Seen some long faces on Italian teens (and their parents) recently? Summer’s the season when young students all over Italy learn the hard lesson of ?too little, too late.’ At the end of each year, high school students (aged 14 and over) are promossi (permitted to pass to the following grade), rimandati (made to sit again in September the exams in subjects they have failed, with the hope of then moving into the successive grade) or bocciati (failed: they must repeat the year).
The Italian scholastic system is very different from that of Anglo countries, for example, not only in terms of structure, content and pedagogy, but also in terms of the considerable individual responsibility that is heaped upon the very young-and often very immature-students. At just 14, when they start high school (where they will stay for five years, until they are 19), the kids are faced with a tough decision: what do you want to do with the rest of your life? At 14, each child must decide which type of school to attend: classical (which includes Latin and ancient Greek), scientific, industrial-technical, art and design, hospitality industry, agricultural sciences, commercial and marketing, accounting, piloting-you name it, there’s a school for it! Subsequent to that terrifying decision there is no flexibility. There are no options, no electives, no choices: the course is set for the next five years.
And then there is the school day itself. Italian high schools typically run Monday to Saturday, from roughly 8am to 1:30pm. In the afternoon, millions of latch-key teens are at home alone, where they are expected to put in at least a couple of hours of self-motivated study. It’s a tall order for even the most mature, enthusiastic students.
University is similar. Attending lectures is usually not normally compulsory, and students elect when they wish to take their exams and can choose to take them again if they are not satisfied with the grade. Being fuori corso (not respecting the prescribed university course length) is common, and students are often well over 25 by the time they graduate. If they graduate, that is: the drop-out rate is very high. However, many students do get through, demonstrating both maturity and responsibility. The entire school system in Italy, from grade school through to university level requires an impressive level of self-motivation and personal responsibility.
That being said, this is a country in which two million ?kids’ aged 30 live at home with mum and dad, with no job and no university education, a number that is increasing, contrary to the trend in other European countries. Current statistics strongly suggest that this generation will be the first in the post-war period to be worse off than their parents. Manual labour is disdained, and such jobs are usually taken by immigrants from Albania, Poland and Romania. All told, Italy’s outlook is bleak. Italians infamously tolerate their ?children’ living at home with free board and lodging well into their thirties, yet those same children have undergone an education system that demands enormous self-discipline, intense focus on achieving objectives and the ability to make important decisions at a very tender age. It’s a paradox. At the moment, the flight of talent from Italy, where it is not uncommon to find university graduates earning just 1000 euro a month working in call centres, suggests that those who had the motivation and focus to graduate prefer to seek better job opportunities abroad. This, of course, is to the detriment of the few human resources left in this country. One might say that in Italy, life doesn’t begin at 40, but at 14.