No end yet for easy rides

ITALY. Figures released by the government have highlighted a crisis of assessment in secondary education.

In September, 13 per cent of pupils will be required to repeat a year, but 47 per cent have been identified as failing in at least one subject. In the past many would have had to do September resits, but these were replaced two years ago by compulsory remedial courses that proved impossible to organise. So the ministry has introduced the "educational deficit" (debito formativo), a "virtual failure" which teachers are required to record but to do nothing about.

The easy ride through the non-compulsory cycle (the school-leaving age is 14) continues with the maturita school-leaving exam. An increase this year in the pass rate (to 94 per cent) has confirmed its non-selective nature and raised further doubts about its function as a hurdle to higher education.

The maturita became "easy" when it was provisionally reformed on the crest of an egalitarian wave in the late Sixties. Today, it is still experimental, with only two subjects being tested by written papers.

But the Bill intended to update the exam is now likely to be delayed after scuffles broke out during its presentation to parliament last month. The discussion degenerated into a free-for-all when opposition parties presented more than 1,000 amendments.

Opposition parties claim that the new exam is likely to be more lax than its predecessor. The Bill proposes that external examiners will be replaced by the candidates' own teachers, and critics believe the operation will compromise the objectivity of the exam.

* A new law requires Italian schools to display the national flag at all times, instead of only on national holidays. The tricolore, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary, will fly alongside the European Union flag.

David Newbold

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