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6. Progress toward goals and targets
6.1 Participation in pre-primary education
Pre-primary education in strict sense is the care and education provision for 3 to 5-year-old children, and it is provided by the so-called Scuole Materne or Scuole per l'Infanzia. There is a special care and education service also for the youngest children 0 to 3, and it is provided by the so-called Asili Nido (nurseries). The Scuole Materne are part of the school system and under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, while the Asili Nido do not belong to the school system and are under the responsibility of the Ministry for Social Affairs.
The Asili Nido are sponsored mainly by the municipalities and, in a very little proportion, by private institutions and individuals. They serve only a very small proportion of the target population, about 8 per cent at national level, and are concentrated especially in Northern and Central Italy, with very few cases in Southern Italy and in the Islands (see table 1). But during this decade a remarkable development of the provision can be observed. In 1992, less than 100.000 children (5.7 of the 0-3-year-olds) were cared for in the Asili Nido, in 1998 they were 120.000 (about 8%).
The Scuole Materne are sponsored by the State or by other public bodies (autonomous Regions and Provinces, Municipalities) or by private institutions, especially religious groups, and individuals. The attendance of pre-schools is non compulsory, but it is almost generalized: more than 95 per cent of the target children attend some type of pre-primary education setting (see Table 2). Handicapped children are fully integrated in the regular classes. They were 0.98 per cent of the total number of pupils in 1998-99. As for the gender differences in the participation in pre-primary education, the proportion was of 48.2% female against 51.8 male in 1996-97 and it is virtually stabilized, depending not on any kind of discrimination, but primarily on demographic factors.
Until recently, more than 50 per cent of pre-primary school service was provided by non-State-run institutions (municipalities and other institutions, especially religious groups). During the 90s the stronger and stronger development of State-run schools brought about a preminence of these settings with respect to non-State institutions. And now (1999) the proportion is of more than 57 per cent of the children attending State-run pre-schools against less than 43 per cent attending non-State-run settings (see Table 3).
The main concern of the policy-makers is at present, besides the coverage of the entire target population, the improvement of the quality of the service. The State-run pre-schools follow the guidelines issued by the Ministerial Decree of 3 June, 1991 (Orientamenti per l'attivitą educativa nella scuola materna statale), which are a curriculum-like instrument for the teachers. They outline the aims of pre-school education, i.e. the strengthening of the child's identity, with respect to physical, intellectual and psychodynamic characteristics, the gradual achievement of self-sufficiency by the child, and the development of the child's abilities, in particular his/her sensorial, perceptive, motor, linguistic and intellectual skills. The educational activities are regularly monitored by the inspectors, who also act as advisors. Most of non-State-run preschools, too, adopt, even not officially, these guidelines, ensuring in this way an educational service of quality and homogeneous.
The main factors expected to contribute to the improvement of the quality of the educational provision are: the above mentioned guidelines, qualification of teachers, and the teacher/pupils ratio.
6.2. Participation in primary education
Primary, or elementary school represents the first cycle of compulsory education. It is aimed at promoting initial cultural literacy with a view to social education and to interactions with others. It lasts 5 years, from 6 to 11 years of age.
Primary education is provided basicly by the State-run schools, in which 93 per cent of all the age group are enrolled (1998). But there are also a number of private institutions, mainly sponsored by religious groups, which serve 7 per cent of the children (see Table 5). It is cost-free in the State schools, while for children attending private schools families pay enrolment and tuition fees.
Since several decades, all the children in this age range enrol primary education classes, even though a small proportion of them do not attend the courses or drop out before concluding them with the final examination and the achievement of the primary school leaving certificate (the Licenza elementare).
The drop-out problem is one of the main concerns of policy-makers nowadays. Even though restricted to a quite small number of children (0.07 per cent in State-run schools in school year 1997-98), it still precludes the achievement of one of the top priorities of the education policy, i.e. the basic education for all. This situation is spread throughout Italy, but from a quantititative point of view the problem is comparatively more serious in the Southern regions (0.08%) and in the Islands (0.09%), and affects children regardless of their gender. But it is evident in the same time that the various initiatives aimed at combatting the school failure at this level are successful. As a matter of fact, the drop-out rate has been decreasing constantly, sinking from 0.17% in 1990-91 to 0.07 in 1997-98. And this trend is particularly stressed in Southern Italy (from 0.20% to 0.08%) and in the Islands (from 0.45% to 0.09%) (see Table 6).
According to the law (Legislative Decree no. 297 of 16 April, 1994, art. 113 and 114), parents are responsible for the school attendance of their children, and the local authorities, i.e. the Mayor of the municipality, are obliged to warn the parents of children not attending the school and, in case of unsuccessful warning, to notify them to the law.
During the 90s several initiatives have been taken in order to prevent drop-out and school failure. Among such measures, two seem to have been particularly effective. The first one is the monitoring of drop-outs by the Ministry of Education, paralleled by consistent measures at provincial level, aimed at tracking drop-outs and re-introducing them in the formal schooling. The other one is a series of projects managed by the Ministry of Education. In this framework particular attention is also devoted to pupils who repeat one or more years, since this condition is seen as one of the possible causes of drop-out. The situation is going better and better (see Table 7), and the "repeaters" are now about 0.3 % of the pupils enrolled. To these initiatives, the establishment of an Observatory on the school failure (Osservatorio sulla dispersione scolastica) has to be added. This Observatory has been recently (20 July, 1999) transfered under the responsibility of the National Institute for the Evaluation of the Education System.
Most of the children who enrol the first year of primary school have had a previous school-like experience in the pre-primary settings: 95.1 per cent in 1998-99 was the proportion of the 3 to 5 year-olds attending preschools, but the proportion is even higher (almost 99 per cent) for the 5 year old children. Such experience is thought to be a very important support for a successful career in the elementary school.
The proportion male/female was 48.3% female and 51.7 male in 1996-97, given to demographic factors, i.e. to the fact that in this age range boys are more numerous than girls.
Handicapped children are fully integrated in the regular classes and benefit of the assistence of a specialized aid teacher, who co-operates, in planning and managing individualised educational projects, with the classroom teachers, with the child's parents and, if it is the case, with the specialists. Immigrants, too, attend regular classes and in many cases schools organize for them special courses in their original language and culture. Their proportion on the total number of pupils is growing more and more: they were 1.1 per cent in the school year 1998-99.
The primary school curriculum has been enriched during this decade. The most significant innovations are the introduction, in 1990, of the foreign language as a new subject matter, and the use of the Information and Communication Technologies. As for the foreign language, the implementation of the relevant regulations started in 1992-93 and was carried out gradually. In 1994-95, a foreign language was thaught in 43.6% of the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes (State-run schools), arriving up to 90% in 1998-99. The languages taught were (1994-95): English (78,3%), French (17.4%), Spanish (0.4%), German (4.0%). One of the main problems in this framework was the training and the appointment of qualified teachers, for which the Ministry of Education launched a special programme. The use of ICT, on the other side, is increasing more and more, particularly following the Educational Technologies Development Programme 1997-2000. In 1998, 50% of primary schools were equiped with ICT.
