Sunday, August 9, 2009

System: A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole.

Before I start this entry, I wish to clarify that this could be considered my 'stand-up comedy routine' on living and working in Italy and is not meant to be overtly offensive to anyone. It is meant to enlighten and entertain. That said, if you are curious, read on!
Some observations on Italy's public educational system.

  • Teachers do not study Child Development in their certification.
  • The certification process itself does not work very well and has a dog-chasing-tail, jump-through-hoops preparation that makes very little sense and discourages many from becoming educators.
  • Teachers earn between 23,000.00 to 32,000.00 (gross before income tax) equivalent in U.S. $ per year depending on whether they teach at the primary or secondary level and on how many years they have been teaching. Teachers with 15 years or more experience are at the top end of salaries. (2005 figures)
  • Teachers are placed on pedestals and kids are considered untouchables.
  • Disruptive children are not removed from the classroom as there is no place to send them! (No principle's office!)
  • Many teachers never award a perfect grade of 10 on an exam even if the child answers every question correctly. This is meant to inspire kids to always strive to achieve more. (This makes no sense in my universe, but hey, that's just me.)
  • Kids are rarely praised for their efforts.
  • The rigourous primary, middle and high school program means that most children have at least a half hour of homework a day( including Saturday which for many kids is a school day) from age six, increasing to one hour a day in middle school and may increase, depending on the high school kids choose, to two or three hours a day.
  • Kids carry their books back and forth to school in backpacks that weigh around 5 kilos each and these backpacks end up on the floor in the aisles between the desks in a classroom and are a hazard to anyone walking through! (Many of my kids ask me about school lockers! They have seen them in American films and are fascinated by the phenomenon!)
  • These books are purchased by parents every year at a cost of about 250 Euros per student per year.
  • Students who attend the Scientific and Classical high schools study Greek and, at the Classical, Latin. This builds critical thinkers from an early age and reinforces a rigidity in learning which welcomes following processes and discourages creativity in the classroom.
  • Exams are about memorising material. Teachers do not give students much information on what may appear on a test. The kids have to know everything.
  • There is a promotion between middle and high school which includes written and oral exams which are given in front of an impartial panel of educators from various schools in the region.
  • The big one, or maturità exam, happens at the end of the last (fifth year) of high school and can cover any material studied during a student's five years in high school.
  • Young Italians often lack respect and discipline and 'talk back' to teachers on a regular basis. Young Italian males show even less self-discipline than do their female counterparts.
  • Guns and gun violence are not a problem in Italian schools.
  • Public university is free.
  • Parents pay a tax directly to the government at a rate of about 1000 Euros per year for their kid to attend university. This tax puts stress on many an Italian family as the average salary in Italy is between 800 and 1,200 Euros net per month (the average company paying 50 to 100% tax on each worker, depending on the industry and work contract agreement). Since the conversion of the Lire to Euro in 2002, the cost of living has literally doubled while earnings have stayed the same. It should be noted that like all European countries, a national health care system makes medical visits, medicine, hospitalization and treatments for serious diseases available to all.
  • The majority of university students live at home.
  • Many degree programs in university do not require that students attend class or lectures. A philosophy student, for example, may not once enter a classroom during a semester, instead, reading on his or her own and taking an exam to test knowledge covered in a textbook.
  • Professors are generally not available to their students for conversations or meetings. (Many of my students who saw the film, 'Lions for Lambs' were impressed by the relationship between the professor, played by Robert Redford, and his student; half of the film is spent on their conversation during the professor's 'open office' hours.)
  • A large number of people attend university in Italy. The unemployment rate is very, very high and many graduates do not find jobs.
  • There is an underlying feeling that who you know is more important than what you know and this blocks many individuals from achieving professional success, promotion or satisfaction. Italians are highly self critical and readily admit that this system of nepotism is their downfall yet they remain unsettlingly stuck and most would say that there is not much hope of changing this mentality.

  • It is not surprising that many people have asked to look at my ESC catalog of undergraduate studies enjoying the variety of courses offered and are intrigued by how well the system is organized and implemented. Many of them have said they would prefer to pay more for school if it meant better organization and more options. They scoff, however, at the cost of an average four-year public college education in the U.S.A. of $ 7,000.00 per year. There are private universities in Italy but none of them approach the costs of their counterparts in the States.

  • My students have also been impressed at the availability of Federal Student Loans to attend school. One of my friends has been living independently since she was 20 years old but cannot qualify for a loan at the bank because she and her father are still considered a 'family unit'. She is 33 years old.


  1. I've noticed that Italian students tend to do whatever necessary to get a higher score on their tests... yes, I mean what we would refer to as "cheating". I've been curious about the educational system that fosters this trend. The details you give here form an interesting picture.

    Several years ago, we had a student from Italy who (we believe) had some learning disabilties. He also had difficulty relating to his peers. I imagine the Italian school system must have been torture for him!

  2. Thank you for sharing this with me. Yes, kids CHEAT. It is a common occurence. In a strange, contradictory twist, they are punished if caught but not to the extent you would think for such a rigid system. A lot of kids FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS here. If you are a different kind of learner, you don't fit. This is one of the things that make my job interesting (I like working with kids who need help) but also terribly frustrating. I would also like to add that when I compliment or praise my kids, they think I am 'stupid' and am being 'too nice'.