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Reforms ... eventually

Italy

Luigi Berlinguer, the education minister, has unveiled plans for curriculum reform.

Recommendations include more time to be spent in science laboratories, a less Euro-centric history syllabus, and the studying of two modern European languages from age 12 (most primary schools are already teaching English from 8). Music and the visual and dramatic arts are to be given an upgraded status.

The proposals were drawn up by six university teachers, following an investigation last year into the need for reform.

At present, with their chalk and talk and rote learning, schools have changed little since the 1920s when the last overall reform took place. The most highly-prized skill remains essay writing, with the school-leaving exam requiring all candidates to write a six-hour essay (tema) on a theme of cultural interest. However, according to university tutors who have to read students' written work, it is a dying skill. Under the plans, the dreaded tema will be replaced by shorter, more functional, writing tasks.

Current maths methodology comes in for sharp criticism from universities for its "excessive formalism". In February a comparative study of maths pupils in 23 countries showed Italy to be struggling near the bottom. The new document recommends a different approach to teaching. Berlinguer believes the proposals will lead to a "lighter" curriculum. He admits that many textbooks are "outdated and pedantic".

But there is no enthusiastic embrace of new technologies. On the contrary, Berlinguer sees the overall objectives of compulsory education as "the acquisition of reading and writing techniques" to provide a balance to dominant audio-visual forms of communication. And in the school of the future, "every pupil should have basic knowledge of Greek and Roman culture".

The proposals now go through a discussion stage but the minister is cagey about how quickly the reform will be implemented. After two years in office (almost a record by Italian standards), he admits the rhythms of consultation and institutional procedures are slow.

Teachers, who are angry at what they see as the "inconsistency" of a government committed to educational reform but continuing to cut teachers' posts, have called a national strike for Monday.

David Newbold

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