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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.1 General context

Last update: 17 March 2022

Main trends in youth participation in education and training

In the school year 2021-2022, Italy’s public schools enrolled 7.407.312 students. Of these 277.840 are people with disabilities,  a figure that has been steadily increasing in recent years (Focus 2021-22 Ministry of Education). In the previous 2 years (2020-2021) the number of students with disabilities was 268,671.

In 2021-2022, in the secondary school of II level, half of the students are in a lyceum course (51%), 31,7% in a technical one and 17,3% in professional courses.

For what concerns the regional distribution for the study courses, observing the distribution in every region, Veneto has the highest percentage (38,7%) of students choosing technical courses, Emilia Romagna of those choosing professional ones (20,3%) while Lazio has the highest number of students with a lyceum course (63,4%)

According to the last available data from the Ministry of Education, in 2019-2020 students that are non-Italian citizens (in the school year 2019-2020), represent 10,3% of the school population, 877.000 on 8.484.000.

The school population has generally decreased, with almost 96.000 students less (-1,1%) compared to the previous year. Italian students, in particular, have decreased of 115.000 units (-1,5%), while non-Italian students have increased by 19 thousand (+2,2%), making their presence going from 10,0% to 10,3%.

Between 2010/2011 and 2019/2020, students with non-Italian citizenship have increased by 23,4% (+166 thousand). Second generations prevail: 65,4% of non-Italian students were born in our country.

In the last data by ISTAT (2020), 38,5% of adults have a high school diploma and only 16,2% has reached a higher education.

In the North and the Center around 45% has a high school diploma and more than one out of five has a degree (21,3% and 24,2 in the North and the Centre respectively). The national divide in the level of education isn’t connected with genre even though it seems higher for females. ISTAT shows how the level of education grow pretty similarly in the different geographical sections: the population with at least a diploma increased of 0,8% in the North, 0,4% in the Centre and 07% in the South; the same dynamic applies to people with a degree that goes, respectively, +0,6, +0,5 e +0,4 points.

Still according to ISTAT data, in 2020 the percentage of young people dropping out of school is of 13,1%, around 543 thousand young people, with a slight decrease compared with 2019. The school drop out represents boys (15,6%) more than girls (10,4%) and for them there is also a decrease during last year (-1,1%). The national divide is very wide and persistent. In 2020 the school dropouts before the completion of high school or professional education affects 16,3% of young people in the South, 11,0% in the North and 11,5% in the Centre. The divide between North and South decreased of 5,3% in 2020, thanks to the general decrease recorded in the South after a substantial stability that characterized the previous 5 years (7,7% in 2019).

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.

Young people not in education/training and not in employment, NEETs (Neither in Employment nor in Education and Training) are particular to Italy. In ISTAT data we can also find that in 2020 young people who don’t work and don’t study in Italy have reached a worrying level of 23,3% and it’s growing more in the North, signalling a +2,3% compared to 2019

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 Civil 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 children population in the ranking on the relative income gap, Italy ranks 35th out of 41 countries.

With reference to the children 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.

INVALSI assesses learning levels of some key competences in Italian, Mathematics and English in key moments of the school cycle. Based on the processing of the test results, indications are obtained for the assessment in classes and schools at regional and national level. According to the data coming from the INVALSI tests of 2021, younger children kept good results. Both Italian and Mathematics results are generally satisfying and lead to the conclusion that Primary School kept being in line with its pre-pandemic standards. The INVALSI data 2021, which are the first after the forced stop of the lessons in presence due to the Covid-19 emergency, confirm the existence of phenomena previously observed in surveys made before the pandemic. This confirms the informative value these data have, primarily for schools but also for the social and political context at large.

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.

In accordance with the report “School inclusion of students with disabilities 2020-2021”, during this year students with disabilities who attend Italian schools increased (+4 thousand, 3,6% of enrolled pupils). The number of teachers for special needs keep increasing, with a better student-teacher ratio than the one provided for law, even though one out of three doesn’t have a specific education and 20% of them are appointed late.

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; Cohesion Action Plan, 2014/20) in the Centre-South. However, critical issues persist, making early school leaving a widespread problem in the Italian school system.