THE German government has allocated pound;2.5 billion to its 16 states as part of wide-ranging reforms to boost educational standards.
The country was stunned by its poor performance in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's programme for international student assessment (PISA) last year.
The funds, spread over four years, will go towards enabling 10,000 of the country's 52,000 schools to stay open all day. At present German children start school at 8am with the youngest staying for three to four hours, and secondary pupils a maximum of five hours. Ministers believe that a longer day will improve performance.
In a marked change of tradition, three to five-year-olds will be encouraged to start learning to read and write at kindergarten where it was once discouraged. Ethnic-minority children will be given extra tuition in German if necessary.
Ministers hope this reform will give pupils a better start at primary school where there will be pressure for children to reach new, federally approved standards, before the move to secondary level.
Greater emphasis will be placed on reading and teaching German for six and seven year-olds with structured programmes and recommended reading lists featuring in syllabuses throughout the country. Many states are already making heavier demands on primary children by assessing them earlier. Nine and 10-year-olds will face major tests in maths and German before entering secondary schools.
Edelgard Bulmahn, the federal education minister, however, has backed down on her attempts to impose rigid national standards. The states can decide how they wish to spend the funding as long as they can show results.