As for primary school teachers, most of them (93 per cent in 1992, the same in 1998) are female. Until 1998, teachers were trained in the Istituti Magistrali, special colleges at upper secondary school level with four-year courses at the end of which students had to pass a final examination (Esame di Maturitą Magistrale) in order to achieve the diploma and the qualification. In 1998 such colleges have been abolished, and future primary school teachers have to enrol, after a regular 5-year upper secondary school course, the university for a 4-year course, at the end of which they achieve the degree (Laurea in Scienze della Formazione Primaria) that makes them eligible for the open competition to get a post as primary school teachers. This new regulation is thought to improve substantially the qualification standard of future teachers.
6.3 Lower secondary education
Compulsory schooling includes, besides primary education, the lower secondary school (or Scuola Media = Middle School), which lasts for three years and is attended by the 11-14-year-olds. It provides a common general academic education and the framework for the development of the pupils' personality in all directions.
Most of lower secondary schools are sponsored by the State, serving (1997-98) 96.3 per cent of the pupils in the age range 11-14, while 3.7 per cent attend non-State schools sponsored by religious institutions and other private groups or individuals (see Table 9). As primary education, lower secondary education, too, is cost-free in the State schools, and families receive from the regional authorities a financial support for textbooks. For children attending private (or non-State-run) schools families pay enrolment and tuition fees, but the poor households will receive, starting in 1999-2000, a financial support for textbooks and other education materials.
Lower secondary school is compulsory since the early 60s, but a comparatively high proportion of children do not enrol or drop out before concluding the courses with the final exemination and achieving the lower secondary school leaving certificate (the Licenza Media) which is also the condition for the access to upper secondary education.
Drop-out is a problem at this level, too, given its proportion and the consequences for the basic education of the children concerned as well as for their job perspectives and employability at large. The drop-out rate was 1.40 per cent in the school year 1990-91, but it sunk to 0.48% in 1997-98. In this trend it seems to be particularly significant the improvement of the situation in Southern Italy (from 2.56% in 1990-91 to 0.74% in 1997-98) and in the Islands (from 2.75 to 0.97) (see Table 10). If the year repetition rate is taken as a token allowing for some kind of interpretation of this variable, then it seems that the drop-out still exists at this level of schooling, but it is decreasing from one year to the other. As a matter of fact, 5.3 per cent of pupils were "repeaters" in 1994-95, while they were 4.6 per cent in 1996-97 (see Table 11). Another clue could be the proportion of pupils failing to pass the final examination to achieve the lower secondary school leaving certificate: in six years the percentage sunk from 2.2 to 1.1 (see Table 12). A constant feature shown by these data is the clear difference between the Northern-Central regions of Italy and the Southern regions and the Islands. All the percentages, both for "repeaters" and for pupils failing to pass the final examination, are decidedly higher in the "second half" of the country. But this problem has likely to be embedded and dealt with in the framework of the more general and committing problem regarding the Southern regions of Italy and the Islands.
Initial training of lower secondary school teachers is traditionally based on a university degree (Laurea) in the subject matter of teaching, plus a qualification (Abilitazione all'insegnamento) achieved through an open competition. The recent reform of the teacher initial training introduced a two-year post-graduate course, specifically focused on pedagogical, psychological, didactic and methodological disciplines and on the use of ICT as well, to be attended by future teachers, still holding of course the open competition in order to get a post.
Teachers of lower secondary school were 72 per cent female, against 28 per cent male in 1995 (they were 71 against 29 per cent respectively in 1992).
6.4. Upper secondary education
After finishing the period of compulsory schooling and passing the lower secondary school examination, students may undertake courses of study lasting for five (most of them), four or three years. Upper secondary school is not compulsory, except the first year for children up to 15 years of age, according to the recent reform implemented beginning the school year 1999-2000 (see Part I, section 2).
Even though the structure of upper secondary education has remained the same for several decades, with the exception of vocational education where a series of reforms have been carried out, its content has changed over time on the basis of legislative interventions. The increase in the number and type of available courses, the widespread introduction of new subjects (such as, for instance, computer science), and the new programmes particularly concerning the first two years at this level of education, have deeply modified the educational provision of upper secondary education.
The whole structure of this level of education is going to change in the next future, since the thorough reform of the school system will show its most substantial impact precisely at this level. But the implementation of the planned reform will take obviously a few years. So at present upper secondary school will hold the traditional picture, with its sections (classical, scientific, linguistic, artistic, technical and vocational). Upper secondary schools, too, are sponsored chiefly by the State, which serves 93.2 per cent of all the students. The remaining 6.8 per cent attend non-State-run schools, sponsored by private or religious bodies (see Table 13).
Upper secondary school in itself is not yet formally part of basic education, even though a great proportion of the compulsory school leavers enrol in it (they were 92.6 per cent in 1995-96, and are expected to be around 100 per cent in 1999-2000, since the attendance of the first year of upper secondary school has become compulsory). Students enrolled in upper secondary school represented 80 per cent of the age group (15-19) in 1995-96. A common feature throughout the Italian regions is the higher proportion of female students with respect to male students: 81.5% to 78.5 in 1995-96, and this situation is particularly evident in Northern and Central Italy (86.4% to 81.0% (see Table 14). In 1995-96, the students concluding upper secondary school with a diploma were 63.1 per cent as a percentage of the 19-year-olds, and the female students show a significantly higher rate than the male students - 67.6% to 58.8% To this numbers the students participating in regional vocational training courses have to be added. They were 5.8 per cent of the age group in 1995-96, so that the percentage of youth concluding either upper secondary school or vocational training courses was 68.9 of the total age group.
As in most of the European countries, in Italy, too, the aim of policy-makers is to generalize the achievement of this level of education or, better, to bring all the children either to the upper secondary school diploma or to a vocational qualification. The recent regulations about compulsory schooling and training brought about a substantial increase of the proportion of youth participating in formal schooling up to the achivement of a diploma: they are estimated to be 72 per cent in 1999, about 79-80 per cent if the students achieving the vocational qualification in the vocational schools and in the regional system are included.
