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Toddlers' 'reform' opposed

ITALY

EDUCATION minister Letizia Moratti is planning to test children every two years throughout their school careers.

However, members of her own party have undermined the reforming minister's proposal to open nursery schools to two-year-olds .

The new tests will replace the current end-of-year evaluation, which requires struggling pupils to repeat a year. The licenza elementare - the exam taken at the end of primary school, with a near 100 per cent pass rate - will also disappear.

Approval of Ms Moratti's reforms by the council of ministers last month should have been a formality. But objections were raised by the federalist Northern League, which believes that they did not offer enough autonomy to the regions. The Catholic-inspired Christian Democrats are also worried by the plan for children to start school a year earlier, at age five, and - as a direct consequence - to open nursery schools to toddlers of two.

To add to the minister's annoyance, finance minister Giulio Tremonti, from her own Forza Italia party, declared that there was not enough money for the reforms.

The objections stem from the knock-on effect of the proposal to raise the school-leaving age from 15 to 18 and abolish the last year of the liceo; currently, high-school students take the school-leaving exam at 19. But both majority and opposition parties wanted to keep five years of secondary education. Hence the idea to bring forward the start year for nursery education.

The bottom line, of putting two-year-olds into nursery education, sparked protests from experts, as well as Ms Moratti's Catholic colleagues. State pre-school education is considered the best part of the system - Newsweek once judged Italian nursery schools the best in the world.

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