2nd Report on School and University


2nd Report on School and University


«In the first National Report on Schools, published by our Institute in 2003 ̶   says the President of Eurispes, Gian Maria Fara  ̶  many issues that we can still consider current and unresolved today formed a considerable part of the research plan and index. Issues such as the duality of the education and vocational training system or the troubled process of scientific research forced to move between reforms and stunted, if not failed or absent, competitiveness.

The question then arose as to whether mortality and early school leaving were phenomena attributable to the structural characteristics of the system and how, if at all, this coincidence could find a plausible explanation in the differing effectiveness of regional school systems.

When speakig of the education system, we get the impression of having left behind unfinished or perhaps too quickly shelved agendas. Indeed, it is difficult to find a sector such as education in which the reforming verve of Italian politicians has been so insistent. Of the large number of reforms or change projects, of which students should have been the direct recipients, teachers, whose voices are the litmus test of the education system in our country, often complain. There is no institutional discourse addressed to them that does not remind them time and again that schools are a priority. But one wonders if there is a common vision of what the education system in our country should be.

Over the last twenty years  ̶  explains the President of Eurispes  ̶   school reform projects have been systematically dismantled, surviving only a few days after the fall of the government forces that had given birth to them. It should therefore not come as much of a surprise if even today, and not just because it is its centenary, we have to reckon with the “Gentile reform”. It means evaluating the incidence of the long wave of its effects, first of all recognising its presence, examining the reasons that may have determined the failure, more or less partial and more or less painful, of many attempts to cancel it.

Compared to twenty years ago, after the experience of the health emergency that hit the planet, it is more than legitimate to expect new things and a few more solutions. Think of the use, claimed by all, of new technologies and the impact they should have on education.

However, there are many other no less urgent issues on the table. We would not mind calling them “forward-looking disputes”, wanting to think that their solution is, if not around the corner, at least possible.

Finally, one wonders whether school is actually a priority on the national agenda, as the education item on the GDP is getting smaller and smaller. In the last 25 years we have seen national spending on schools fall from 5.5 to 4 per cent. A paradox, since, at least in words, we say we consider school the country’s big priority.

Precisely for this reason  ̶  Fara concludes  ̶  we remain confident in the good use that will have to be made of the PNRR funding, on the effectiveness of which Italy is gambling a good slice of its credibility and growth prospects. Education, on the other hand, more than any asset, represents Italy’s future today. Understanding this will also mean having foresight in governing the processes of change that are already underway in the world of School and University and, therefore, in the deeper layers of society and in the economies that make up the wealth of our country».


«The topic of education is not one among many  ̶   stresses the Director of the Eurispes Observatory on Educational Policies, Mario Caligiuri  ̶  in the knowledge society, it represents the decisive sector of progress and innovation, so education should come before the economy, but parliaments are more concerned with economics than education, and for a very simple reason: the former offers immediate answers while the latter produces results decades later.

Today, education is a genuine social necessity, since faced with every problem that arises, the answer that is systematically proposed is always the same: more education. We are faced with epochal transformations, the confrontation with Artificial Intelligence becoming ever tighter and the outcomes of which no one knows today anyway. We are certainly living simultaneously in three worlds: physical, virtual and man-machine hybrid. Yet the entire social, educational and legislative organisation is still based on the physical dimension.

There is therefore a need for structural, in-depth reforms that can anticipate the inevitable transformations already underway. It is precisely for this reason that the Eurispes Report is intended as an opportunity to put the issue of education, which is fundamental for democracy, the economy and the quality of life, at the centre of the political and cultural debate. The indicators of education in our country, starting with educational poverty, already point to a difficult future, especially in the South where the quality of education is weaker.

Schools and Universities  ̶  Mario Caligiuri concludes ̶   seem to be social shock absorbers rather than places where the future is built and inequalities are reduced. Precisely for this reason, one hundred years after the Gentile reform, it is essential to identify quality education based on merit as a factor for development and the reduction of social injustice, elaborating a pedagogy of the nation that will allow our country to continue remaining one of the cultural and industrial powers on the planet».

Three investigations to understand our Education

The first part of the 2nd Report on School and University, produced by Eurispes and published by Giunti Scuola, focused on the experiences and opinions of Italian teachers surveyed through three separate polls. Italian public and private schools and universities were considered (in representative proportions of the reference universe), excluding telematic universities. A total of 4,827 questionnaires were filled in and analysed (primary and middle schools: 1,789; high-schools: 842; universities: 2,196).