Drop-out at this level of schooling needs a specific explanation, since upper secondary school is not compulsory. Reasons why a number of young people do not enrol upper secondary school (7.4 per cent of the lower secondary school leavers) or drop out during the courses are different according to the social-economic background and several other factors. In some regions, for instance in Northern Italy, a number of them have easy job opportunities immediately after completing their compulsory education, so that they have no particular motivation to enrol formal schooling. In other regions, especially in Southern Italy and in the Islands, youth unemployment rate is very high even among those holding a diploma or a university degree, and this circumstance discourages to some extent people from engaging in a hopeless school career. Drop-out rate is particularly high after the first year of upper secondary school, especially in the technical and vocational institutes as well as in Art Institutes and Lyceums. In 1997-98 it was, for the whole cycle, 5.5 per cent, with slightly higher proportion in Southern Italy (5.6%) and in the Islands (8.6%) than in Northern (4.8%) and Central Italy (4.8%) (see Table 15). A feature to be stressed here is the significantly higher proportion of drop-outs among the male students (8.4%) than among the female (5.4%), and this difference is to be observed in about all the Italian regions. Several measures have been taken by the policy makers aimed at combatting this aspect of the school failure. One in particular has to be mentioned: the establishment of a counselling and guidance service in every school, paralleled by special courses for low-achiever students.
6.5. Basic education for young and older adults
Several initiatives have been launched during this decade for giving young and older adults lacking a basic education the opportunity of achieving at least a minimum literacy level. Special regulations have been issued for prisoners, soldiers, and young and older adults.
As for prisoners, normal courses at primary and lower secondary level, with final examinations to achieve the primary school leaving certificate or the lower secondary school leaving certificate respectively, are organized according to the law no. 354 of 20 July, 1975, revised and improved with the Legislative Decree no. 297 of 16 April, 1994, art. 135. In 1998, 309 primary school courses have been organized, with about 3.000 participants (see Table 16), and about the same number of courses have been provided at lower secondary school level.
On the other side, for soldiers who did not conclude their compulsory schooling, the so-called "Regimental schools" (Scuole reggimentali) supply special courses, in two terms of five months each, with a final examination, giving the soldiers the opportunity to achieve the elementary school leaving certificate. Soldiers in that condition are obliged to attend such classes. In 1998 only 8 of such courses have been organized and their number is decreasing from one year to the other because of the very few soldiers in that condition.
For young and older adults in general, a targeted programme has been launched in 1997 with the establishment of the Centri Territoriali Permanenti. They have to be established by the Provincial School Authorities (Provveditori agli Studi) in agreement with local authorities and other public and private bodies, with the aim of providing young and older adults with the opportunity of achieving the elementary and the lower secondary school leaving certificates. The Centres should also act as a setting where the adults can improve their basic knowledge and skills, as for instance language competences, computer literacy, develop or achieve a vocational qualification, and encourage the re-entering in the educational process for people at risk of marginalization. Such Centres are based at a primary or lower secondary school unit and co-ordinated by the school principal, who manages the school activities in the framework of the existing regulations as concerns the appointment of the teachers, the priorities in enrolling students, the administration, etc.
The Centri Territoriali Permanenti are permanent institutions and operate on a district basis, i.e. they are established in a school district where a minimum of 90 people apply to attend the planned courses. Most of them (80.2% in 1998-99) are based at lower secondary schools, but a number of Centres are also based at primary schools (16.5%) and the comprehensive schools (3.3%). Teachers involved in these service were 3.314 in 1998-99.
The type of their educational supply is twofold: regular courses of at least 200 school days a year for the achievement of the primary or lower secondary school leaving certificate; and short courses on various topics, as for instance computer literacy, foreign languages, vocational guidance. Environmental education, etc.
These Centres started in the school year 1997-98, and are regularly monitored by the Ministry of Education (Ufficio Studi e Programmazione). During the first year of experience 25 Centres have been established throughout Italy, each with about 170 students. During the school year 1998-99, the Centres were 388, which provided 2.359 long courses for 54.018 participants, and 4.838 short courses for 95.632 participants (see Tables 17 and 18). This trend shows a very promising picture of the Centres, which in few years time should replace completely the former courses for workers (the so-called "150 hours" courses), for prisoners and for soldiers, but also expand remarkably the educational provision for the adult lacking a basic education. This kind of educational service is expected to reach about 500.000 people in 5 years. It is noteworthy the different distribution of the courses throughout the national territory. First of all, more Centres have been established in Southern Regions and in the Islands than in Northern and Central Italy (209 and 179 respectively), but as regards the regular literacy courses the opposite is true, since in the Northern and Central Regions the number of courses supplied is more than three times that of the South and the Islands, and the number of participants almost five times, while the situation is reversed so far as the courses for workers (the 150 hours courses) are concerned. Another message coming from both types of courses is the clear preminence of the male participants if compared with the female, and this is true at national and at regional level as well. The proportion male-female changes completely if the short courses are considered. In this case the female participants are decidedly more than the male in all the Italian Regions (61% against 39% at national level, and almost the same proportion in Northern-Central Italy and in South-Islands) (see Table 18).
To the above measures the various initiatives of the private sector have to be added, even though no reliable data are available on the nature, the number of courses, the number, gender and age of participants.
7. Effectiveness of the EFA strategy, plan and programmes
The strategy defined by the Italian government in the present decade for generalizing the participation in basic education seems to have been significantly effective under the different aspects. The main objective was not the access of all the young children to formal education at primary and lower secondary level, which is an objective achieved since several decades, but the improvement of the quality of the education provided at this level, the access of all the 3-6-year-old children to pre-primary education, and the increase of the proportion of children participating in upper secondary school or in the initial vocational education and training. As a matter of fact these objectives have been essentially achieved.
A very important contribution to this result came from the legislation on the autonomy of school institutions. The individual schools are now endowed, in the framework of the traditional freedom as concerns the teaching activity, and of the cultural pluralism, with the right of planning and implementing their educational provision according to the real needs and characteristics of their own pupils, in their specific social and economical context, obviously in a way that is consistent with the general goals and objectives of the national education system.
One of the most typical results of the new regulations is that the autonomous schools must issue every year their "Plan of the educational supply" (Piano dell'offerta formativa) in which, besides the financial and administrative aspects, the teaching-learning content, methods, timing and conditions are defined according to the principle of flexibility. So the individual schools are allowed to modulate the annual teaching time for the various subject matters, to adopt individualized teaching-learning pathways, in particular for handicapped pupils, consistent with the general principle of the integration of the individuals in the classroom and in the group, to adopt a modular scheme for grouping pupils, to band various disciplines in disciplinary areas. Furthermore they plan the support intiatives for low-achievers, for enhancing the educational continuity between the different levels of schooling, provide a guidance service for their pupils, decide about the teaching methods and instruments, including textbooks, and the introduction and the use of the information and communication technologies, and define methods and criteria for student assessment and the evaluation of the school outcomes.
This fundamental innovation in school management is expected to result in a remarkable enhancement of the educational provision at all levels. But additional positive results can be observed in the individual sectors of the education system following the directives of the relevant school authorities and the initiative of the school boards.
