Ciao minister, hello chaos

24th February 1995 at 00:00
With the passing of the Berlusconi government, Francesco D'Onofrio has moved on to other things but the legacy of the most voluble educational minister in recent times remains.

A leader writer in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera puts it bluntly: "In just a few months in the hot seat, Sig D'Onofrio has managed to produce more rubble than the earthquake in Kobe."

Not that he changed things much in his short term of office. His style was to suggest solutions to age-old problems, stir up an inconclusive debate, and then turn his attention quickly to something else. But the Corriere has in mind the one major piece of legislation that Sig D'Onofrio managed to push through, and which is now causing chaos - the abolition of September resits.

For as long as anyone can remember, secondary school pupils who had not reached the required standard at the end of the year could be bocciati (and asked to repeat the year) or rimandati (and have to spend the summer preparing for a September exam which would give them a chance in extremis to continue normally). For half a million children every year, summer meant a time of misery grappling with Caesar's Gallic wars or the mysteries of English grammar. A flourishing private tutor market allowed thousands of teachers to augment meagre incomes.

In place of the outmoded exam, the minister proposed compulsory remedial courses to be organised by the schools. This seemed like a more educational alternative, and the Bill went through to a chorus of assent.

Now, however, schools are having to face up to the reality of organising the courses. Apart from decisions as to what form the courses should take, and who should do the teaching (permanent staff on overtime, or supply teachers?) the major stumbling block seems to be when to organise the courses. Extra hours in the afternoon for pupils already struggling with a 35-hour week looks like a recipe for disaster. The paradoxical solution which the ministry has now come up with is to suspend normal lessons for a two-week period to make room for the remedial courses. But schools will have a free hand in deciding how best to do things.

There is also the problem of financing the courses. When the ministry calculated the number of pupils who would need the courses it seems they included the rimandati (700,000) but forgot about the bocciati (another 500,000), and so the project was underfunded.

One head in Milan has already asked parents to chip in, and it seems likely that many schools will have to resort to similar tactics. One way out is offered by the provisional nature of the legislation, initially valid for one year. The new minister has given his assurance that there will be no more turning back to the old system, but modifications are likely for next year.

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