Eurispes: education central to the political agenda for Italy’s recovery


Second Report on School and University to be published in 2023

The seminar promoted by the Eurispes Observatory on Educational Policies entitled “School and University for the Future of Italy” was held this morning at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Rome.

The meeting, the first of a series promoted by the Observatory, was an opportunity to gather valuable indications for the drafting of the Second Report on Schools and Universities that Eurispes will publish in 2023, twenty years after the first one. The goal of such a Report is to make education one of the central themes of the political agenda for the recovery of Italy.

Several proposals were gathered thanks to the contributions of the scholars and experts who took part in the event. Eurispes President Gian Maria Fara opened the proceedings by recalling how more than twenty years ago: “In the pages of the 1999 Italy Report we pointed out that only 5.5% of GDP was allocated to education in Italy and just 0.7% to research. And we doubted that an advanced country like ours could progress while investing so few resources in this fundamental area. Unfortunately, no major steps forward have been taken in this regard; indeed, currently Italy spends even less on education: around 4% of GDP. And investment in research comes close to 0.5%. The expectations with respect to PNRR funding in the central education sector may represent an important moment of change. The truth is that to make a change in terms of forward projection in the future of schools, universities and the education system as a whole is an absolute priority for Italy.

Within this framework, the new Eurispes Observatory represents an opportunity to offer the community both analytical and research tools that can assist the public sector and also raise awareness about the structural interventions already planned.

Among the many issues to be addressed is the fundamental one of the relationship between the educational process and the world of vocational training. Realistic employment scenarios describe a labour market that has changed considerably compared to the past: new professional figures, new technical and practical skills, a different view of the employment network itself are required. There is a need to train new specialists in advanced quaternary jobs. There is a need to train the trainers.

In the coming years, the labour market will increasingly turn towards environmental and social sustainability, energy efficiency, eco-sustainability, digital. More than 50 per cent of the job offer will concern these sectors and professions.

This is a trend that is not only linked to the opportunities offered by the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, but also, and above all, to those production sectors that need to upgrade and make their structures and assets even more competitive in the shortest possible time. Schools and universities, but also public and private realities, must take into account the new frontier of employment, launching collaboration and training projects able to guarantee new levels of employment in the territories and, consequently, progress for the entire Country-System. All this always bearing in mind the challenges of the future: ecological transition and a new digitalisation.

This is a real revolution in the working system that is rapidly evolving alongside traditional trades and professions, which, however, are undergoing and will continue to undergo changes and transformations. In short: knowing, but also knowing how to do. It is no longer possible to imagine education, instruction and training apart from a labour market that has already changed’.

The Director of the Eurispes Observatory on Educational Policies, Mario Caligiuri in his introductory speech highlighted how: “The recent electoral programmes of the parties – preceded by the political choices made after 1968 and strongly accentuated by the continuous and destabilising reforms that have followed since the end of the 1990s – have all assigned, to a greater or lesser extent, an important function to education. On the whole, we perceived an outdated dimension. In fact, detailed interventions are proposed, almost a maintenance of pain, without a far-reaching vision. And yet, education is the largest area of public policy, which directly and indirectly affects the majority of the Italian population.

However, what we believe has not been explored in depth yet is the profound contemporary anthropological mutation where students no longer live in only one dimension, the physical one, but in three dimensions: the physical, the virtual and the human-machine hybrid one. And in the background we can already glimpse the Metaverse and quantum physics.

By contrast, all social organisation is based on the physical dimension and even when we deal with the virtual one we regulate it with the legal and mental categories of the physical one.

It has been observed that those who begin their studies now, when they complete their education, over 60 per cent will be doing a job that has not yet been invented. In the meantime, schools and universities continue to train professions largely heading for unemployment.

As a matter of fact, the skills that will be needed in the coming decades nobody knows, just as if the Ministries of Education and Universities are not reformed soon, it will be increasingly difficult to cope with disruptive changes.

The Italy of the coming years will be older, with few young people and more immigrants, less rich and essentially less educated. Yet, in Italy a small real increase in the OECD-Pisa indicators could lead to a 5% increase in GDP.

In this context, digital education plays a fundamental role. It should become a basic subject – such as reading, writing and arithmetic – transversal to all knowledge, since human activities will increasingly take place on the Net. It is an urgent matter of national education and national security. The Observatory on Educational Policies of Eurispes intends to raise the issue of the quality of education at the beginning of the legislature, addressing it seriously in order to propose forthcoming and possible solutions’.

