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Italy - Education and Schools
Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six to sixteen. In other words, children in Italy must begin schooling with primary school, which is followed by secondary school that lasts until the age of 14. Scuola dell'Infanzia also known as Scuola Materna, is the Italian equivalent of nursery or pre-school. Every child is entitled to a place in such schools from the age of three, but schooling at this age is not compulsory.
Scuola Primaria or primary school begins when a child reaches the age of six. This is also when education becomes compulsory. This is a comprehensive system of education and children receive instruction on a wide range of subjects, from language and history to mathematics and science. Italy’s educational system is secular and religious instruction in schools is purely optional. On an average, each classroom holds around 10 to 25 students.
Scuola Media or Middle School is the next progression for students from primary school, once they’ve reached the age of around 11. Secondary schooling spans 8 years and it is broken into two stages, called scuola secondaria di primo grado or first grade secondary school and scuola secondaria di secondo grado or second grade secondary school. This is a more formal education involving both written and oral examinations. Schooling also includes additional activities like music and sports. The examinations at the end of the final year are crucial for earning a degree and also for pursuing higher studies at universities.
State sponsored schools in Italy are highly regarded for the quality of education and there is little difference between state and private schools in terms of the curriculum, as most private schools are also aided by the government. The main reason for which some expats may choose private schools over state schools is because of the language of instruction. English is generally taught as a second language in state schools and all other instruction is imparted in Italian. Another benefit of private schools is that students may get more personal attention because of smaller classroom sizes. These features make private foreign language schools the best option for expats who will be in the country for a limited period of time. In all other cases, state schools should not be overlooked.
The Italian education system follows a centralized structure, with all state schools following a uniform curriculum and examination system. Educational standards do vary however, as standards are much higher in the northern region as compared to in the south and rural areas. Most private schools in Italy also follow or adapt the curriculum that is prescribed by the education ministry.
Enrolment is not an issue at any of the schools in Italy, as the law requires schools to accept any children under the age of 18, whether or not their documents have been produced. In such a scenario however, the guardians or parents have to provide an assurance that they will produce the necessary documentation within a specific timeframe.
The documents required for enrolment are not very different from those required in other countries and include:
EU citizens require a residence document, while non-EU citizens require their Residence Document & Permesso di Soggiorno that should be valid for both the guardians and the child.
An ID Card or passport for proof of identity.
A family status certificate called Stato di Famiglia
In addition, parents or guardians will also need to present proof of immunization against various diseases like polio, tetanus and hepatitis B. School authorities should also be presented with a translation of the curriculum from the home country, so that they can better place the child.
School hours in Italian schools vary depending on the type of school and the grade. Most nursery schools function from 8am to 4pm for five to six days a week. Children have an hour long break for lunch. Primary and secondary schools function from Mondays to Saturdays and impart education for 30 hours a week. Most primary schools start at 8am and close at 1pm, but there may be afternoon lessons as well on some days. Some schools function from Monday to Fridays and in such cases classes are scheduled till 4 or 4:30 pm. Secondary schools also follow similar hours.
Schools in Italy are shut for summer holidays that last around three months, from June to September and there are also holidays for the Christmas Season and for Easter. In some regions there are also holidays for the carnival. Schools are also closed for all public holidays.
One of the criticisms against the Italian education system is in the context of extra-curricular activities, as most activities of this nature are limited in their scope and scale, when compared to systems in the United States and United Kingdom. Extracurricular activities are typically conducted during the afternoons and have very limited scope. Children who wish to participate in competitive sports need to join private associations and will have to pursue the activity outside of school hours. Similarly, music lessons usually require private tutors or enrolment at private music schools.
Italy has a huge network of educational institutions for higher learning, with various international and state affiliated universities offering students degrees in higher education. Most of these institutions are state-run and function under the direction of Italy’s Ministry of Education.
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