1. Pre-primary education
With the Law no. 179 of 27 May, 1991, the Italian Parliament ratified the United Nations Agreement on the rights of children (20 November, 1989). This was not, indeed, the starting point of the Italian policy in this area. As a matter of fact, it was perceived as an encouragement of the positive trend particularly evident from the 50s onward. One of the most significant steps in this direction was the establishment, in 1968, of the State-run pre-primary schools (Law no. 444 of 18 March, 1968) which recognizes every young child the right to attend an education and care setting, regardless of the social-economical background, race, religion, language.
Until 1968, as the State-run pre-primary school (Scuola Materna) was established, early childhood education and care was left to the initiatives of municipalities, religious institutions, associations and private groups and individuals. And just a low proportion - less than 50 per cent - of the 3-6-year-olds attended some kind of pre-primary education and care setting. In 30 years time the attendance of pre-primary school has reached more than 95 per cent of the age group, chiefly due to the increase of the supply by the State, which has not only established schools where they did not exist at all, but also has improved the quality of the educational provision giving the households the possibility of a choice between different types of settings. The current decade, 1990-1999, shows then that in this sector the objective has been achieved at least as regards the proportion of children attending pre-schools. It is not yet 100 per cent, but very close to the generalization.
As for the quality of the educational provision, many studies carried out recently show that the introduction of the revised guidelines for the State-run pre-schools (Orientamenti per l'attivitą educativa nella scuola materna statale) in 1991 brought about a new approach to the early childhood education, focused on the development of child's personality in its various dimensions, as the strengthening of the child's identity with respect to physical, intellectual and psycho-dynamic characteristics, the gradual achievement of independence and self-sufficiency by the child, the development of the child's abilities and skills, in particular his/her sensorial, perceptive, motor, linguistic and intellectual abilities. The impact of these guidelines has been very strong not only in the State-run pre-schools, but also in most of the settings sponsored by the municipalities, by religious institutions and by private groups and individuals, which are not obliged to adopt the Orientamenti, but nevertheless feel it advisable in order to face the "competition" with the State-run pre-primary schools. In this context is noteworthy also the strive for excellence to be observed in many both State and non-State pre-schools. Such kind of competition seems to be encouraged by the differences between the various kinds of settings according to their "philosophy", the ideological choices, the sponsorship, that give the families the possibility of adjusting their choice to the specific content of the supply, for instance according to the opening hours, to the shared teaching time, to the quality of the school equipment, to the complementary services, to the availability of "family time", etc.
Finally, the priority of this sector of the educational provision in the policy programme of the government becomes obvious also from the increase of public expenditure for the Scuola Materna, just the opposite of what happens for any other level of schooling.
The other section of pre-school education is that of the provision for the youngest children 0 to 3 years of age. The Asili Nido, i.e. the education and care settings planned for these children, are not actually a recent institution, but they have been not until recently one of the policy priorities. So one could explain the very low number of settings operating in Italy in the early 90s (see Table 1). The Asili Nido became a priority during the current decade, in particular in the last few years when a generalized opinion movement has been demanding a revised legislation on the education and care services for the 0-3-year-olds. As a matter of fact, in 1999 a bill has been submitted to the Parliament which should redefine the nature and provision of this service. One of the most significant changes, if compared with previous legislation (Law 1044 of 1971), should be the move of the Asili Nido from the area of the social care services to that of the social-educational settings, keeping in the same time the typical features of the services designed for the youngest children, i.e. taking in account the particular developmental phase of the children and the close relationship between children and their families at this stage. In other words, the Asili Nido will be no longer conceived as a service on individual demand, but as "an educational and social service of public interest". Another characteristic of the new Asili Nido should be the focus on the child itself, on its personal development, and not so much on the organizational needs of their parents, as it was basicly in the previous regulations. The nature of the institutions providing the service should also be redefined accordingly. The bill outlines several types of settings: centres for children and parents, spaces for children, services at home for families with children under three cared for by professional caregivers, services at the homes of caregivers.
2. Primary education
At primary school level, the current decade has been characterized by the implementation of the new regulations issued by Law no.148 of 5 June, 1990. The main innovations can be observed in the following areas: introduction of foreign languages in the curriculum, better definition of the disciplinary sets - the so-called ambiti disciplinari - and the teaching time for the individual subject matters, new regulations for non-State-run primary schools, the educational continuity, the assessment of the school achievement of pupils.
These innovations are to be seen in the framework of the reform of the primary school curricula in 1981, the main goal of which was to provide young children with more and better opportunities to achieve a broader cultural literacy, especially by mastering the various languages, so that they acquire knowledge and the use of the different methods for exploring their own experience, for developing their ability of critical thinking, the autonomy of judgement, and the basic civic education. In particular the new curricula stress the principle of the individualization of the teaching-learning process, through a closer and active involvement of the pupils.
Several studies have been carried out in the last few years on the extent and the quality of the educational provision following the new regulations. The most important of these initiatives is the establishment of a monitoring system at the Ministry of Education, which reviews regularly every two years the situation under its various aspects, as for instance the structure and dimensions of the school institutions - number of classes, pupils, teachers -, the organization by modules, teaching time, teaching of foreign languages, resourses allocated and used, etc. Specific studies have been carried out by CENSIS (1992), by the IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement), and other organizations. The general picture of the Italian primary school obtained from such studies seems to be very encouraging in the sense that they confirm that the new curricula and the new regulations brought about a real improvement of the quality of primary education. Moreover, the main variables of the outcomes of primary school - number of pupils passing the final examination, average scores obtained, number of year repeaters (see section 6.2), show a clear improvement of the educational service. This trend is likely to continue in the coming years, given the expected benefits of the implementation of the school autonomy, that will link closer the educational provision to the needs of the local community and the pupils. As a matter of fact, the school autonomy will allow the individual schools for a curricular and didactic organization more appropriate to the local situation and to the pupils, for designing the School's Educational Project (Piano Educativo di Istituto) and planning the teaching time and the extra-curricular activities taylored according to the specific needs and resourses available, for a better and more effective use of the resources.
Special attention has been devoted to the educational continuity from pre-primary to primary education as well as from primary to lower secondary education. This objective has been pursued in particular through targeted initiatives by the Regional Research and Experimentation Institutes (the IRRSAEs), which have developed and administered regularly observation and measurement instruments in order to monitor the activities of the individual schools under this point of view.
