6.3 Preventing early leaving from education and training (ELET)
The overall picture of early school leaving, and in particular of school drop-outs, throughout Italy has been the subject of attention and concrete actions for years, being a particularly critical phenomenon that should be contained.
Currently, almost all European countries have policies promoting second chance education for early leavers, and most of them support early leavers through targeted education, career guidance and through Youth Guarantee-related initiatives that aim to help early leavers re-enter the education and training system.
According to the 56th Report on the social situation of the country/22 of CENSIS, Italy has a high rate of early school leaving: young people aged 18-24 who dropped out from the education and training system are 12.7% at national level and 16 .6% in the southern regions, against a European average of 9.7%. On average in the countries of the European Union, the share of 25-34 year-olds with a diploma is 85.2%, while in Italy it is 76.8% and it drops to 71.2% in the South. The percentage of 30-34 year-olds with degrees or tertiary qualifications is also lower than the European average: 26.8% in Italy and 20.7% in the South, against an EU average of 41.6%. Our country also holds the European record for the number of NEETs, young people who do not study and do not work: 23.1% of 15-29 year olds compared to an EU average of 13.1%. But in the southern regions the incidence rises to even 32.2%.
The Ministry of Education and Merit has set up a steering committee to combat early school leaving through specific guidelines, considered necessary to take effective administrative and educational actions to minimise the factors that lead to early school leaving, particularly in certain Italian regions where the economic and social gaps lead to cultural deprivation and, consequently, to higher drop-out and abandonment rates. In order to combat early school leaving and drop-out, it is deemed necessary to allocate economic resources aimed not only at creating more suitable learning environments, both in terms of school structure and technological equipment, but also at launching methodological experiments able to renew subject teaching, making it more responsive to young people's learning styles, along with strengthening basic learning, the firm acquisition of which is an indispensable condition for continuing studies.
The Mission Unit (UdM) of the Ministry of Education and Merit with the note 109799 of 30 December 2022 sent operating instructions to the schools in relation with the Investment 1.4: Extraordinary intervention aimed at reducing territorial differences in secondary schools of first and second degree and at the fight against early school leaving.
The UdM also sent the Operating Instructions for generating the CUP using Templates and the version 1.1 of the Guide for submitting projects on the "Futura PNRR" platform.
It’s also important to remember that the Ministry of Education and Merit issued Ministerial Decree 170 of 24 June 2022 with which it identified 3,198 educational institutions that were beneficiaries of funding for the implementation of "Actions to prevent and combat early school leaving" for a total allocation of 500 million of Euro.
Subsequently, with note 60586 of 13 July 2022, the Ministry of Education and Merit issued the "Guidelines for the implementation of interventions in schools" in relation to the implementation of the measures envisaged by ministerial decree 170 of 2022.
It should be noted that the UdM, unlike the other ministries responsible for the interventions of the PNRR, has not drawn up its own overall document with which it defines the Management and Control System, but it is rather opting for indications for individual investments or tranches of investments. It is a way of proceeding that clearly testifies the difficulties of applying the general rules of the PNRR to the school sector.
Education: main measures to prevent early school leaving
In the framework of the National Operational Programme For Schools - Skills and Learning Environment 2014-2020, resources amounting to 2.8 billion euro have been allocated with more than 52,343 projects financed throughout the country in favour of 8,000 schools for the training of more than 2 million 392 thousand students, teachers and adults. The Ministry of Education and Merit financed 1,600 projects to combat factors related to school drop-outs in the area of social inclusion and combating hardship in particularly disadvantaged areas. 1,273 projects regarded social integration and reception to specifically counter school drop-out. These projects involved all the regions of Italy, from the less developed, to the transition, to the more developed ones. An investment in line with the EU strategy for smart, sustainable, inclusive growth and for the implementation of the social economic cohesion of territories. The Intervention Plan for reducing territorial gaps in education was presented in 2020. It is aimed at schools in the regions of Calabria, Campania, Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily and sees the implementation of measures to improve learning outcomes. Initially, it will be undertaken with the Campania and Sicily regions and will then be promoted and disseminated to the other regions. The plan is defined in close collaboration with the Regional School Offices, local authorities and research bodies (INVALSI, INDIRE) and includes, as a preliminary phase, the promotion of a comparison with the Regional School Offices and the competent Councillors of the regions, which are involved in order to analyse the data and the interventions currently in the field; a more detailed analysis of the situation with the data available to INVALSI; integrate the analysis with the data available to the Ministry of Education and Merit and the local authorities; coordinate the projects underway and in development; agree on a number of process and result objectives in the medium term. The FaSI - Fare Scuola Insieme research report analyses databases containing good practices against early school leaving based on prevention, intervention and compensation strategies.