Reading the data reveals a particularly worrying knot, present in schools as in universities. Indeed, “bureaucracy” is indicated by teachers as an objective impediment to the performance of their educational work. Overburdened and distracted from their educational role by an excess of bureaucracy, this is the reality portrayed by an average of 93% of teachers in primary schools, middle schools, high-schools and universities. The time spent on paperwork is disproportionate to the time spent on work: more than half of Italian teachers divide their work in half between teaching and paperwork.

The other common element concerns the judgement on investments in education: for almost 87% of primary and middle school teachers this item of expenditure is low or insufficient, a result similar to that recorded among high-school teachers (88%); the orientation expressed by university teachers is more marked (90.2%).

Still across the board, the majority of teachers appreciate the autonomy they have in the choice of programmes and teaching methods and the feeling that they play a crucial role in the education of the younger generations. On the other hand, they express dissatisfaction with the economic treatment (65% among university teachers and almost all, 90%, among teachers in other classes), with the lack of recognition of the importance of the role of university teachers by society (55.5% for university teachers and over 80% for all the others), and with the opportunities for career and professional growth (54.2% of those who teach in universities and over 80% of primary and middle school teachers).

Primary and middle school compared with high-school

Across primary and middle schools, 65% of teachers state that they have encountered problems with excessive class sizes in the course of their teaching activity. Even more so in high-schools (73.5%). On average, in 90% of the cases, teachers agree that the maximum number of pupils per class should be set at 15 in order to cope with overcrowding.

The presence of intercultural mediators is considered inadequate (in 83.1% of cases in primary and middle schools and in 79.6% in high-schools), as is the assessment of the number of psychologists (79.7% and 69.7% respectively). In addition, a problem of governance of the educational institutions is reported, with reference to the role of the principals, invested with many responsibilities, but endowed with little autonomy and recognition (86.3% and 81.2%).

The IT equipment is promoted (64.6% positive ratings). Gyms (59.8%) and school environments (54.4%) are inadequate in high-schools. Whereas in primary and middle schools, teachers only fail the sports and gymnastics spaces (51.7%). The judgements, however, differ widely depending on the geographical area in which the school is located.

Teachers are very much in favour of devoting more space in the teaching programmes to the Stem disciplines (72.1%), even if this orientation meets with greater consensus among primary school teachers (76.5%) than among middle school teachers (59.8%) and high-school teachers (55.9%). The latter are less favourable to the idea of introducing the teaching of physics and mathematics as early as pre-schoool (50.2%) than the others (56%).

Regarding the use of teaching support technologies, 21.9% of primary and middle school teachers experienced difficulties in their use. Teachers also indicate that about one in three (31.2%) learners showed some degree of discomfort with the use of technology.

One out of two teacher (53.6%) in primary schools has observed early school leaving at least once, although early school leaving is higher in middle schools (71.4%) and even more so in high schools (more in vocational than in high schools) where only 5.9% of the teachers claim never to have observed cases of early school leaving.

In all cases, teachers identify the cultural poverty of the children’s or young people’s home environment as the primary cause of early school leaving. Counteracting early school leaving can be done, in the opinion of the teachers, firstly by paying more attention to the learning and integration of pupils with difficulties and secondly by involving the families of origin more closely in the pupils’ schooling.

More than half of the teachers are in favour of the introduction of the tutor figure (a teacher to support children or young people with difficulties or little involvement and as a means of combating school drop-out), although they consider it a good proposal in part but difficult to implement.

The excessive presence of non-tenured substitute teachers seems to be a major obstacle to teaching continuity and the educational and learning process of students according to 58.5% of primary and middle school teachers. This problem is even more acute in high-schools (61.2%).

Around 6 out of 10 primary and middle school teachers say they are dissatisfied with the grade-based assessment system (61%; 56.9% in high-schools). A total of 55.4% do not agree with the criticism often levelled at the teaching method widespread in Italy, accused of being too notional and mnemonic, but not very interactive. This latter opinion is even less shared among teachers in high schools and vocational institutes (only 37.3% endorse it).

Considering the relationship between teachers and pupils, in the transition from primary to middle school, the motivation and desire to learn decreases above all (from 81.6% to 57.9%) together with the desire to explore, discover, innovate (from 76.3% to 48.3%) and there is an increase in disinterest, found “often” or “always” in 8.3% of children and 22.2% of pupils. In the high-school only 25.7% of the teachers have never recorded episodes of hostility on the part of the pupils (66.5% have experienced it a few times and 7.7% frequently) and a tendency towards aggression is also present, albeit sporadically (49%).