As for the human resourses involved in the implementation of the recent reforms, particular mention has to be made of the growing specialization of the teachers following the introduction of the modules, which requires a more specialized initial as well as in-service training in order to deal with disciplinary areas that replaced the generalist model of the past. The initial training of primary school teachers was, in fact, a weak point of the system, since the qualification required in order to become a full teacher - the Maturitą Magistrale, i.e. the school leaving certificate obtained after a 4-year course at upper secondary level - has been considered from both policy-makers and the public opinion to be a very low standard, especially if compared with the scheme adopted in most of the developped countries. The recent legislation (Law no. 341 of 19 November, 1990, and subsequent decrees of 1996 and 1997) has finally solved this problem: from the school year 1998-99 the future primary school teachers will be trained in the universities, where they have to attend, after a regular 5-year upper secondary course, a 4-year course in "Sciences of Primary Education" (Scienze della Formazione Primaria), at the end of which they achieve the degree (Laurea) as the minimum qualification in order to be eligible as candidates to become full teachers.
For in-service training, on the other side, many initiatives have been taken, in particular at provincial and local level, obviously according to the directives issued by the Ministry of Education. Among such initiatives, the regular refreshing courses have to be mentioned, usually organized by the IRRSAEs in co-operation with the provincial school authorities and the individual schools. These courses are aimed at providing teachers with a systematic up-dating on the recent developments in the field of the various disciplines, on the teaching methods in general and as related to to individual disciplines, on the use of ITCs as a teaching instrument, etc. Particular attention has been paid, in this framework, to the new category of the teaching staff: the teachers of foreign languages, for whom special courses have been planned.
It is difficult to evaluate the proportion of the results obtained to the effort made in terms of human and financial resourses involved. As a matter of fact, the lack of an Evaluation Service - it has been established only in 1999 - makes it impossible, for instance, to evaluate the real progress made in the last ten years so far as the effectiveness of the educational supply is concerned. Nor there have been studies aimed at evaluating the quality of the teaching-learning process or the pupils' outcomes compared with the situation in 1990 or earlier. On the other hand, the monitoring service carried out by the Ministry of Education (Directorate-General for Primary Education) does not evaluate the educational provision in terms of quality of the outcomes, but chiefly from an administrative point of view. Nevertheless the above mentioned initiatives, in particular the adoption of the modules, the introduction of foreign languages in the curriculum as a compulsory subject matter, and the new system for the initial teacher training, should be considered as a very significant progress even as the quality of the educational provision is concerned.
3. Lower secondary education
Lower secondary education - the Scuola Media - is considered to be a linking cycle between primary and upper secondary school and the initial vocational education and training. Hence its crucial role in the educational process as well as the special attention that policy-makers, the government and the social partners pay to it.
Recent legislation on this sector of the system has affected mainly some operational features, as for instance the method of student assessment, obviously without considering here the expected results of the implementation of school autonomy. On the other hand, the regulations issued by the Ministry of Education, in particular those regarding the experimentation, influenced the educational supply in various ways and in details that allow for some kind of estimation of its effectiveness. Among the initiatives taken in this area the introduction of a second foreign language - one of the European Union languages - as an optional, non-curricular discipline has to be mentioned. The didactic scheme is that of flexible teaching modules of 240 hours in three years, designed for groups of children even from different classrooms of the same school. Its goal is to provide the children, at the end of the three-year course, with an appropriate competence in speaking the foreign language and, instrumental to this, the writing ability. The experimentation has been launched in 1997 (Law no. 440 od 18 December, 1997), so there are no data, at the moment, on the number of schools, teachers, and pupils participating in it. Another field very sensitive to experimentation is that of the flexible school-time, allowing for various initiatives as the allocation of human and financial resourses for a more intensive teaching of some subject matters, for instance latin, musics, gymnastics and sports, etc. In this framework computer literacy appears to be, particularly in the last few years, a top priority objective for both teachers and pupils. And the number of schools participating in the special programme launched by the Ministry of Education in 1997 (see Part I, section 5) shows that this initiative met a widespread interest from the side of lower secondary schools.
If one focuses on the system indicators in order to catch some inputs on the school effectiveness at this level, then a first answer comes from the graduation rate: it was 98.9 per cent in school year 1996-97 against 97.8 in 1990-91, that means that the proportion of pupils failing to pass the final examination sunk in the same period from 2.2 to 1.1 per cent. Another clue for a crear enhancement of the quality of school provision is the proportion of the pupils repeating a school year: the were 7.4 per cent in 1990-91, while their proportion in 1996-97 decreased to 4.6 per cent (see Table 11). To these important outcomes have certainly contributed to some extent the efforts of the individual schools and teachers aimed at enriching the educational supply by means of a more appropriate and targeted planning of curricular and extra-curricular activities that improve the motivation, the commitment and the attainment level of students. This trend seems to be confirmed by the gradual and continuous decrease of drop-outs during the three years of lower secondary school: 1.40 in 1990-91 and 0.48 in 1997-98 (see Table 10).
On the other side, if "quality" is related to the standard of the educational attainement in terms of knowledge, competences and skills achieved at the end of the lower secondary cycle, then an objective evaluation becomes difficult if not impossible, since no regular monitoring has been implemented on the school achievement through this decade. The only reference point could be the IEA Study of Reading Literacy (1990-91) and the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) carried out in 1995 and replied in 1999 (TIMSS-R), but the results of which are not yet available.
4. Upper secondary education
Upper secondary school is the only educational level that did not experience any real and thorough reform during the current decade. Its various sections maintained the philosophy and the structure designed by the Gentile's reform in 1923, just changing from time to time individual features, adding some subject matters or modifying their content, etc.
The Gentilian model of upper secondary school has been in the last decades one of the most challenging topics of the political and pedagogical debate. The main argument against the stagnation of this educational level is that its actual structure does not fit the changing demand on the side of the cultural and social life and, in particular, of the labour market. Quite often, indeed, policy-makers tried and proposed some kind of reform, but their efforts have been regularly unsuccessful. This was true until the very recent initiative of the Minister of Education Luigi Berlinguer, who in 1997 engaged in a thorough reform of the educational system (see section 2). According to the bill passed by the Chamber of Deputies in September 1999, but yet to be approved by the Senate, the new upper secondary school, to be re-named simply as "secondary cycle", should in principle face the challenge. Its five types of Liceo - humanistic, scientific, technical and technological, artistic, and musical - will supply five-year courses designed for preparing youths either to access the higher education or to the working life. One of the revolutionary features of the new secondary cycle is the compulsory attendance of the first two years, which will fulfil an orientation function, i.e. during the first two years the students will have the possibility of moving from their initial choice to another educational stream according to their own interests, supported and guided in that by targeted initiatives and guidance on the side of the school. Moreover, during the second year a new kind of complementary activities will be organized and provided by the secondary schools: training initiatives, planned and implemented in co-operation with the regional vocational training centres and other training institutions as well as with the enterprises, aimed at connecting the curricular learning with the various aspects of the social, cultural, professional and productive world. As for the three final years of the cycle, the modernising element will be the introduction, regardless of the educational stream, of training experiences and practical stages even with short periods in cultural, professional or working situations linked to some extent with the aims of the school curriculum.
