the Zurich University of Teacher Education. The selected QUIMS officer prepares and coordinates the QUIMS activities for the entire teaching staff.

Schools that are participating for the first time receive introductory training sessions as well as regular advice and updates during their first two years. Teachers receive ongoing QUIMS training and the opportunity to network and learn from the experience of other schools.


The QUIMS approach focuses on the processes of teaching and learning, rather than performance data. Like other good integration practices, it includes a two way dynamic that addresses local needs and moves on to benefit the larger community.

QUIMS starts by dealing with teachers’ concrete requirements and problems in the classroom and moves on to sensitize the teachers to issues of ethnic and social inequality and stereotyping.

The QUIMS program reaches beyond the challenges of linguistic and cultural diversity in the classroom, to look at how power structures in the overall organization of schooling can contribute to discrimination. It starts to analyze the structural barriers, for example, that might prevent a child from an immigrant background with a good school performance from attending a secondary school for higher achievers. QUIMS demonstrates the potential to address broad systemic change in Zurich’s educational system and in the community-at-large. That is an important accomplishment.

Since its’ start as a pilot project in a few Zurich high schools in 1996, the QUIMS program is now available in almost 100 schools in the Canton of Zurich, where it has been scaled up into law since 2006. In 2008, it was nominated for the prestigious Carl Bertelsmann Prize for ‘Education and Integration.’

Please note the important distinction between “immigrant” populations in Switzerland which include non-naturalized foreign residents of the 2nd and 3rd generation and the “foreign-born” category used for Canada, US and Australia. In 2006, Canada’s population of foreign-born was 19.8%; the United States of America (12.5%); Australia (22.2%). However, 85% of Canada’s foreign-born population in 2006 had also been naturalized (attained citizenship). Source: Canada 2006 Census.

Making it Work for You:

  • Integrating a quality management approach to the specific needs of a community accelerates and improves the desired outcomes;
  • A solutions-based approach means many answers and many actors, working together to find the best fit;
  • Improving educational or employment outcomes for immigrant communities benefits the whole community, not just immigrants;
  • Has your school district developed strategies to involve parents and other community stakeholders?
  • Teacher training and ongoing professional development is a critical part of the QUIMS approach. Make sure project leadership is well-equipped to understand the issues and has the tools for success.