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Analysts urge educational system reform, as Italian youth trail behind for literacy, math

English.news.cn   2013-10-13 20:43:47            

by Alessandra Cardone

ROME, Oct. 13 (Xinhua) -- Analysts have called for an urgent reform of Italy's public educational system after a recent survey from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that Italian young people hits rock bottom in literacy and math skills among developed countries.

"The OECD survey's results come as a wet blanket for those who still think the Italian schools are, after all, better than others. The global picture is catastrophic and the problem lays in a strongly centralized system, which needs a radical reform," said Andrea Ichino, professor of Economics with the University of Bologna and the European University Institute of Florence.

Students, mainly from high schools, also staged their protest in Rome, Milan, and dozens of other cities, by filling the streets under the slogan of "Write school, read future" in a recent demonstration on Friday.

They protested against austerity measures that have decreased the resources for education in the last five years.

They also complained that the new measures approved by the Italian cabinet in September would be insufficient to make Italian schools better and more competitive.

"The cabinet's decree set a positive new course and ambitious targets, but it allocates only 400 million euros (544 million U.S. dollars) in the next three years. It is not nearly enough after the heavy cuts the education's system has suffered since 2008," spokesman for the association Union of Students Roberto Campanelli told Xinhua.

The Italian schools have showed their deficiencies lately with the results of the OECD's survey carried out among 166,000 adults (age 16-64) in 24 developed countries. As part of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), the survey analyzed reading, literacy, math and problem-solving skills of people involved.

The results, released on Tuesday, were quite discouraging for Italians. They were last in ranking of literacy and math proficiency after Spain and far from other European partners like Finland, Sweden or Belgium (all above the average) but also from Britain, Germany, France or Poland (all below the average).

The issue could not be more sensitive in a country with a youth unemployment rate of 40 percent.

"With the current system students have no real opportunity to choose their educational path," Professor Ichino explained to Xinhua. "They can choose the school - scientific lyceum, grammar school or technical institute - but, after that, teaching subjects are fixed... like a set-menu."

That means, the analyst added, that schools are unable to diversify the educational offer according to the real needs of students and job market.

These ideas and suggestions were recently put together in a comprehensive proposal of reform authored by Professor Ichino and colleague Guido Tabellini, former rector of Bocconi University of Milan.

The proposal, in the form of an e-book called "Liberate the School," suggests making Italian schools more independent and free to decide their governance.

"Schools would remain public and supported by State funds, but they would be managed by a mix-committee of school-heads, teachers, parents and no-profit organizations," Ichino explained.

They should be free to design their educational programs (respecting limits set by the Ministry of Education), to manage their financial resources, to select their teachers according to results and qualifications, and to decide how to compensate and promote their career, he said.

"This would make each school more autonomous but also more responsible for educational targets and students' results. Best teachers would be rewarded and best graduates promoted," Ichino said. The model took the cue from experiences such as the charter schools in the United States or the grant-maintained schools in Britain.

The real problem, according to the analyst, is not the lack of public funds. "In 1999-2000, Italy allocated for each student more that the average expense among OECD's countries; in 2008-2009, for high schools, we were only little below the average... The problem is not the money, but the way of spending it," Ichino said to Xinhua.

Yet students on the streets seemed to disagree on that. "The State has money, but it doesn't spend it for us and our future. It chooses to spend it otherwise... for example, to purchase F35 warplanes," a young girl within the Rome's rally declared.

Students said they are afraid of the public education's system being lessened. They don't want it to be drifted toward a system of private schools, of "class school."

"Autonomy would bring competition, of course, but it would not mean to introduce a 'class school' as students fear. Schools would not be allowed to ask fees, for example or to choose the students to admit," Ichino concluded.

Editor: Hou Qiang
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