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EACEA National Policies Platform: Youthwiki


6. Education and Training

6.1 General context

Main trends in youth participation in education and training

In the 2020-2021 school year, Italy's state schools will enrol 7,507,484 students. Of these 268,671, or 3.6%, are disabled, a figure that has been steadily increasing in recent years (Focus 2020-21 Ministry of Education). There are 2,635,110 students enrolled in secondary schools, with a prevalence of high schools, followed by technical and vocational schools. There are 851,267 students attending secondary schools (of which 113,130 enrolled in upper secondary schools). Kindergarten is the educational sector with the largest number of students attending officially recognised schools: 507,574 children in 8,856 schools. The number of students attending Italian state schools of all levels with non-Italian citizenship is 808,953, or 11%. In the decade 2009/2010 - 2018/2019, the number of foreign students has increased overall by 27.3% (+184 thousand units), a rate of growth far removed from that which occurred in the decade 1999/2000 - 2008/2009 during which the increase was 425.9% corresponding to 510 thousand units (Focus 2019-20 Ministry of Education). The majority of foreign students are second-generation students, i.e. children and young people born in Italy to non-Italian parents. The schooling rates of students with non-Italian citizenship are close to those of Italians both in the 6-13 age group (around 100%), corresponding to the first cycle of schooling, and in the 14-16 age group, corresponding to the first three years of secondary school (in which they fall to 90%). On the contrary, at 17 and 18 years of age (the last two years of lower secondary school), the schooling rate of students with non-Italian citizenship decreases to 66.7% compared to 80.7% of Italian students.

Considerable territorial differences in education levels persist. The population living in the South is less educated than in the Centre-North: just over half of adults have at least a high school diploma and not even one in six has attained a tertiary degree (in the Centre, over two thirds have at least a diploma and almost one in four has a degree). With reference to the education system, INVALSI (National Institute for the Evaluation of the Education and Training System) has launched an intervention plan to reduce territorial gaps. The dropout rate in Italy, after a decade of steady decline, increased slightly in 2018, mainly due to a sharp increase in the number of foreign-born young people. In 2018, the total share of early school leavers among 18-24 year olds was 14.5%, with an increase of 0.5% compared to 2017. This is below Italy's Europe 2020 target, but higher than the EU average of 10.6 %. Although the dropout rate for foreign-born youth in Italy remained unchanged from the previous year (12%), the dropout rate for foreign-born youth increased from 30 % in 2017 to 35 % in 2018, well above the EU average of 20.2%. This is due to the growth of foreign-born students enrolled in the Italian school system (+1.9 %), which balances the decline of Italian-born students (-1.2 %).

Young people not in education/training and not in employment, NEETs (Neither in Employment nor in Education and Training) are particular to Italy. In 2019, in Italy, the incidence of young people aged 15-29 not in employment and not in training decreases by 1.2% compared to 2018 and reaches 22.2% (2 million young people). The share of NEETs is the highest among EU countries, about 10% higher than the average EU28 value (12.5%) and far from the values of the other major European countries. In 2019, the research 'Il silenzio dei NEET - Giovani in bilico tra rinuncia e desiderio' (The silence of NEETs - young people between renunciation and desire) by the Italian Committee of UNICEF as part of the 'NEET Equity' project, with the support of the Department for Youth Policies and Universal Civic Service as part of the Notice 'Preventing and combating youth discomfort', highlights that the NEET issue in Italy is intertwined with other serious disadvantages and forms of child poverty, analysed in the comparative study among 41 OECD/EU countries. With reference to the child population in the ranking on the relative income gap, Italy ranks 35th out of 41 countries;

With reference to the child population:

  • in the ranking of the relative income gap, Italy ranks 35th out of 41 countries;
  • for the gap in educational achievement, it ranks 22nd out of 37 countries;
  • in health inequality, it ranks 28th out of 35 countries;
  • for inequality expressed in terms of children's satisfaction with their lives, it ranks 22nd out of 35 countries.