According to Anvur President Antonio Uricchio: “Quality policy appears to be central, which in turn requires internal processes of adjustment to recognised teaching and research standards as well as external assessment tools. Through such actions, aimed at promoting the quality of the education system, we empower our institutions, which succeed not only in improving and guaranteeing services for students. More widespread quality in the school and university education system means creating the conditions to promote development and reduce the gaps between the various areas of the country, enhancing the social dimension of education. More evaluation means giving value to the activities evaluated according to the principles of autonomy and responsibility.

As President of the National Agency for the Evaluation of Universities and Research, I am fully aware of the need to enhance quality and evaluation of the educational and academic system, considering it from a systemic and integrated evaluation perspective, taking into account the links between School, University and Society and, at the same time, the social, economic, environmental and/or cultural impact produced towards the end users and the territories. In this perspective, teaching is not training, research is not refined technique or specialised language, the third mission is not only the relationship with the surrounding reality. Evaluating objectives, strategies, policies, scientific work, didactic structure, research and third mission policies in an overall and integrated approach means enhancing, according to heuristic logic, excellence and merit and therefore the identity traits of each institution involved, making them visible and recognisable”.

Alberto Mattiacci, Professor of Economics at the Sapienza University of Rome, Chairman of the Eurispes Scientific Committee and coordinator of the meeting, introduced the speakers’ speeches by posing a question: “We are talking about schools and universities and therefore we are talking about the future. We are all aware that the world of the future requires from each individual abilities that today are mere options. We are all aware that it is not only educational institutions but also cultures and subcultures, peers and the media that play an educational role. We are all aware that the Italian population of the future will be very different from that of when the educational institutions were designed and their agents trained. There are just over 200 weeks to go before the end of PNRR. The question is: how to make use of them?”.

“In 2022,” says Roberto Ricci, President of Invalsi, “9.7 per cent of students graduated from secondary school in very precarious conditions, achieving outcomes much closer to those we should expect at the end of secondary school. But if we look at the data across regions, we find very different and in some cases worrying results. In fact, vulnerable pupils are, for example: 19.8% in Campania, 18.7% in Sardinia, 18% in Calabria, 16% in Sicily. These are truly alarming figures for the entire national community, not just for some regions.

And what about the other extreme of the distribution, the pupils who graduate from secondary school with good or very good results? These pupils make up 13.5% of the total nationwide, but rise to 20% and more in Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Lombardy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the Autonomous Province of Trento and Valle d’Aosta, but only range between 5% and 6% in Calabria, Campania, Sicily and Sardinia.

The regions with the most problematic outcomes therefore not only have many pupils in vulnerable conditions, but also few pupils achieving solid and robust results. The whole chain of inclusion is therefore undergoing a crisis, both along the dimension of fragility and that of excellence. Standardised data help us to identify with uniform criteria who needs more help, the school’s professional competences allow us to search for and find appropriate solutions. Invalsi data, despite being incomplete, have helped to allocate financial resources mainly to southern regions and to schools with lower learning outcomes. Perhaps the time has come to take advantage of this unique opportunity and to stop the ideological battle against an instrument that has allowed more to be allocated to those most in need.

It is important, therefore, that the system does not lose sight of the extent of a very serious situation that, if not tackled with decisive and strong commitment, risks permanently compromising the country’s ability to prosper and compete in the global context’.

Luca Bianchi, Director of Svimez wanted to emphasise that: “Among the ‘strategic’ investments within the Pnrr, there is undoubtedly the one allocated to schools, which, together with the University, is included in mission 4. A mission that should, along with all the others, intersect with one of the so-called transversal objectives: Mezzogiorno and territorial rebalancing.

Unfortunately, it is precisely on schools and their infrastructures that the Svimez report presented a worrying cross-section, showing a country in serious difficulty. In southern Italy about 650,000 pupils (79% of the total) do not benefit from any canteen service. Even in the central-northern regions, the situation is not the best: there are 700,000 pupils without a canteen, 46% of the students. Moreover, again in southern Italy, around 550 thousand pupils (66% of the total) do not attend schools with a gymnasium. But the most alarming figure is certainly that relating to full-time education and the hours ‘lost’ by children in the South compared to their peers in the Centre-North: in the South only about 18% of pupils have access to full-time education, compared to almost 50% in the Centre-North. Very often the school is unable to offer an adequate service, mainly due to a lack of suitable infrastructure (canteens, in fact). As a result, families are discouraged from participating. The final result is that primary school pupils in southern Italy attend an average of four hours less school per week than those in central and northern Italy. The difference between the last two regions (Molise and Sicily) and the first two (Lazio and Tuscany) is around 200 hours per year. Considering a full school cycle (5 years), pupils in Molise and Sicily lose about 1,000 hours, which corresponds to about the total number of hours of one year of primary school.

