Super start to a new year
STEALING a march on the millennium, the past year has been one of real and visible change. After decades of talk and political immobility, the long-awaited big educational reform is being served up in fragments intended to modernise a school system which has remained largely unchanged since the 1970s.
Hundreds of primary and middle schools joined forces to become instituti comprensivi and comply with rules on minimum school sizes.
The school-leaving age was finally raised from 14 to 15 and legislation brought in to raise it further to 18. An "easy" school-leaving exam introduced in the wake of student protests as a temporary measure in 1969 (with a 95 per cent pass rate) was replaced with a (slightly) more difficult exam which for the first time included an element of continuous assessment.
But the biggest challenges are still to come. Will headteachers be able to cope with the new powers given them under the decentralisation of the system? In the past their job was to carry out orders arriving from the ministry at the rate of three circulars a day. Now they wil be able to reorganise timetables and holidays, adjust the curriculum, and set up partnerships with outside organisations. Many are not relishing the prospect.
Will fledgling teacher-training institutions be able to provide proper training? In the first months of the new millennium initial training finally gets under way in regional institutes run by university education departments. But the universities are notoriously out of touch: one new institute tried to organise the bulk of teaching practice in May and June when schools are either busy with exams or closed. Student teachers are defecting in droves before they begin, preferring to wait and see.
And will the profession at last offer a career structure to demotivated, underpaid staff? This year sees the introduction of "superteacher" status and a pound;2,000 annual bonus for 20 per cent of staff who pass a series of tests. Posts of special responsibility are also given pound;1,000 a year in the latest teachers' contracts.
As the decade ended, there was a glimmer of expectation in the staffrooms, and a feeling that the process of reform is irreversible. Perhaps in 10 years' time Italy will have the education system it needs and deserves.