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Longer School Day Nets Flak in France
February 12, 2013

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A French government decree to lengthen the school day has resulted in widespread criticism.

The government, in an effort to increase performance of French students, has told schools nationwide to add a half-day of school on Wednesday (the only day of the week on which students currently don't go to school) and to reduce the school day by 45 minutes the other three days, for a net increase of more than two hours in class time.

French children already spend 847 hours a year in class, nearly 100 hours more than students in other European Union countries. (American students, on average, are in class for 950 hours a year.) A typical school day runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, however, has been a day off for more than 130 years, with that day originally reserved for religious studies. More recently, students have spent their Wednesdays playing school sports or learning how to play an instrument or speak a foreign language. That is the case for students whose parents can afford such things. Poorer parents struggle to ensure that their children are looked after on Wednesdays.

The government cited rising rates in students repeating grades or dropping out altogether and falling rates of achievement as reflected in nationwide assessments as reasons for increasing instruction time. But the government decree was issued without consultation from schools or parents, and that has caused a large backlash, punctuated by a one-day teachers strike in Paris and a series of street protests across the rest of the country.

The Education Ministry said that it would, until March 31, accept applications from schools to postpones the school-day changes until next year.

The four-day school week accompanied the introduction of free universal public schools in 1882. The four-day week has led to a longstanding tradition of one parent, usually the mother, taking a part-time job in order to be able to look after children on Wednesdays. As a result, many women have not applied for full-time work.

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