The education system in Italy
The education system in Italy – overview
The education system in Italy – Education is free to all Italian residents, irrespective of nationality. It is compulsory between the age of six and sixteen. Religious education classes are optional, and parents can ask for their child to be excused. Disabled children are seen as a source of enrichment and are normally integrated within the mainstream classes, as well as being entitled to 12 hours of supportive, personalised education per week. The sector is divided into public and private institutions, and five levels.
Levels of education in Italy
Kindergarten. Children can start kindergarten at the age of three, attending from 8am to 4pm. At six they begin primary school, which lasts for five years. Until 2004, children had to sit an exam at the end of their primary school years in order to get into middle school, but this has been cancelled. Kindergarten and nursery school pupils are required to wear school aprons over their own clothes. These are patterned in kindergarten, and plain in primary school, and are available in most stores. Very few state schools have cafeterias, although they might set up a tuckshop where children can buy snacks if they have afternoon classes. Given school hours, most children go home at lunchtime and eat at home.
Primary school lays the foundation for the next stage, and covers a wide range of subjects, including Italian, English, maths, natural sciences, geography, history, social studies and PE -with some primary schools also offering art, music etc. These schools provide 30 hours of teaching per week, from 8-1pm on Monday to Saturday, or Monday to Friday, with longer school days where lessons end at 4pm or 4.30. Until the end of primary school, all textbooks are free. From that point onwards, parents need to budget around 300 euros per year for books, stationery etc – a sum which depends on the subjects being studied.
At the age of 11 Italian children begin secondary school, which is made up of middle school, attended from 11-14, and high school, from 14-19. Lower middle school is usually from 8am to 1pm, whereas high school days last from five to eight hours – with regular breaks between lessons. To compensate for the long summer holiday, Italian schools do not have half-term holidays and many older children go to school on a Saturday morning. The school year is divided into two or three terms, with a break at Christmas and Easter. Summer holidays are long, and most schools break up in mid-June and resume in mid-September, which allows older pupils to gain work experience through summer placements and internships.
Table of Contents
The system of education in Italy – secondary schools
Entry into secondary schools is not selective in Italy.
Lower secondary school
Middle school adds technology, music and a new language to the curriculum taught in primary school and, at this stage, pupils all follow a common curriculum, made up of:
At the end of middle school pupils sit a test to get their lower secondary school diploma.
The test is made up of three written papers: Italian; Science; a Foreign language – all of which are scored 1-15. In addition, students have to pass a spoken exam, where they prepare a presentation and are asked questions about its content – a test which is scored out of ten. All the marks are combined, and an average score is calculated. You need to get a 6 and above to pass.
Upper secondary school
The Italian education system expects students to specialise at this juncture in their educational journey and to choose between three types of schools: the liceo, the technical institute and the professional/vocational institute.
This type of school has an academic focus which combines theory and specialisation. There are many types of upper secondary school, which specialise in different paths and subjects:
These are loosely divided into two types: the economic and the technological, and are further subdivided. The emphasis is on acquiring a broad theoretical basis of knowledge, before specialising in one of the fields listed, below, and supplementing it by taking on several internships, which can last from three to six months and are normally done in the fifth year. After five years, students can sit the secondary school diploma and progress to university, should they wish to, or start work.
These are vocational in focus and students are prepared for the job market in their field, whether this is handicrafts or beauty, hairdressing or agriculture, food or engineering. Some institutes issue diplomas after three years, whereas others expect students to stay for five years. The emphasis is on gaining practical skills. Students do not sit the final secondary school exam, which is required to get into an institution of higher education.
The education system in Italy – secondary school exam
This is the Italian equivalent of the Matura and is normally sat in June or July. It is made up of both spoken and written papers and takes into account the subjects which you have been studying at secondary school, so pupils who have attended a classic school will get a paper on Latin, whereas their peers from a scientific secondary school will have to sit papers in maths and physics etc.
At present, there are three papers. The first is Italian, where students can choose between writing an essay on a specific topic determined by the Ministry of Education or an analysis of a text, which is often a poem. Second written paper depends on the subject you are studying. The third paper is in the process of being removed, with the last cohort of students to sit this paper being those who began secondary school in 2018-2019. This paper focusses on five of the subjects covered in secondary school during the final year. No one can guess which subjects will be chosen by the Ministry from one year to the next.
The oral test is replacing paper 3, with examiners being entrusted with the task of checking that students have a good grasp of the material they have covered. The examination board is made up of three internal teachers, and three external teachers, as well as an external president of the board.
The scoring system is regularly revised, but at present you must aim for the pass mark of 60 out of 100: a composite figure made up of your exam results, school grades and oral grades. Students who do exceptionally well are awarded a diploma cum laude.
The Italian education system – the approach to learning in school
The education system in Italy is based on memorising and rote learning more than experiments and independent enquiry. Quizzes, tests and discussions are not part of the teaching methodology. Front-teaching remains common, with the teacher standing in front of the lass, armed with an interactive whiteboard or a traditional blackboard, and there is little integrated technology to be found within the classroom environment. Extra-curricular activities are more common in private schools than public ones, and may involve paying a small fee to take part in sports etc. There is a great deal of homework involved in learning, with two or three hours of homework daily being the norm.
The education system in Italy – higher education
Students who have gained their secondary school diploma can apply to a public, private or state-affiliated university. A bachelor’s degree takes three years, while a Master’s lasts for two years. The exception: medicine and dentistry (six)pharmaceutical sciences, law and architecture studies (five). Most Italian universities, which are among the oldest in Europe, are state-funded, although other universities are funded by public authorities. There are a number of private universities and superior graduate schools – with the latter only offering postgraduate degrees. Approximately 101,000 international students are undertaking their higher education at an Italian institution in 2021.
There is also a non-university sector, of institutions which provide state-recognised degrees in Art, Music and Dance (AFAM). These include:
Many AFAM institutions offer joint, double and multiple degrees, in collaboration with Italian and foreign institutions.
Higher Technical Institutes
These institutes offer practical courses which are linked to the job market and the needs of industry and focus on six main areas:
- Energy efficiency
- Sustainable Mobility
- New Technologies for Life
- Innovation Technologies for Cultural activities and Tourism
- Information and Communication Technologies
- New Technologies for Made in Italy
Internships and placements are integral to this type of education. What is more, students are expected to spend at least a third of their time working for a local or foreign company. Courses last for two or three years, at the end of which students sit an examination, in which they need to score 80 per cent or higher, to get their higher technical diploma.
Below are the Times Higher Education rankings of the top eight Italian Universities, 2022.
The education system in Italy – summary
The education system in Italy follows the Bologna process. Moreover, is overseen by the Ministry of Education, which ensures standards remain high and curricula are regularly monitored and assessments are upgraded. Although many courses at higher levels are only taught in Italian, there is an ongoing move towards English-taught courses, particularly at postgraduate level.
Italy is a wonderful country and has an educational tradition going back to the eleventh century. If you are considering studying in Italy, call or email Elab. We have two offices in Italy and experienced consultants who have studied at Italian universities, as well as abroad. We can give you valuable and helpful information on every aspect of your Italian educational journey.
Elab’s Europa programme provides an overview of education throughout Europe and may be of interest, if you want to compare costs, rankings, courses and destinations.
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