The reform is not yet a reality. Nevertheless, the macro- and micro-experimentation system, established by law in 1974, has plaied in the meantime the role of an alternative to the reform, giving the upper secondary schools, particularly during the current decade, the opportunity of trying out manifold innovations in the curricula and in the school management as well. This applies not only to the technical and vocational institutes, which are traditionally more sensitive to experimentations and innovations, but to all the upper secondary sectors.
Among the most significant innovations, the results of the so-called Progetti Assistiti ("Assisted Projects") in the Technical Institutes and the "Project '92" in the Vocational Institutes have to be mentioned. The Progetti Assistiti were launched in the late 80s with the aim of rationalizing the experimental activities in order to bring about a new definition of the educational streams, in particular in the commercial and some industrial streams, as for instance electronics, electrotechnics, telecommunications, mechanics, chemistry, textile. These projects still continue to be a kind of "experimental laboratories" that have a strong impact on actual curricula implemented in the schools. The "Project '92", on the other side, was designed by the Ministry of Education as an innovation process with the aim of encouraging the schools to enhance students' general development by adding more general academic and vocational subjects to the curriculum, by introducing skill-based learning, and by initiating measures to provide special assistance to disadvantaged students. As a matter of fact, the outcomes of the project have been institutionalized during the 90s in the new curricula of the vocational institutes.
The remaining streams of upper secondary school have been also involved in the experimentation process, but their initiatives have been to some extent autonomous and for that reason eterogeneous. The most significant outcome of these efforts is perhaps the establishment of the experimental linguistic and social-pedagogical streams.
All sections of upper secondary school, as the education system at all levels, have been involved during the past few years in the "Progetto Lingue 2000", launched by law in 1997 (Law no. 440 of 18 December, 1997), aimed at promoting and enriching the teaching-learning of foreign languages.
Parallel to these initiatives, particular attention has been paid to the remedial activities in order to combat more effectively the drop-out. The data on the trend during this decade seem to be very encouraging, since the drop-out rate has been decreasing continuously, and it is now reduced to 5.5%, with a number of re-entries in the vocational training system. Indeed, it is difficult to quantify exactly the range of drop-out, given its complexity and the lack of an accurate monitoring system of the students' flows at this educational level, in particular of the seeming drop-out of a number of students who just leave the formal education system to enrol vocational training courses or to engage in the apprenticeship. There are no official statistical data on this matter. According to a survey carried out by the ISFOL in 1996, the drop-out rate at upper secondary school level was 19.1 per cent, with 6.3 per cent of school leavers enrolling the regional training courses, 6.5 per cent engaging in some kind of apprenticeship, and 3.9 per cent entering the labour market without any vocational qualification.
As a whole, then, the upper secondary school is perceived by the policy-makers and by the public opinion as an obsolete type of educational provision, but endowed with a lively capacity of innovation. In the same time some of its various streams have proved to be very effective in pursuing their original goals, as for instance the Licei, which prepare the candidates to the higher education. Drop-out rates in the Classical and Scientific Licei are, indeed, very low - 2.9 and 2.3 respectively in 1997-98 - and the transition rate as well as the graduation rate of their students in tertiary level education is very high. The ongoing reform process should finally re-adjust the whole educational provision at this level with reference to the transition of the students not only to the higher education but also to the working life.
5. Adult education
As regards adult education in general, the strategy adopted by the government during this decade had to take into account different situations of the adult population and to set some priorities accordingly.
One of the most striking contrasts with the evident global enhancement of the educational attainment of the population during the past decades was, in the early 90s, a still high percentage (2.14%) of illiterates and of adults who did not complete the elementary school (12.2%). These data have to be seen, obviously, in the framework of the cultural history of the country. Attendance of elementary school, indeed, is compulsory in Italy since 1860, i.e. from the very beginning of the unified country. From that year (Casati Law) through 1923 (Gentile Reform) the attendance of elementary school was compulsory for all children, male and female, for a minimum of two years. Then, in 1923, compulsory schooling was extended up to five years for all. Nevertheless the obligation was in many cases merely in principle, since there was no possibility of tracking the children who did not enrol or attend the courses. Moreover, most of the jobs did not require until recently a qualification linked to the literacy or the educational attainment, even at elementary level. So policy-makers did not take into serious consideration the illiteracy rate of the population, but focused their attention chiefly on the education of the children belonging the the aristocracy and to the middle-high social status as candidated to the liberal professions and qualified jobs. So a remarkable number of children could easily avoid attending elementary school or could drop out during the courses without any consequences for their employability or their social status.
These premises may help understanding to some extent the current situation as regards the unexpected high proportion of illiterates. Indeed, the population aged over 65 was 14.8% of the whole population in 1991. The higher proportion of females, too, has to be explained in the same historical context. No appropriate and congruous data are available for the situation in 1999, since such data are usually collected during the national census, and the next one will take place in 2001. But the data available on the age groups as well as on their educational attainment allow for an interpretation of the still existent category of illiterates and of people lacking a basic education as a heritage of the past. Indeed, the over-65 were, in 1998, 17.5 per cent of the whole population.
A similar explanation should be made for people who did not complete the lower secondary school. As a matter of fact, this level of education became compulsory only in 1962, so that a notable proportion of the population that is now over 40 did not attend any post-compulsory school nor the parallel courses for the vocational initiation, the so-called Scuole di avviamento professionale. In 1991 they were 40.6 per cent of the whole population over 6 years of age. Unfortunately no data are available for an estimation by age groups of the percentages of the population who did not achieve the lower secondary school leaving certificate. Nevertheless the trend to be observed during this decade as concerns the distribution of the population by age groups and their highest of educational attainment could enforce the above interpretation in the sense that the proportion of illiterates as well as of people who did not complete their basic education up to the lower secondary school is due to a great extent to the high proportion of the population aged over 40. In the early 90s (1991) the highest educational attainment of 72% of the age group 25-64 was the lower secondary school, but this percentage decreased to 67% in 1994, 65% in 1995, and to 62% in 1996 (see Table 19), while the proportion of those who completed at least the upper secondary school was, for the age groups 45-54 and 55-64, 20% and 12% respectively in 1991, 21% and 12% in 1992, 26% and 14% in 1994, 28% and 15% in 1995, and 31% and 17% in 1996 (see Table 18).
Illiteracy and lack of basic education should be considered therefore a residual problem of the first half of this century. A problem, nevertheless, that has not been overlooked by the government as well as by the public opinion. It has just been embedded in the new perspective of lifelong learning for all, typical of the current decade. So the adult education has been changing, in Italy as in many other countries, its traditional "mission" of providing a minimum educational attainment to illiterates and adults who did not achieve a basic education at the "right age", i.e. at the typical school age. Now most of the initiatives targeted on the adult learners aim not only at providing a basic education to those who lack it, but also at involving more or less educated adults in learning activities, regardless of their potential contribution to the working life.
