After 28 years of a temporary school-leaving exam, a new maturita is in the pipeline. The main innovation will be a cross-curricular objective test in addition to the existing written papers, and candidates could be taking it from June, 1998.
The problem with the current exam - rushed in during the aftermath of student protests which shook Europe in the late Sixties, in a spirit of concession-making - is that it is both too easy and too restricted. There are two written papers, one an essay on a topic of general interest, the other being a subject-based exam chosen at random in April.
As soon as pupils know the identity of the second subject (which will vary according to the type of school), they lose interest in the others. In this way, the last part of the year is sacrificed to the exam subject, and other teachers might as well not bother. The pass rate, which guarantees access to the universities, is consistently above 95 per cent.
For education minister Luigi Berlinguer, a "return to severity" is required. He believes the answer lies in a cross-curricular quiz to ensure that all subjects are carried through to the end of the final year.
The oral exam, an important component of the maturita, will also range through all subjects instead of the present two.
The new exam will be marked out of 100 with a 45 per cent weighting to the written part and 35 per cent dependent on the oral. An element of continuous assessment would account for the remainder.
Reactions to the improved exam have been mixed. Although everyone in the educational world agrees on the need to change the present exam, the main teachers' unions see the reform as a repair to the roof while the underlying structure continues to decay. What is needed is a reform to the whole system. Other reforms are also on the way. The government has unveiled plans to raise the school- leaving age from 14 to 15, with pupils staying on to prepare for university entrance at 18 instead of 19. The scuola media (lower secondary level) will be replaced by a prolonged primary cycle finishing at age 12.
Voices from the ministry suggest that if Romano Prodi's centre-left government can last, la Grande Riforma really is imminent; the year 2000 being an obvious target date.
But with the average life of Italian governments standing at 12 months, nothing can be certain.