The German Half-Day Model: A European Sonderweg?

Reply Sun 21 Jan, 2007 04:27 pm
Though the article (and the link) is about a (forthcoming) conference and project, I think that topic might be of interest:

International and Interdisciplinary Conference:


The 'Time Politics' of Child Care, Pre School and Elementary School
Education in Post-War Europe

University of Cologne, March 1-3, 2007

Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and supported by the Ministry for
Education and Research

The conference compares the time policies of public child care,
pre-school and elementary school education in eastern and western Europe
since 1945. It focuses on the one hand on the question of the causes for
the differences and similarities between national discourses and
policies; on the other hand it analyzes the factors that impede and
promote a reform of the time structure.

All-day child care and schools are today the norm in almost all European
countries The Federal Republic of Germany is one of the last countries
with a "half-day" system, i.e. a child care and school system with
institutions that are only open half of the day. All-day schools only
exist as exceptions. In elementary schools, the timetable of schools
hours is moreover "unregulated": schools start and end every weekday
differently. The German '"time politics" of child care and school
education is nowadays almost unique. Only Austria and the German part of
the Switzerland organize the time structure of their child care and
school system in a similar way. Such a time politics makes it extremely
difficult for parents to combine having a family with a regular gainful
occupation. This is particularly so for women, who are still more
responsible for the childrearing, despite all the rhetoric about equal
sharing of parental obligations. But the consequences of a half-day time
politics of child care and school education extend beyond individuals
and families to the economy and society, because this type of time
politics is inextricably bound up with social and labor market policies
based on the traditional "breadwinner-homemaker" family model, with the
man as fulltime breadwinner and the woman as fulltime house-wife and at
best part-time earner.

Over the past twenty years, the problematic nature of such a time
policies has become increasingly apparent in the Federal Republic of
Germany. As a result, the need for an all-day child care and school
system for all children has recently moved to the top of the agenda of
social, demographic and educational policy. One major reason for this is
the dramatic decrease of the birth rate. Germany has one of the lowest
birth rates in the European Union. This development is alarming for
politicians, because they believe that it endangers the future of the
welfare state. A second reason is the poor performance of
schoolchildren, particularly those from disadvantaged social and ethnic
back-grounds, which became obvious over the last five years in different
comparative international surveys of the Organization for Educational
Development (OECD), in particular the studies by the Program for
International Student Assessment (PISA).

As a means to solve both problems, German politicians - even Christian
Democrats who argued for a long time vehemently against all-day child
care and schools - are becoming more open to the extension of an all-day
child care and school system. This represents a major shift in the
public discourse, which for centuries regarded all-day child care and
schools as acceptable only for so-called "problem" and "latchkey"
children. For 'normal families' they feared a corrosion of the family
bonds as a result of all-day education. This was perceived as
politically and socially dangerous, because the family was considered
the basic unit of state and society. In practice this cultural
traditions is still powerful, and the introduction of an all-day system
faces substantial resistance. Because of changing time patterns in the
work place, however, i.e. the increasing demand for flexible working
hours and employees who are available around the clock, the time
patterns of child care and school education have increasingly become an
issue elsewhere too.

Even if politicians in many European countries rhetorically agree
nowadays on the importance of a high-quality all-day child care,
pre-school and elementary school education for children between three
and twelve, the concrete shape of this education, the necessary reforms,
and the question of how they might be realized, remain controversial.
Financial strictures are considered in the public debates as the main
obstacle for an expansion of high-quality all day-child care and
elementary school education. Less public attention is frequently paid to
other factors: the interrelationship between the extremely diverse
economic, political, institutional and sociocultural starting-points;
the setting of educational policy priorities; the division of labor
between the family and the state; the models of women's role in the
family and society; and thus to the societal acceptance of different
models of child care, pre-school and elementary school education.

In order to understand which specific circumstances promoted or hindered
reform in a given case, and which historical institutional and cultural
starting-points can be expected to affect efforts to expand public
education in an increasingly united Europe, a comparative
interdisciplinary analysis that takes the historical background into
account is essential. To initiate more research in this direction is the
major aim of the project "The German Half-Day Model: A European
Sonderweg? The 'Time Politics' of Public Education in Post-War Europe
(1945-2000): An East-West Comparison" and the upcoming conference.

For more information see the project website:
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