Italy is among the few countries in Europe that kept schools closed after the end of the blockade. Now, the Ministry of Education launched its plan to restart activities on September 14, but the news was met with criticism by families, students and teachers, meeting in a committee called “School first”.
On Thursday of last week, before the meeting between the Minister of Education, Lucia Azzolina, and representatives of the regions, provinces and municipal administrations, in 60 Italian cities, rallies were organized to protest the plan.
The so-called “Piano Scuola” (School Plan) implies a general overhaul of the school system at all levels, in order to ensure that the health requirements for students, teachers and other school staff are respected. The number of students per classroom will be reduced in order to maintain a safe distance of 1m between people. Students and teachers will wear masks and wash their hands frequently. Classrooms will be cleaned several times a day and reorganized into “study groups” composed of students from different classrooms and different grades.
There will also be classes outdoors and in locations other than the school’s facilities, such as theaters, cinemas, parks, museums. During school hours, students will engage in activities such as sports and music. Distance learning, created during the blocking period, will be maintained as a complementary activity only for high school students.
The plan aims to actively involve local administrations in order to find and make new facilities available to students. Association instructors and the charitable sector will be involved to offer alternative teachings.
Protesters point to a number of flaws in the plan. Generally, it is considered that the plan places a lot of responsibility in the hands of teachers and local administrations, who will have to rethink the entire organization and offer in a substantive manner, without clear guidelines. In addition, the practice of distance learning, which was not homogeneously effective throughout the country during confinement, with varying levels of implementation and success between different schools and regions, is also considered a bad substitute for the traditional school, designed to aggravate inequalities between students.
In addition, the introduction of third parties in school activities, especially when coming from private actors, is seen as contradictory to the principle of “public” education and, especially if not regulated, can lead to distortions in the education that students receive. Finally, the government announced that 50,000 new teachers will be hired across the country to work in the new classrooms that will be created, but their contracts will be temporary and it is believed that these numbers are not enough: according to the unions, they are about one third of the necessary staff.
“If the plan the ministry is working on leads to a class-based school system, where inequalities will increase and where only those who can afford private tuition will do so, we will continue to fight,” said Costanza Margiotta, the committee’s leader.
The closure of schools was already a topic of debate in the country during these months. During the blockade, teachers and students were forced to establish a distance learning system that needed to be built from the basics. In addition, when the first reopenings started on May 5, it became evident that for many families it was problematic to go to work while leaving the children at home.
The government has allocated subsidies for babysitters and summer schools, but these measures are not believed to substantially cover the needs of families. According to many, women will suffer the harshest consequences. A survey by the Italian labor inspectorate shows that in 2019 more than 37,000 women left their jobs because of family needs.
Protesters are calling for a thorough review of the plan and for the school’s certainties to begin in September, which needs to be “safe, allowing everyone to be present and work without interruption”. According to the committee, the plan should have been developed weeks ago and there are doubts that there is enough time to create a completely different organization in less than two months.
Generally, many believe that the coronavirus crisis has revealed chronic weaknesses in the Italian system, namely the health care system and the school system, which have been severely underfunded in recent decades.