In this framework should be seen the many educational programmes for adults in Italy, in particular the so-called Third Age Universities. Most of them are sponsored by foundations and associations as well as by private bodies and individuals, often with a financial support by the regional or provincial authorities. Unfortunately there are no official statistics on the number of universities and of participants in the courses. But a few examples may allow for a glance at the dimension of this kind of supply: according to a survey carried out in 1996 the were in Italy about 350 Third Age Universities, with more than 200.000 participants. These Universities appear with different names - "Universitą della Terza Etą", "Universitą Popolari", Centri Educativi", "Centri 50 anni e pił" etc. -, but they are characterized by similar goals, programmes and methods, and serve people with similar needs, i.e. the wish and the will to learn or re-learn. These courses are not aimed at awarding qualifications, but simply at supplying people the opportunity to get informed, to learn something new, to refresh previous knowledge, to practice cultural activities, etc. And this feature makes also the difference between such courses and those targeted on the younger generations.
As for the other categories of adults, the educational programmes are usually designed by the central government in co-operation with the social partners and the people involved. The most recent initiative in this direction is that of the Centri Territoriali Permanenti (see section 6.5), which are aimed chiefly at providing the adults with the opportunity to achieve an educational qualification that is formally recognized, as the primary and lower secondary school leaving certificates. The various programmes sponsored by the EU in the framework of SOCRATES and LEONARDO have to be added. They are typically designed for younger and older adults who need improving their basic education and training, but also, as for instance the Socrates programme on Adult Education, are aimed at promoting studies and experimentation on theories and methods of adult education as a support to the field action.
So far as the effectiveness of the strategy and the initiatives outlined above can be evaluated in terms of participation of the adults in the various programmes, the increase of the number of people involved has been remarkable during this decade. More than 300.000 thausand of adults attend some kind of educational course, regardless of the young and older adults involved in the activities planned and carried out by the educational institutions, the Regions and the enterprises as vocational initiation, professional development or in-service training. Much more difficul is, on the other side, to evaluate the quality of such activities, since no specific studies have been carried out on the teaching-learning methods and results nor on the participants' satisfaction.
8. Main problems encountered and anticipated
Basic education for all means, in a modern country as Italy, that all citizens, regardless of their gender, age, ideology, social and economical status, must be provided not only with the opportunity but also with the actual achievement of a minimum education and training level that allows them for a full participation in the cultural, social, and economical life of their community. For a country like Italy this citizens' right has to be interpreted, on the side of the community - of the State - as a duty to supply education and training services actually accessible to all the citizens not only during the school age but also throughout the life cycle.
This is obviously in principle. As a matter of fact, indeed, the relationship between the citizens' right and the duty on the side of the State is a little bit complicated by a number of interfering factors, as the human and financial resourses available for the services to be supplied, the dishomogeneity between the different regions as concerns their cultural, social and economical background, the historical heritage of the individuals and social groups, the unequal job and self-realization opportunities in the different geographical areas or depending on the different social-economical status, and then the motivation of the individuals that in some cases can encourage them to catch the learning opportunities available while in other cases may prevent them from benefiting of existing opportunities.
During the current decade, in particular, policy-makers and the public opinion as well could realize more clearly than in the past that some problems regarding education for all still exist and are likely to be observed even in the coming years in spite of the efforts made in order to solve them. Such problems are connected chiefly with: (a) the quality of educational provision; (b) the school effectiveness in terms of capacity of the school education to prepare youths for a successful social and working life; (c) the drop-out; (d) the teacher initial and in-service training.
1. The quality of the educational provision has been questioned particularly during the current decade following two series of events: the production of the international indicators of the education systems by the OECD - the INES project -, and the results of some cross-national surveys on the student outcomes.
As a matter of fact, some indicators clearly show a number of weak points of the Italian school system if compared with the average performance of the remaining OECD countries. One of the most challenging indicators is that of the educational attainment of the population. It shows throughout the decade a remarkable gap between Italy and most of the OECD and in particular the EU countries as regards the proportion of the population 25 to 64 years of age which completed at least upper secondary and tertiary education, paralleled by the reversed situation of the population, especially the labour force, whose highest level of education is the lower secondary school. Another critical indicator is the proportion of youth enrolled in the upper secondary education, which is still lower than in several European countries.
The OECD/INES project, on the other side, has been to some extent a sort of show-window for a number of cross-national studies on the functioning of the schools and the student outcomes. Among them, some of the IEA - the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement - studies found a remarkable echo in the press and in the public debate on school quality. In particular the Study of Reading Literacy and the Third International Mathematics and Science Survey have to be mentioned, the results of which have been used by the OECD/INES project in order to produce a tentative set of indicators on the student achievement at primary, lower secondary and upper secondary school level.
As a matter of fact, the IEA studies of reading literacy and of mathematics and science showed a different performance level in the various educational cycles - elementary, lower secondary and upper secondary school -, a difference that the public opinion had indeed realized even before the IEA studies, but without any evidence for that perception. Essentially the results of the mentioned studies showed the following rank order of the three cycles as concerns their performance compared with the mean of the countries participating in the studies: first, elementary school (above the mean of participating countries); second, middle school; third, upper secondary school (both under the mean of the participating countries). This result has been interpreted by several experts and particularly by the press in the sense that the recent reforms, which involved chiefly the elementary school, brought about an apparent enhancement of the school effectiveness at least in terms of student achievement, as shown by the pretty good results at elementary school level and, to some extent, at lower secondary level.
Unfortunately there are no recent studies that allow for a comparison of the student outcomes in the last few years with those mentioned above, nor there are reliable data on the remaining subject matters.
The media have been punctually stressing that performance lag, the causes of which would have been, among others, the rigidity of the education system as a whole, the obsolete structure and content of the school curricula, the delay in introducing the new information and communication technologies in the teaching-learning activities, the poor training of the teachers, etc. Such arguments have been recurrent in the press as well as in many meetings, at national and local level, on school effectiveness and "quality" in education. The experts and the public opinion as well actually recognize that problems do still exist.
The Government, of course, is fully aware of these problems, and the many initiatives taken particularly in the last few years aim at solving them. In this framework should be seen the various measures for improving the quality of teaching through a better in-service training of the teachers, or the planned reforms, as that of the curriculum content at all school levels (see. for instance, the proceeedings of the committee of experts - Commissione dei Saggi - on the "New Knowledge" - i nuovi saperi), the introduction of the new technologies in the teaching-learning process, etc.
