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Are Italian schools just “dead wood to be axed”?

Italy’s Premier Berlusconi and his Education Minister Gelmini (see May edition of the ACA Newsletter – Education Europe) have pushed ahead with their ambitious and questionable plans for reforming the country’s education system. On 29 October, the Italian Senate adopted the proposed law with 162 to 134 votes. In detail, the law foresees 
  • to pare down classes in primary schools to one teacher each and to increase the intake of single classes (this would denote abolishing around 90 000 teaching positions);
  • to cut funding for public universities by two-thirds and to reduce at least 10 percent of their research staff (simply by denying universities to replace more than one fifth of retired staff); and 
  • to introduce special classes for children of immigrants, whose Italian language skills are not sufficient.
All these measures are expected to yield “savings“ of EUR 8 billion in 2009. In the light of recent OECD data according to which Italy already ranks last in public spending on education, slightly behind the Czech Republic (less than 10 percent of its total public spending in 2006), this is not good news. Understandably, the decision has caused severe reactions. Students and union supporters alike roamed the streets of Rome and other Italian cities, expressing their disagreement with and protest over the plans. The leader of the Democratic Party, Walter Veltroni, found harsh words for Ms. Gelmini: “Schools are not dead wood to be axed”. Others spoke of “apartheid” and short-sightedness. It remains to be seen if Berlusconi’s elegant manoeuvring through the Italian legislative process can stand the test of time yet again. Italian Senate