The data on school infrastructures are available to those who have to implement policies, so why was it not considered to allocate the PNRR resources in a punctual manner, school plexus by school plexus, rather than putting them out to tender using competitive procedures? There are still four years to go before the fateful deadline of the PNRR. There is still time to change intervention methods and instruments in order to seize the extraordinary opportunity that Europe offers us to bridge the gaps on citizenship rights, especially concerning schools. The best investment a country can make to ensure a better future for itself and its younger generations’.

According to Nunzia Ciardi, Deputy Director General of the National Cybersecurity Agency: ‘We can no longer think that there is an off-line life. The lives of children in particular are totally digitised, life is ‘onlife’. This makes us realise the seriousness of the absence of digital education. It is not true that digital natives are better prepared than adults, they know how to use the tools, but they are not culturally prepared. The dangers are not only of remaining crime victims, but also of being completely manipulated by the Net’.

As underlined by Enrico Montaperto, Head of Office VI – DG Regulations of the Ministry of Universities and Research: ‘At a time of heated debate on ‘merit’, the spotlight of the political agenda cannot fail to turn to the fundamental role of School and University, which should constantly be at the attention of the ruling class. Although all (or almost all) school-leavers graduate from secondary school, a large proportion of them do not have adequate skills either in Italian or in mathematics, nor the skills necessary both to continue their studies and to get a job, i.e. – alongside the ‘school drop-out’ – there is the phenomenon of the so-called ‘implicit drop-out’. Italy is, in fact, among European countries, the nation with the highest number of Neet. A problem, like school performance in general, which is particularly serious in the South, where implicit school drop-out is 8-10 times higher than in the North. The solution is not simplistically to find or allocate more funds, but to rationally organise the way resources are invested. It is therefore essential that the organisation of the education system takes into account the very different social, economic and geographical contexts and situations in which it operates. 

Along these lines, the Pnrr also contains potentially revolutionary elements, with the strengthening of integration between schools and universities, placing the university world in particular at the service of the school system, in order to foster its ability to promote the skills necessary for future development. Italy must compete to be at the forefront of the knowledge-based society and economy. Today, an important part of the world economy – at least half, perhaps two-thirds, of the wealth produced every year in the world – is made up of goods or services with a high added knowledge rate. In other words, what Adam Smith called ‘the wealth of nations’ yesterday, today is mainly made up of ‘new knowledge’, primarily (but not only) scientific.

Conducting research is an essential condition for changing the productive specialisation of a national system and entering the knowledge economy based era. Italy needs to change its productive specialisation if it wants to break out of the spiral of decline, by investing in research and enhancing merit, regardless of social background or region of origin’.

The Deputy Director of the Eurispes Observatory on Educational Policies, Elena Ugolini, focused her contribution on one of the unsolved issues concerning the school system, stating that: “Being aware of the data on the world of private schools in Italy can be useful to understand whether and how the advocacy and development of the constitutional principle of freedom of education can improve the national education system as a whole.

The situation of the Italian school system no longer admits of postponing examination of this matter. This issue, together with that of the methods of training, selection and education of personnel in Italian state schools, it can condition, for better or worse, the quality of the didactic and educational proposal of all Italian schools, throughout the country. The lack of knowledge of the data, the aprioristic protection of acquired rights, and the prevalence of ideological preconceptions are the three reasons why we are not willing to change in order to truly focus on school’ true purpose: the human, cultural, and professional growth of all pupils, with no one left behind’.

Elisa Zambito Marsala, Head of Social Valorisation and University Relations at Intesa Sanpaolo explained in her speech that: “Intesa Sanpaolo collaborates in various ways with over 2,500 schools and around 60 Italian and some foreign universities, including Oxford, through agreements that also include scholarships, support for chairs and masters, research and innovation projects. The aim is to guarantee young people the right to education and encourage more informed choices, to combat school drop-out and reduce social inequalities. These are important levers of the 2022-2025 Business Plan, which, in line with the EU’s strategic research agenda and the fourth mission of the PNRR, we are activating to increase the attractiveness of universities themselves, the competitiveness of companies, the employability of students, and to contribute to the economic and social growth of the territories and the country’.

“As school publishers,” says Andrea Chiaramonti, CEO of Giunti Scuola, “we have a role of absolute responsibility in contributing to the education of the new generations. We find ourselves at the centre of a sector that on the one hand requires us to keep up to date in teaching and subject matter thanks to our relationship with schools and universities, and on the other hand we have to deal with an uncertain industrial situation that increasingly requires active intervention by the institutions in supporting this sector. From our side, our commitment to making our activities steadily more sustainable is proven by the recent ESG certificate issued by RINA, which proves that the activities put in place in recent years are going in the right direction: more efficient and sustainable production, a governance sensitive to the ethical dimension, and an increasingly deep social impact of our activities, especially those related to the Agenda 2030 themes”.

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