2.The capacity of the school to prepare youths for a successful social and working life has been and continues to be questioned given the social and labour-market outcomes of education. The OECD indicators show for Italy lower proportions than most of the remaining member countries as regards the school leavers holding a upper secondary school leaving certificate or a vocational qualification, and of the labour force holding a university degree. Moreover, the high percentage of youth unemployment, in particular in Southern Italy and in the Islands, that includes also a large number of educated people, i.e. of persons holding a upper secondary school diploma or even a university degree, has been often interpreted as a poor result of the school education, in the sense that the school does not really prepare youths for a smooth transition to the working life.
As seen in section 7.4, this situation can be explained, at least in part, by the fact that upper secondary education is not yet compulsory in Italy nor is compulsory the vocational training, so that a number of students leaving the lower secondary school do not enrol either of these post-compulsory streams. Nevertheless a remarkable progress has been observed during the last few years as regards the educational attainment of the young population, in particular the transition from lower secondary to the upper secondary school and from this level to post-secondary and tertiary education and training. The means observed for Italy approach now very closely the mean of the EU countries, even though the proportion of the graduates in the universities is still significantly low.
The ongoing and the planned reforms, as the extension of compulsory schooling up to 15 years and the compulsory alternative of attending vocational education and training courses up to 18 years of age for those who do not continue the upper secondary school, are actually aimed at solving this serious problem. The youth unemployment, on the other side, has very different roots, not necessarily traceable back to the educational achievement. Several factors play an important role in this field, that are linked to the labour-market regulations, the rigidity of the legislation as regards for instance the employment and the status of the employees, the physical mobility of the potential workers through the country, the changing profiles and characteristics of many jobs, etc.
The problem, then, is quite complicated to be an exclusive challenge to the education system. But its tentative solution, too, is a joint enterprise of several Ministries, which are now planning, also in co-operation with the European Commission, a series of measures aimed both at enhancing the provision of the education system and at modifying the current legislation on the mechanisms of the labour-market.
3.As observed in the previous sections, drop-out is a problem at all levels of schooling, but in the same time it can not be explained by using simple factors and the same factors for all levels of education.
In the past few years a great amount of human and financial resourses have been devoted to combat one of the most disturbing deseases of the education system: the drop-out at all levels of schooling, from pre-primary education up to the University level education. The reasons for drop-out are perhaps manifold and not always clearly perceived. They also differ from one region to the other, from one educational level to the other. So the school failure at pre-primary level might be explained in some regions or towns or villages because of an insufficient supply, i.e. because the settings available are not enough to welcome all the children, or because there are no alternatives to a particular type of setting not accepted by all the families - for instance a setting sponsored by a religious institution or by private groups or individuals, which usually are not cost-free. At primary and lower secondary level, on the other side, the reasons for the very low proportion of children dropping out could be found, at least in some regions, in the social, economical and cultural background of their families or of their communities or even in the psychological and emotional context of the school setting, etc. At upper secondary school level, finally, the drop-out is chiefly due to the fact that such courses are not compulsory and for a number of children - even though a remarkably lower proportion that in the past - they are not perceived as a real key for their employability or for their social lives.
Nevertheless, nowadays the problem does not affect really the area of basic education for the young generations. As said in the previous sections, virtually all the children from 3 to 15 years of age attend the regular courses in formal schooling and a growing proportion (about 85 % in 1998) of youth from 15 to 18 years of age are enrolled in upper secondary education or in vocational training centres. The very problem is now, first of all, to provide all the children from 3 to 18 years of age with a quality education at all levels and in the same time to face the different motivations as regards the expected outcomes in terms not only of employability but also of self-realization. All the political parties and the social partners are currently involved in an open lively debate on the best way to solve the drop-out problem and to enhance the quality of the educational provision at all levels. What is new in today's approach with respect to the past is the kind of joint venture between the various stakeholders, in the educational and social fields and in the labour-market as well, all of them aimed at achieving the same fundamental objective, i.e. the optimal adjustment of the education and training system to the needs of the individuals and of the society as a whole.
4. The professional standard of the teachers has been, particularly during the current decade, one of the prefered targets of the criticism on the side of many educationalists, representatives of the enterprises and the unions, and the press. Every time the results of a study or a survey on the quality of the educational provision are published, the low quality of the teachers' performance becomes a core topic of a series of meetings and of many articles in the newspapers and the specialized journals. Obviously neither the speakers in the meetings nor the journalists have got any evidence for laying the school failure to the teachers' charge. As a matter of fact there is not yet an evaluation service that monitors regularly the professional activity of the teachers nor specific studies aimed at evaluating the quality of their teaching. Teacher qualification and the quality of their initial and in-service training are then questioned chiefly according to the principle that, if the outcomes, i.e. the student achievement, are poor, this is because the teaching itself i.e. the teachers' professional activity is poor. The only studies available on this topic are those on the attendance by the teachers of up-dating courses, and one of them, published in 1992, reports significantly high proportions of teachers attending such courses, particularly at primary and lower secondary level.
But the charge against the teachers is not at all groundless if one takes into account the traditional system of initial training of teachers at all levels. As for pre-primary and primary school teachers, for instance, the three or four years respectively, at post-compulsory school level, of initial training in the former Scuole Magistrali and Istituti Magistrali - the Pre-primary and Primary School Teacher Colleges -, abolished only recently, in 1998, were thought to be completely inadequate since long time. And at lower and upper secondary school level teachers have been till now appointed on the basis of their university degrees and of an open competition, but without requiring from them any specialization as teachers, i.e. a previous training in the educational theory and methodology, both general and applied to the disciplines to be thaugth.
In order to close that gap, recent legislation has reformed the whole teacher training system (see section 2) by establishing the university courses for pre-primary and primary school teachers and the post-graduate specialization courses for lower and upper secondary school teachers. Moreover, special attention has been paid to the in-service training in the sense of professional lifelong learning. To this end an ad hoc administrative unit - the Coordinamento della formazione degli insegnanti (Co-ordination of teacher training) - has been created in 1988 at ministerial level, the task of which is to renew and reform the whole system of in-service training of teachers. The main objectives of the agency are the following: to promote targeted initiatives; to professionalize the sector; to individualize the professional development; to diversify the system as regards the opportunities; to invest more human and financial resourses in teacher training. This agency will act as a support structure and policy unit, with the task of suggesting guidelines for the ministerial as well as for the local initiatives, and promoting an innovation culture. At present, the Coordinamento is engaged in a systematic monitoring of the provincial in-service training programmes under the quantitative and qualitative points of view, and is carrying out a number of surveys on the typology of in-service experience and on the professional profiles of the teachers.
To conclude, then, a number of problems still exist as regards basic education and quality education for all. But both the Government and the public opinion are aware of those problem and they are firmly committed to solve them.
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