NEW education minister Tullio De Mauro has pledged to tackle the "scandalously low" pay of Italy's teachers, who get paid no more than low-grade office workers.
The monthly take-home pay of a newly qualified secondary teacher is currently around pound;620, rising to pound;955 after 30 years' service, for 23 hours' work a week. Primary teachers are paid less. "We have to find the means to pay them properly," De Mauro declared on taking office. A technocrat in Giulio Amato's recently formed centre-left government, the 68-year-old professor is a well-known linguist who runs the department of language sciences at Rome's La Sapienza University.
He takes over from Luigi Berlinguer, the former communist who in his four years of office began a series of major reforms.
Luigi Berlinguer said Tullio De Mauro is an "excellent choice for minister, and a strong supporter of the reform". But the new man has already distanced himself from his predecessor by suggesting a revamp of proposals for teachers' merit pay.
Earlier this year, Berlinguer's plan to create a new breed of superteacher was shelved when teachers protested against the proposed method of selection - a multiple-choice "quiz".
De Mauro wants superteachers to be identified and apointed by their own schools, which would mean a sea-change for a system in which appointments remain rigorously centralised.
The new minister has made teachers' pay his main agenda. "Italian teachers' salaries are scandalously low compared with those in other countries," he said, "and the difference has increased in recent years, as the workload for teachers has grown."
Finding the money to bump up the salaries of nearly one million teachers may not be easy - the pupil:teacher ratio stands at an extravagant 9:1 - but he has already come up with an idea for helping hard-up teachers.
Speaking at the Turin book fair, the minister proposed using money from a new national lottery linked to the Formula 1 Grand Prix to buy books for teachers "who would otherwise be unable to afford them".
The proposal, which underlines how poorly teachers are paid, came just days before the publication of two damning reports. The first, by the Rome-based Centre for European Education (CEDE), revealed that two out of three Italians aged between 16 and 65 have difficulty reading and half of those are nearly illiterate. A separate report on the new school-leaving exam introduced last year, claimed that young Italians no longer know how to write.