ITALY Opposition to the first overall reform of the education system since the fascist period is growing, after education minister Luigi Berlinguer announced plans for La Grande Riforma at the beginning of the year.
No one doubted the need for overhauling an outdated system, and raising the school-leaving age to 15 was seen as absolutely necessary to bring Italy into line with its European partners.
But in recent weeks the project has been attacked on two fronts. First, teachers who might generally sympathise with the leftish inspiration of the minister (Sig Berlinguer is an ex-communist in Italy's first left-of-centre government) have become increasingly sceptical of the way he is going about things.
They feel that they are being excluded from proper consultation about the form of the new curriculum. Requests for feedback sent out to schools, and the opening of a 24-hour hotline to the ministry for suggestions, are seen as formalities, while schoolteachers are conspicuous by their absence from the working party of 38 who will draw up a foundation document for the new curriculum.
The second front to attack the Berlinguer reform is the private sector, and it has powerful allies. Around 12 per cent of Italian children attend private schools, which are mostly Catholic, and for years the standing conference of Italian bishops has been pressing for financial recognition of their role.
Now the Pope has stepped into the arena. "With an overall reform of the system about to be implemented," he said on a recent visit to a Catholic school in Rome, "I sincerely hope that parity for non-state schools that offer a real public service will become a reality."
The call for pluralism has been taken up by the centre-right opposition forces.
At a rally in Milan attended by 15,000 people, leaders of the four main opposition parties attacked the proposed reform for its "communist hegemony".