At key points in the school cycle, INVALSI assesses learning levels of some key competences in Italian, Mathematics and English. Based on the processing of the test results, indications are obtained for the assessment at class, school, regional and national levels. The main novelty in 2019 was the introduction of INVALSI tests also at the end of high school (96% of students took them). At a national level, 65.4% of students achieve at least adequate results in Italian, 58.2% in Mathematics. For English, the syllabuses of all secondary schools require a B2 level. In the English reading test, 51.8% reach B2, while in the English listening test the percentage drops to 35%. In 2014, INVALSI also launched a project on 'Diachronic and longitudinal measurement of students' proficiency levels. The aim is to assess students' proficiency levels in Italian and mathematics. The new feature of this project is its aim to go beyond the normal stand-alone annual assessments, which only allow for comparisons with the annual average, to build a system that assesses students' progress over time, from the start of primary school to the completion of secondary school. The project will collect data both a) at the micro-level, so that each school can draw information on the effectiveness of its pedagogical and organisational systems, and b) at the macro-level, on the whole education system, to support policy makers by providing them with a solid evidence base. Data for the 2017-2018 school year published by the Ministry of Education reveal that pupils in Italian schools with specific learning disabilities (Disturbi specifici di apprendimento - DSA) total 276,109 and have increased from 0.7% in the 2010-2011 school year to 3.2% of total pupils in the latest available survey. The figure rises to 4.7% of pupils in upper secondary schools. Young Italians are better educated than the rest of the Italian population: in 2019, more than three quarters (76.2%) of 25-34 year-olds have at least an upper secondary school diploma, compared with just half (50.3%) of 55-64 year-olds, 57.7% of 45-54-year-olds and 68.3% of 35-44-year-olds. Italy's disadvantage compared to the rest of Europe in terms of the population's education levels, while decreasing in the younger age groups, remains significant. In 2019, the number of young graduates in Italy is not growing (27.6%; -0.2% compared to 2018). The low number of young people with a tertiary qualification is also affected by the very limited availability of vocational short-cycle tertiary courses, in Italy provided by Technical Institutes. Gender gaps persist, with one in three young people having a university degree and only one in five having one, which is higher than the European average.

The organisation of the education and training system

Compulsory education lasts 10 years, from 6 to 16 and includes the eight years of the first cycle of education and the first two years of the second cycle (Law 296/2006), which can be attended at secondary school - state level - or at regional vocational education and training courses. In addition, the right/duty to education and training applies to all young people for at least 12 years or, in any case, until they obtain a three-year vocational qualification by the age of 18, in accordance with Law 53/2003. Compulsory education can be carried out in State schools and parochial schools (Law 62/2000), which constitute the public education system, but it can also be fulfilled in non-parochial schools (Law 27/2006) or through family education. In the latter two cases, however, the fulfilment of compulsory education must be subject to a number of conditions, such as the taking of aptitude exams.

The education and training system is articulated over several levels and the consistency of the school supply in the different levels is variable.

  • The pre-primary level includes a non-compulsory integrated zero-to-six years system, with a total duration of 6 years, divided into early childhood education services¸ managed by Local Authorities, directly or through the stipulation of agreements, by other public bodies or by private individuals, which take in children between three and 36 months of age; pre-schools, which may be managed by the State, by Local Authorities, directly or through the stipulation of agreements, by other public bodies or by private individuals, which take in children between three and six years of age;
  • First cycle of education, compulsory, with a total duration of 8 years, divided into: Primary school, lasting five years, for pupils aged 6 to 11; Secondary school, lasting three years, for pupils aged 11 to 14.
  • Second level secondary school, lasting five years, for students who have successfully completed the first level of education. Schools organise high school, technical and vocational courses for students aged between 14 and 19; three and four year vocational education and training (IeFP) courses under regional responsibility, also for students who have successfully completed the first cycle of education.
  • Higher education offered by universities, higher education institutions (AFAM) and higher technical institutes (ITS) with different types of pathways: tertiary education pathways offered by universities; tertiary education pathways offered by AFAM institutions; vocational tertiary education pathways offered by ITS in cooperation with universities and employers.
  • Adult education system (IDA) refers to the set of educational activities aimed at acquiring a qualification in adulthood. The sector is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, University and Research. This type of provision is funded by public resources and is free of charge for those who participate (from 16 years of age). Formal adult education is organised at provincial adult education centres (CPIA) and by higher education institutions. The offer in the adult education system includes: Level I courses (run by CPIAs) aimed at obtaining the final qualification in the first cycle of education and certification of basic skills acquired at the end of compulsory education in vocational and technical education; Level II courses (run by secondary schools) aimed at obtaining the technical, vocational and artistic education diploma; literacy and Italian language learning courses for foreign adults aimed at obtaining a qualification certifying the achievement of a level of knowledge of Italian language not lower than level A2 of the CEFR (run by CPIAs).

In addition, there are training courses in Penitentiary Institutions and the Juvenile Justice Services, for both adults and minors, for which a specific national programme has been launched.

Main concepts

Early school leaving, which often results in dropping out of education and training, has distant geo-historical and cultural roots. The high levels of drop-outs have been only partly reduced by the raising of the right to education and training to 18 years (2003) and e compulsory education to 16 years (2006) to be completed in both school and vocational training. Good results have also been obtained from a variety of school projects supported by European regional development programs (PON and ERDF, 2000/06; 2007/13; Cohesion Action Plan, 2012/14) in the Centre-South. However, critical issues persist, making early school leaving a widespread problem in the Italian school system.