More than half of the primary and middle school teachers (54.5%) have, at least on some occasions, experienced parental interference in their choices of teaching methods and content. Almost half (49.1%) have felt that grades/judgments have been challenged at least sometimes by the pupils’ families. As far as disciplinary measures are concerned, 49.8% of the teachers have never been challenged. Of those surveyed,16% of the teachers happened to receive threats from pupils’ parents on a few occasions. Incidents of actual violence by parents concerned at least 1 in 10 teachers (sometimes 12.8%; often 1%, always 0.3%). In general, a similar situation emerges from the answers of high-school teachers where, in particular, 15.2% of the teachers happened, at least once, to receive threats from pupils’ parents and 13% to suffer acts of violence.

Bullying is a widespread reality: 79.8% of high school teachers document its presence among their students, even more worrying is the figure for primary and middle schools (82%), where more than three quarters of the teachers also give evidence of difficulties in integrating disabled pupils (in high school the figure is around 78%).

Episodes of drug dealing among pupils are reported by 43.3% of teachers in professional institutes and high schools, where many also report at least one case of theft (65%) or damage (78.1%) inside school premises. Also in high-schools, 17.6% of teaching staff have been threatened by students, but episodes of violence are a cause for concern: one teacher in four (25%) has been the victim of violence by pupils, at least once in their professional life.

The High-school

A total of 77.4% of high school teachers say they are convinced that there is still a culture that tends to regard technical and vocational institutes as “second-class” educational paths.

Expanding opportunities to join an Erasmus project during high school, particularly for economically disadvantaged students, would be important, but not indispensable, according to 62.6% of teachers; while for 29.9% it is a top priority.

The hypothesis of concluding the higher education cycle with a diploma in four years instead of five, with the aim of anticipating young people’s entry into the world of work and bringing our school system into line with that prevalent in other countries does not find favour with high-school teachers (69.4%).

According to the teachers surveyed, the DaD experience had both positive and negative aspects (55.7%) and yet, according to 95.6%, it is important that teaching continues to take place exclusively in presence.

Are our high-schools able to adequately address the needs of gender fluid or transitioning pupils? According to a large proportion of teachers (40.5%), yes, while 32.4% claim the opposite. A 27.1% share of teachers, on the other hand, have never been confronted with such needs on the part of students.

The survey of university professors

Of those interviewed, 61.6% of university professors did not see any particular problems arising from the excessive number of students. Of the total, 23.5% are in favour of the closed number system and 41% are in favour of it but only for certain faculties.

Face-to-face teaching is affirmed as an essential condition of the university experience: 97% of the professors involved in the survey think so (83.1% consider it “very important”). Furthermore, 77.4% of the professors surveyed have a fairly or wholly negative opinion of telematic universities.

The Erasmus project, as an opportunity especially for economically disadvantaged students, is considered a priority by 44.9% of the respondents, while the majority (52%) consider it important but not indispensable. A minority (3%) considers it unnecessary.

Ninety-seven per cent of the professors experienced problems with university drop-outs, a phenomenon which is said to be caused in particular by the lack of interest among students (21%). One teacher in four (25.8%) thinks that in order to combat university drop-out, it is first of all necessary to strengthen the link between teaching and the professional world.

The learners’ shortcomings are particularly concentrated in writing skills (89.1%) and language property and variety (88%), followed by spelling and syntax (82.4%) and logical development of topics (83%). In spite of the criticalities that have emerged, the current method of assessing students, based on grades, is adequate according to 77.5% of the professors who also, for the most part, do not share the criticism of university teaching being factual and mnemonic (66.9%).

A total of 62.1% of the professors identify a problem of a gap between university education and the labour world. In spite of this, considerable steps forward have been taken in recent years in Italy to fill certain gaps: for 77.4% this has been a greater focus on training courses, for 60.4% an effort to foster dialogue between businesses and universities, for 56.1% the school-work alternation mechanism has been strengthened, for 55.1% extracurricular activities have been implemented. By contrast, 64.1% believe that no progress has been made in terms of greater teacher training.

