Germany is to bring back full-day schooling just a decade after abolishing the system in the former east to bring it in line with half-day schools in western Germany.
In the western states, this will herald a significant change in parents'
working lives after decades of being expected to welcome their offspring home to lunch. German schools operate till midday with most children attending only three to four hours of lessons - a major reason why women cannot take up full-time jobs.
However, with the nation ranked behind several developing countries in an assessment of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's cabinet has acted. It has approved e4 billion of federal funds to set up 10,000 more full-day schools by 2007 to improve standards. The money will come from windfall profits to central government from the sale of mobile telephone licences.
Mr Schroeder said: "We have to ask ourselves why a country with Germany's economic and political importance, as well as cultural tradition, isn't in the top group in school performance."
Teachers complain they cannot find time in the short school day to provide remedial teaching for slow learners or to stretch the brightest pupils. Full-day schools are also seen as promoting social equality as many immigrant children are not exposed to German at home and fall behind in literacy. Immigrant pupils in Germany perform worse than those in any other developed country, said the OECD.
Mr Schroeder's funding offer at first caused a furore among opposition Christian Democrat-ruled states. The Christian Democrats have long held that half-day schooling "preserves family life" although many children become "latchkey kids" and older children hang around the streets till their parents return from work.
But with parents and teachers demonstrating against low educational standards in recent weeks, refusing such funding would have caused a public outcry.