Projects Current Page Projects


Eritrean children in the Zurich education system (EKiZ)

Background and aims

Several thousand children of Eritrean origin will start school in Switzerland in the next few years. There are indications that many of these children will only master the transition to the Swiss education system if they receive special support and also that learning or behavioural problems may lead relatively soon to them being removed and placed in special schools and/or homes. Most Eritrean parents are more severely scarred than most immigrants by the specific situation from which they have come and the conditions under which they escaped, and some are actually traumatised. Few of these parents are in employment. This constellation hampers the integration of everyone in the family. So far there has been no all-round systematic research into Eritrean families in Switzerland and possible ways of improving the educational opportunities of these children.


  • What mechanisms are applied when allocating children to special education programmes and to special schools or homes? When, where and how, for example, are the assessments “learning difficulties” or “behaviour problems” reached, and who decides what in this procedure?
  • What processes of integration and possibly segregation can be observed?
  • Are there processes within the family which make it easier or harder to integrate at school, and more generally into Swiss society?


A. Descriptive part

Description of the situation of Eritrean children at school based on our own evaluation of the education statistics (bista) maintained by the Education Department of Canton Zurich.

B. Explorative part: Qualitative case studies

Based on interviews with about five Eritrean families chosen by a contrasting cases approach, the research team seeks to understand the circumstances in which these families live “from the inside” and to generate so-called case structure hypotheses (Hildenbrand, 1999). The methodological framework is founded on Grounded Theory according to Glaser & Strauss (1998), Objective Hermeneutics (Oevermann et al., 1979) and ethno-biographical case reconstruction with an analysis of genograms (Lanfranchi, 1994; Hildenbrand, 2005).


Eritrean children are specifically underprivileged: They repeat more often classes and are more educated in special education settings but attend less secondary schools (A-level) and more secondary schools (C-level) compared to children from Iraq, Afghanistan and Switzerland.

In 80% of the families there is no father present due to many reasons. As a consequence, the mothers are single moms of mostly more than one and sometimes very young children. Most of them not having even family and friends in Switzerland, they rely on their own effort and abilities to integrate into the Swiss society, with no possibility to share thoughts, information and advice on parenting, the Swiss school system and life in Switzerland in general or getting informal support.

The analyses confirm the necessity of integration on different starting points:

  1. Support of immigrated Eritrean fathers in coping with their new situation and role within the family despite language problems and unemployment.
  2. Integration programs targeted at mothers, especially single mothers and mothers lacking a supporting social network, aiming at establishing one that serves as a new extended family and grants informal support.
  3. Preventive, evidence based and intensive invest for young children and early education in order to strengthen the family’s ability to provide a stimulating home environment for the children and educate them well at home.
  4. Support of kindergarten and school teachers as they systematically support Eritrean students, so that they can maximize their educational opportunities.



Project Management


Forschung und Entwicklung
Tel: +41 44 317 11 81

zfe[at] zfe