View from Italy - Dialect dilemma is not all talk

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
Teachers will have to learn local language and customs to work in northern Italy, says Michael Fitzpatrick

Imagine for a moment that all northerners teaching south of Watford could remain only if they enunciated their lessons in Estuary tones, had at least some grip on rhyming slang and held a deep and abiding respect for jellied eels.

A dream, perhaps, of some deranged Arsenal fan? Maybe, but in Italy the idea of forcing teachers into regional cultural conformity is actually gaining political currency.

A junior but powerful partner in today's Italian government, the Milan-based Northern League, is demanding that teachers from other areas should bow to the ways of locals.

Paola Goisis, the party's education minister, recently demanded the law be changed so that all teachers would be forced to pass a test "on the culture, traditions and dialect of the regions in which they intend to teach".

Given that many of Italy's teachers are from the poorer south, many believe it was just another potshot taken by a party that likes to discriminate against all non-northern Italians.

The same party has already let its thoughts be known about foreign immigrants and, sadly and predictably, this political group has forged some aspects of new immigration policy in Italy. After all, Silvio Berlusconi relies on the league's support to stay in power.

The league is campaigning for more fiscal federalism and seeks ultimately devolution from "the thieving" south and even Rome. In a darker agenda it has attacked Italy's "too liberal" immigration policy and brought uncomfortable memories of Mussolini-style politics back to the mainstream.

The message is migrants, be they natives or not, are not welcome in the prosperous north.

We can get a good bead on what is really behind such demands when looking at Ms Goisis's other views on teachers.

The minister said the tests were crucial as qualifications and "college degrees do not guarantee homogeneity because they are often bought" and "therefore do not provide a guarantee of a teacher's suitability for a post."

So not only are southerners ignorant they are dishonest as well?

Teachers in Italy are already feeling the heat as a new education bill attempts to reduce the number of teachers.

They may feel further miffed that the league is attempting to dictate what part of the country they work in and which dialects they speak - particularly when Dante's Italian, understood by all, should be sufficient.

Whatever the outcome, Ms Goisis wants some kind of parity in north-south teacher numbers, as though to lessen the malaise the insidious south might be inoculating the north.

Could this clash of cultures catch on in the UK, with the Scots demanding quizzes on your knowledge of Burns and Irn-Bru?

Conversely, the south of England's local authorities could demand that Scouse louts like myself brush up on our knowledge of geezer speak, Sloane culture and The Wurzels, before applying for a teaching job. I'd better start practising saying "innit".

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