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Reform delay met with relief

THE biggest overhaul of the education system in 70 years has been suspended by the new centre-right government of Silvio Berlusconi.

The reform, the brainchild of former education minister and ex-communist Luigi Berlinguer, was approved last year. It incorporated primary and lower secondary schools into a single scuola di base and led to a final school-leaving exam at 18 instead of 19 as at present. The reform was to have been implemented gradually from September.

Justifying the suspension, new minister Letizia Moratti, ex-president of RAI, the state television company, said that the reform had not been properly funded and families and teachers had not been consulted. She said the reform would not be withdrawn but reviewed and improved; she promised that a revised version would be ready within a year.

Most unions and headteachers heaved a sigh of relief. Heads felt unprepared for a reform that would create a "freak wave" of students as two years were compressed into one, while the unions feared job losses.

But not all teachers are happy. With the reform, primary teachers in the new scuola di base would at last have achieved parity of salary and teaching load with their secondary school colleagues. And there is a widespread conviction among all teachers that there is an urgent need for reform.

Commenting on the suspension, Luigi Berlinguer said that, before he took over in 1996, the reform of the education system had been discussed for 30 years without getting anywhere. "This is a leap into the dark," he said. "It will take us back five years, and everything will become more complicated. It's just political propaganda."

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