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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
German pupils get longer day
By Ray Furlong
BBC Correspondent in Berlin

Pupils face three hours more clock-watching

Children in Germany are to get a possibly unwelcome surprise - longer school days.

An agreement between the federal and state governments clears the way for "all-day" schools across the country.

Up till now, the day has started at 8am and ended at 1pm.

Now, youngsters will stay in the classroom until 4pm in several thousand of Germany's 46,000 schools.

'Not a miracle cure'

"The introduction of all-day schools is one of the most important government reform projects in this term of office," said Education Minister Edelgard Bulmahn.

The move comes largely as a response to an international study of schools standards produced last year by Unicef, in which Germany came nearly bottom.

The study shocked the nation and led to a wide-ranging debate about educational standards.

The idea of the reform is that children will now have a better environment for doing homework, and teachers will be able to devote more time to both weak and gifted pupils.

But Mrs Bulmahn warned it would be no miracle cure. New teaching methods and closer co-operation with parents were also necessary, she said, as well as national standards.

What about lunch?

"Much more modernisation is still needed," agreed Hesse Education Minister Karin Wolff.

The extra schooling time brings Germany into line with other comparable countries, but it has been controversial.

Opposition Christian Democrats have argued that education is a matter for individual states to decide, not the federal government.

Under the deal, the states will still decide what precise form the extra school hours will take.

There have also been arguments over who will pay for it, with the federal government agreeing to stump up 4 billion euros.

Opinion polls show 55% of Germans favour the new system.

It will bring some problems, among them school dinners.

"Hot lunches will be available everywhere," said Wolf-Juergen Karle, spokesmen for the Rhineland-Pfalz Education Ministry.

But German schools do not have canteens, so outside caterers will be used in most cases.

Meanwhile, teachers are worried that it will mean more work for the same money.

But it will bring relief for others.

"All-day schools should be very useful for two very different groups," wrote Die Welt newspaper.

"First, children from immigrant families will have a better chance to integrate into German society. Second, working mothers on all shifts who feel worn down by the demands of home and job."

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