While parents in many countries of the world are used to dropping kids off at school in the morning and not seeing them until dinnertime, all-day schooling is just beginning to make in-roads in Germany.
An all-day school system can provide more time for classroom learning
It can come as a shock to foreigners in Germany who send their children to the local state-run school. Although classroom instruction can start as early as 8:00 a.m., the kids are usually home in time for lunch.
"I barely have time to clear the breakfast dishes before picking up my daughter from school at 11 o'clock," said Rosie Dragu, a stay-at-home mother of two in Bonn, adding that as a former sales supervisor, she probably would have juggled motherhood and employment back in her native England, where the school day ends at 3:30 p.m.
The mornings-only, half-day school is the norm for 85 percent of Germany's pupils, while the Ganztagsschule, or all-day school that extends into the afternoon hours, remains an exception.
But it's an exception that has rapidly been gaining momentum, with Christian Democratic Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen making the case for more childcare options. The number of pupils in all-day primary school programs has more than doubled since 2002 to a total of 259,772 in 2005, and that number is rising steadily, according to education ministry statistics.
PISA results behind all-day school push
Having lunch in school is a new concept for Germany
It was the previous left-leaning Social Democratic-Green party administration, however, that launched the concept of all-day schools as a means of raising educational standards after the PISA test shock in 2002, when Germany scored in the bottom third of industrial nations in the international assessment by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Politicians intended to improve children's education and raise test scores by giving students the opportunity to receive additional instruction from qualified teachers after regular classes. As yet, there is no data showing a direct correlation between all-day school programs and higher test results in Germany.
Keeping children in school longer to help parents balance work and family -- one of the reasons the education ministry has pushed for the all-day schools -- also became an issue when a graying population demanded women play a larger role in the workforce and birthrates hit a low of 1.3 children per woman of childbearing age, considerably lower than some countries where the school day is longer.
Academic and other activities
Team sports can form part of a school's curriculum
Seven and eight-year-olds in Britain receive 880 hours of schooling a year, an amount which is on par with France. Germany's half-day system cuts the average to 630 hours, putting it at the bottom of OECD nations.
Several countries prolong the school day by interspersing classes with study periods and non-academic activities like team sports and art classes, while German students focus on academics in the morning and are traditionally free to organize their own time in the afternoon.
The toughest challenge facing all-day schooling in Germany remains a resistance to changes in school hours, which were structured to meet the needs of an antiquated, agrarian lifestyle where children helped in the fields, according to Cristina Allemann-Ghionda, a professor of comparative education at the University of Cologne.
Pressure on mothers to stay at home
One-third of German children no longer live in a traditional family
"The biggest obstacle to reform is a deeply conservative society when it comes to educational matters," she said. "Mothers are under tremendous social pressure to stay at home."
It's pressure Johannes Ross-Klein, principal of Otto Hahn Realschule, an all-day school in the city of Bitburg, said he has often confronted, with as 22 percent of children there raised by single mothers.
"A woman who chooses to enroll her child in an all-day school is still viewed as a bad mother," he said. "The attitude is that we are taking children away from their families."
But he said the all-day program, now in its second year, has received overwhelming support from parents and teachers, and he said he thinks more Germans will warm up to the concept with time.
Choosing the right approach
Schleicher said Germany has made progress in the past five years
Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's coordinator of the PISA studies, agreed that more time is necessary for Germans to become more accepting of all-day school programs, but he also pointed out that the country has experienced a shift in thought.
"Five years ago, you couldn't even carry on a debate about all-day schools without a swarm of critics condemning it," he said, adding that the current discussion in Germany deals with putting plans into action, not the all-day schooling ideology itself.
"The question is how to implement the concept, how to do it well -- even among the most conservative politicians," he said.