For 79% of lecturers, the Italian university contributes “a lot” (25.3%) and “quite a lot” (53.7%) to the general culture of students. For 72.5%, it also transfers not only notions, but also the ability to analyse and criticise, while for 71.3% it provides knowledge and specific skills useful in the world of work and for 65.1% it facilitates, through the degree, entry into the labour market and encourages the exchange of ideas and points of view (64.3%). The majority of professors (58.1%) do not share the idea that in Italy too often the university represents a “car park” waiting for job opportunities. For 58.5%, the university is losing its centrality as a channel for qualified training, and for 62.1% it would be advisable to modulate the university offer in such a way as to strengthen the Stem disciplines. On the other hand, 73.8% do not think that the number of graduates in Italy is higher than the market demands, nor do they think that the university offer in Italy is adequate to the demands of the labour market (68.9%).

The opinion of Headmasters and Rectors . In-depth interviews

To complement the School and University survey, a series of in-depth interviews were carried out focusing on the key issues of today’s school and university institutions. The professionals interviewed were school heads, headmasters and rectors of Italian primary, middle and high schools and universities respectively.

The answers provided can be summarised in a few cross-cutting points that represent the most significant challenges that will face our education system in the coming years:

the increase in digital skills, the innovation of learning environments, the possibility of practising new teaching methods, the problem of school buildings, the urgent need to combat school drop-outs, teacher training, staff remuneration, precarious employment, the need to reform teaching and the educational approach in line with the new scientific and technological horizons, the infrastructural, building and transport issue, narrowing the gap between education and the world of work, the demographic problem that threatens to empty schools and universities, the need to ensure quality, inclusive and future-oriented education, the right to study, research funding, greater interaction between schools, universities and businesses, expanding the study of STEM subjects.

An emerging issue, defined as urgent, concerns the pyschological consequences induced in adolescents by the pandemic. Finally, among the challenges of the near future is the need to rediscover the university as an entity at the service of society and the creation of a European university as a natural evolution of today’s university system.

Contributions and in-depth interviews: opinion leaders

Finally, the Report includes two sections containing, the first, some proposals on the School and University of the future, drafted by protagonists of Italian society committed to educational issues; the second, dedicated to interviews with opinion leaders.

As for the cognitive contributions, they were drafted by: Piergiorgio Bianchi (Managing Director Talents Venture), Massimo Bray (Director General of Treccani, Minister of Cultural Heritage in the Letta Government), Paolo Calabresi (President of the Italian Society of Neuroscience), Donato Ferri (Europe West Consulting Leader EY), Luigi Fiorentino (Head of Department DIE and former Head of Cabinet of the Ministry of Education), Antonello Giannelli (President of the National Association of Headmasters), Anna Gionfriddo (Managing Director ManpowerGroup Italy), Francesco Grillo (Managing Director “Vision and Value”, teacher), Giovanni Lo Storto (General Director Luiss University of Rome), Pierluigi Malavasi (University “Cattolica” of Milan, President of SIPED), Mario Mariani (Managing Director Sanoma Italia), Roberto Ricci (President of INVALSI), Paolo Roncoroni (Managing Director Pearson Education Resources Italia), Raffaella Ida Rumiati (SISSA of Trieste and Vice President of ANVUR), Rosy Russo (President of the Association “Parole Ostili”), Simona Sandrini (University “Cattolica” of Milan), Arianna Saulini (Advocacy manager Save the Children Italy), Elena Ugolini (Headmistress Liceo “Malpighi” of Bologna, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Education in the Monti Government), Antonio Uricchio (University “Aldo Moro” of Bari, President of ANVUR), Giordano Vecchi (Strategic Partnerships & Business Development).

The second area is represented by fourteen in-depth interviews with opinion leaders in Italian society who were confronted with educational issues. They are: Aldo Berlinguer (University of Cagliari), Ivana Calabrese (Changemaker for Ashoka), Gian Paolo Caprettini (University of Turin), Mauro Ceruti (IULM University of Milan), Nunzia Ciardi (Deputy Director ACN), Alessandro Curioni (President of DI.GI Academy, “Cattolica” University of Milan), Vittorio De Bonis (Historian of literature and art critic), Vincenzo Milanesi (Rector of the University of Padua from 2002 to 2009), Salvatore Natoli (University of Milan Bicocca), Paolo Pagliaro (Director of 9Colonne), Alessandro Rosina (University “Cattolica” of Milan), Luca Salmieri (University of Rome “La Sapienza”), Nicola Tirelli (IIT of Genoa), Luciano Violante (President of the Leonardo Foundation, President of the Chamber of Deputies from 1996 to 2001).

2nd Report on School and University– Summary


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