A 30 per cent increase in the number of teachers seeking early retirement has set alarm bells ringing in the education ministry.

"The country needs the experience these teachers have to offer, especially at this time of monumental change for our schools," said Luigi Berlinguer, the education minister, in an appeal to the teachers to reconsider their decisions.

The boom in retirement applications is partly a result of the fear that an adjustment to the pension system, now being discussed in parliament, will mean substantial cuts to new pensions.

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