/Thoughts and Recommendations on Extending Education Rights in UN Declaration of Human Rights – Silvia Bisagna

Thoughts and Recommendations on Extending Education Rights in UN Declaration of Human Rights – Silvia Bisagna

Silvia Bisagna, Teacher, USB Civil Service – School workers


“Everyone has the right to education”. This first sentence should be always kept in mind when talking about school, youth and the future of a country. Italian Constitution (approved and entered into force in 1948, same year as the UN Declaration of Human Rights) grants free access to public education for the first 8 years of schooling and the freedom to teachers to educate pupils the best they can. In this Italian Constitution and the UNDHR completely agree.

Education in Italy starts at the age of 6, with 5 years of primary school, then 3 years of middle school and 5 years of high school. Education is compulsory until the student is 16 years old. At the end of middle school, students choose different paths, all lasting 5 years: liceo, that is a theoretical school which main aim is to prepare to University, technical schools or vocational schools, which aim to prepare to work. Even after technical or vocational schools, students can access university, since all schools give the students a global education in the main subjects (languages, history, math, science, and so on). Schooling, in the Italian Constitution, is public. Privates can create schools but without State assets (Italian Republic Constitution, art. 33 and 34).

Unfortunately, recent legislation and school reforms have been attempting the right to education in the last 30 years.

The dropout rate is constantly growing, due to the lack of confidence in the possibility to improve one’s social, economic and personal position through a better education and the constant need for families to have incomes, since unemployment due to the loss of job is the most frequent cause of poverty. This happens even if all the studies prove that investing in education allows a better and faster employment.

In southern Italy this phenomenon is historically more frequent, with a dropout rate[1] of 18.5% to be compared with the 11.3% in the north of the country and the 10.7% in the center. Most of the early leavers are foreigners living in Italy, the 33.1%, while young Italians are the 12.1%. Anyway, the rate of early leavers among foreigners is lowering, demonstrating that they trust the educational system more than their Italian peers.

Italian governments haven’t been able to cope with this situation. Since 2008 the educational system has seen many reforms, none of which able to improve the rating of dropouts or to help students who finish their studies to find a job for which they are qualified and equally paid.

The first step into the disqualification of Italian schooling system was in 2008, when funding to public education was drastically cut, involving a significant reduction of teachers, the almost total elimination of laboratories in technical and vocational schools, the return to a one-teacher model in primary school opposed to the three-teachers model that allowed a more complete overview of the pupils and their needs, enabling teachers to engage on a real and constructive confrontation about them on one hand, and allowed the pupils to know and appreciate different approaches and methods since the early age. Even learning support teachers for disabled students was sharply reduced. All due to a project of economy and savings and without a pedagogical or didactical project. On the other hand, funding to private schools were improved. This set of laws got schools into chaos. The lack of teachers improved the number of students in the classes, and, as any teacher knows, the more they are the less you can help those in difficulty. The reduction of support to disabled students caused families to suit the State, and at last, they got a verdict stating by the Constitutional Court (the highest judge in Italy) that no economic demand can violate the right to study and to be integrated into school and society[2].

In the same years, the mass mediatic and political attacks to Public Service, to all the State employees and to the Public School teachers too, led to a denigration of the role and function of education. Families have lost their trust into the schooling system, considering it unable to give their children a real preparation for the “world of work”. In the years of the global crisis, school seemed unable to give immediate responses to the needs of students and families, to help them finding a job, to build a future. This paved the way to the most capitalistic, corporate-focused, and privatizing school law that was enforced in 2015. The so called “Buona scuola” (“good school”) introduces private companies into school, forcing students in the last three years of high school to attend “Alternanza Scuola-Lavoro” (School-Work Alternation, ASL now on) for a minimum of 200 (in Liceo) up to 400 hours (in technical and vocational schools). Students must, during school time or during their holidays, attend working activities, most often with little or no supervision, no link to their studies, no insurances or safety awareness. Many protests have been arisen by the students and teachers, who see ASL as a way to teach young generations disvalues like unpaid jobs, exploitation, resignation, and the subtraction of time to study, to learn, to develop critical thinking and a wide knowledge of the world, not restricted to the world of work. The protests grew after several serious accidents happened to students during their ASL hours. We can read ASL also as a way to increase individualism, in a time when finding a job is harder than ever, extending the politics of fear and hate towards those who arrive in Italy from countries in war or famine (“they steal our jobs” is the recurring motto). Italian school has always been inclusive: since 1970s, thanks to a very advanced law about disabilities, learning support teachers have been trained and recruited to close separated classes and integrate disabled children in normal classes, bringing differences into the classes, enriching the students’ experiences, teaching all of them that differences exist and can be a resource for everyone. When the migratory fluxes from eastern Europe, Africa and Asia increased, children and teenagers were greeted in the classes and in every school classes of Italian as a second language were activated, either in the morning or in the afternoon, after the regular school time schedule. In the recent years, Italian L2 has become a new teaching, but those teachers who specialized in the subject haven’t been able to get a job since schools haven’t been authorized to start these classes. This is one of the worst paradoxes of Italian policies about school, policies made of more or less linear cuts in funding and reduction of service to the public.

Italian school system was a model in Europe and not only. Today, European and Italian policies reduced it to a shadow of that model. We teachers, students and families are going to keep claiming the return to an equal schooling system which can allow every single child to grow in their global self and become a conscious and mature citizen.

[1] Source: ISTAT report 2018

[2] See Constitutional Court verdict n. 80/2008