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Where pupils work a half day only

Pupils with their own rooms for homework, storage and privacy is just one of the new ideas being tried in Sweden as schools clamour to woo bigger numbers. Jon Buscall reports

It's not computers, distance learning or the Internet that sets Stockholm's Cyber senior high school apart from others. It's the offer of full-time half-day learning. Each term pupils are given the choice of attending class either 8am-12pm or 12pm-4pm.

"The great thing about it," says Tobias Landen, 18, "is that I've been able to fill up my day with extra option courses."

Carolina Zdyb, 18, also likes finishing at noon. "It means I've got plenty of time to study or do a part-time job. Mostly I just chill out with my friends."

There's one big drawback to the shortest school day in Sweden:

"We get six weeks less holiday than other schools to make up for the hours we miss," Carolina explains . "It's a bit of a pain being at school when your mates are still on holiday. Especially in the summer."

The advantage of having shorter school days but a longer school year, according to school principal Marie Wiberg-Svensson, is that pupils don't take so many courses simultaneously. "There's less pressure on them. They get to concentrate their efforts on fewer subjects at a time."

There are other pontential benefits to running the equivalent of two short days each day.

Determined students can actually attend both sessions and finish their school leaving certificate within two years rather than three by attending all day.

"We've only ever had a couple of pupils do this," admits Wiberg-Svensson.

"But our timetable allows for this in theory."

In practice, most pupils seem to prefer the leisurely pace of three years.

The keen ones like Tobias Landen and Carolina Zdyb, both taking the national programme in natural sciences, often take the opportunity to follow a few extra classes in the afternoons, taking extra credits to broaden their options.

"I've taken over a third more credits than most people," says Tobias, bashfully admitting he's somewhat unusual. "I love studying. I've taken extra courses in computing simply because I enjoy it. I haven't decided what I want to do after school: this gives me more opportunities."

Two-thirds of Cyber's 650 pupils follow the morning sessions. "The afternoon classes aren't so well attended," admits science teacher Marita Karlsson. "They're also tougher to teach. The kids who choose to attend school in the afternoons tend to be the ones fed up with school."

Karlsson has been at Cyber senior high since qualifying as a teacher and admits the long terms and short holidays become draining after a while.

"There's a good atmosphere among the staff here but many move on after a short while. They just can't stick the short summer holiday and intense teaching load."

Hakon Hildingsson, who teaches Swedish, history and religion, believes the pupils do well with the slower tempo but the teachers can get really stressed.

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