Different databases of good practices related with school dropouts are analysed in the FaSI research report. Among these we could mention:
- Gold database of INDIRE that collects the experiences realized in Italian schools of every kind and level to spread the pedagogical knowledge heritage produced by schools. It focuses on different fields, from environmental education, to emotional development, new technologies and so on and it contains more than 700 educational experiences. Many of the selected materials from schools are downloadable.
- The Heritage and Interculture project, which represents a national observatory on the experiences realized in cultural institutions, particularly those from museums, in partnership with schools, district centres for adult education, local bodies, organisations and research institutes. The aim is to report those projects that are identified as good practices for their methodologies and contents, to offer a comprehensive picture of the activities that provethe commitment to make the cultural heritage more accessible.
- The database on the school projects in Lombardia by ORIM – Regional Observatory for Integration and Multiethnicity, that collects all those projects that involve students of foreign origin, including the projects targeting dropout and dispersion.
- The LOST project on school dropouts, which isn’t a database but a publication of the national survey made by WeWorld Onlus, Bruno Trentin association and Giovanni Agnelli Foundation with the cooperation of CSVnet. With LOST it has been offered a contribution to clarify the size of the cost that school dropouts have on schools and the role of the third sector, since this has a significant economic cost that produces severe risks of social and work exclusion.
Combating early school leaving through non-formal and informal education and youth work
Policies for increasing the flexibility and permeability of education courses can help prevent ELET by removing potential obstacles to the completion of education and training programmes. These might include initiatives to promote alternative education and training courses (e.g., vocational or technical rather than general), to facilitate the transition between courses and to improve systems for the recognition of students' skills and qualifications.
In the last years, the adoption of non-formal or informal educational strategies to combat early school leaving has been the subject of many studies by training, research and third sector organisations involved in this field. Similarly, initiatives have been produced in different contexts. These include the Doors - Open Doors to Desire Project as an OppOrtunity for Social Regeneration (led by CIES Onlus) created to combat educational poverty among minors, which has placed art education at the centre of its work with young people to promote a greater synergy between formal and non-formal education. Among the initiatives that focus on the non-formal and informal level, there is the Fuoriclasse program, promoted by the Education Department of Save the Children Italy, in collaboration with the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation, and in partnership with Christian Workers Association - ACLI Lombardia, Kreattiva Association, Libera Association, E.D.I. Onlus, Abele Group, and Panda Avventure. Inspired by Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Fuoriclasse promotes motivation to study (motivational workshops) and the possibility of bridging learning gaps (study support workshops) through innovative methodologies that combine formal education activities with non-formal activities (advisory councils and school camps) to be carried out both during and outside school hours, not only in school buildings but also in other educational contexts. The intervention includes an integrated approach, involving all the stakeholders concerned by the phenomenon: students, teachers and families. The pilot project was launched in the 2012/13 school year in the cities of Naples, Crotone and Scalea (CS). The following year, the cities of Milano and Bari were added (2013/14) and in the school year 2014/15 Turin. Within three years (2012/2015), two two-year implementation periods were completed in five cities (Crotone, Scalea, Naples, Bari, Milano).
Another project moving along this direction is “Our Good Star”, designed and developed by the Institute for researches on population and social policies (Cnr-Irpps), in cooperation with Lazio Region, the organization Arianna Onlus which led the project and several subjects, including organisations, schools and third sector representatives. Its general objective is contrasting school dropouts and dispersion by building an educational community made by public and private bodies that would prevent and take responsibility for educational poverty at local level.
Also the Municipal Department of the School of Palermo supported the “Week of Perseverance”. In all classes of some schools of the city, teachers presented readings, stories, films and examples of perseverance and motivation made by pupils.
Intersectoral coordination and monitoring of interventions to prevent early school leaving
Regarding the development of networks against early school leaving, and the promotion of innovative monitoring and intervention actions, an INDIRE working group has drawn up a detailed Monitoring Report and analysis of territorial intervention prototypes (2016). On a regional and local basis, the monitoring of interventions to prevent early school leaving has been carried out. Examples are the initiatives of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region and the municipality of Milan. It is also worth noting the monitoring activities of some third sector actors, such as those of the Observatory on Educational Poverty, in collaboration with Con i Bambini - social enterprise and Fondazione Openpolis, within the framework of the Fund to fight juvenile educational poverty.