Joanie Vasiliadis – 2. The Italian school systemRome Internships, Spring 2012

The differences in education between Italy and the US exist not only on the university level. Of the 20 interns, six work in various schools throughout the city. Having been placed in a high school myself, I can tell you that the Italian education system is drastically different than the system I experienced in the US. Before I take you “behind the scenes” of my high school, here’s a brief summary of the school structure in Italy…

1. Three years of pre-primary school, where children develop emotional,    psychomotor, cognitive, moral, religious, and social skills. Pre-schools promote autonomy and creativity with focus on play and exploration.

2. A total of five years in primary or elementary school, where children are  provided with a general background of subjects similar to those of the  American public school system.

3. A total of three years in secondary or middle school, which fosters  independent study, emphasizes cultural, social, and scientific evolution of contemporary study, strengthens ITC skills, and helps students make  appropriate choices concerning their futures.

4. The general instruction track, in which students choose Licei/Instituti  Tecnici, or Istituti Professionali. After five years at Licei or Instituti  Tecnici, students are issues a diploma that is valid to enter university. While Istituti Professionali also lasts five years, students receive a certificate  called Attestato di Qualifica Professionale at the end of the third year.

Aside from the variety in framework between Italy and the US, the internal differences between education systems have proven to be quite different as well.

As a teacher at a Liceo Scientifico, a science oriented high school in Rome, I’ve not only helped Italian students improve their English, but learned invaluable information myself. On my first day at the Liceo, I was initially shocked by what seemed to be a complete lack of organization and rigidity. Students are required to take English and must complete an oral exam at the end of their five years, thus it’s my job to improve their conversation skills. In order to do so, I take a small group of students outside to the courtyard each week. Outside of the classroom, I couldn’t believe how easily students could roam the halls without some sort of pass. Multiple times, I have had students from other classrooms try to join in on my conversation because the class in which they were supposed to be present was uninteresting. I’ve often inquired from my students how such behavior can possibly be acceptable, and how these wandering students can pass their classes, an inquiry that has been met with laughter. Students don’t seem to take their class work too seriously, never complete their homework, and don’t find any value in lecture. I would have thought that my first reaction to such thinking was disappointment in the students, but I realize that such feelings would be misplaced. After getting to know some of the students, I realize that they are indeed eager to learn, but because they don’t find their education to be adequate, they have lost value in it. My students have made it clear that they enjoy our conversations because they appreciate the practice and feel as if they are actually improving, whereas any lecture tends to fall on deaf ears. Now I realize that many American students would agree that their classes were tedious, but I think many do indeed place value in their educations. How can that value be restored in the Italian high schools? While I’m not an expert in education, I do think that if education was greater valued by society, teachers might be more demanding of their students, and students would in turn be much more proactive.

Since I work at a Liceo, I’ve only been a first hand witness to one level of public education in Italy and thus have no right to make any generalizations. My fellow interns work in different types of schools, some technical high schools and others middle schools, and have shared their perspectives and observations in our seminar. My peers have all offered the idea that Italian students live very much for the moment and focus much less on competition and their futures in comparison to American students. While the idea of  “being the best” is engrained in the American youth at such an early age, students in Italy focus less on being better than their peers and more on establishing strong relationships with one another. When they asked their students about heavier topics such as politics and economics, the interns working in high schools noticed that their students were very disheartened by the current job crisis and displeased by a capitalistic democracy. In hearing about these students, I wonder if the lack of value that my students have for their education comes from a lack of faith that a successful future in Italy is even within reach. Interestingly enough, many students have expressed a desire to work abroad, because while they are currently happy in Italy, they fear that the job market will only lead to disappointment. Stay tuned to read more about the Italian labor market!

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