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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.1 General context

Last update: 28 March 2024

Main trends in youth participation in education and training

In the school year 2023-2024, Italy’s public schools enrolled 7.194.400  students. Of these 311.201 are people with disabilities,  a figure that has been steadily increasing in recent years (Focus 2023-24 Ministry of Education).

In the school year 2023-2024, for what concerns the regional distribution for the study courses, observing the distribution in every region, Lombardia has the highest number (141.806) of students choosing technical courses, Emilia Romagna of those choosing professional ones (72.318) while Campania has the highest number of students with a lyceum course (164.020)

In 2023-2024 students that are non-Italian citizens are 869.336.

Between 2010/2011 and 2020/2021, the composition of students according to school type has decreased. It can be observed in fact that the most significant decrease occurred in kindergartens (-12,742 children) followed by primary schools (-8,000 children) and lower secondary schools (-3,550 students). Considering only these three educational areas, the drop would amount to 24,500.

In the latest data by ISTAT (2021), 62.7% of people aged 25-64 in Italy have at least a high school diploma, more than 16 percentage points below the European average.

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 grows 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 2021 early school drop out affects 25.8% of young people with parents who have completed only middle school licence while it drops to 6.2% if their parents have a secondary school qualification and to 2.7% if at least one parent is graduate The national divide is very wide and persistent. In 2021 the school dropouts before the completion of high school or professional education affects 16,6% of young people in the South, 10,7% in the North and 9,8% in the Centre.

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.

INVALSI is the body that 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 2022, 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 2022, confirm the arrest of the decline in results observed in secondary schools in 2021 compared to 2019 and following the pandemic. Primary school results remained substantially unchanged compared to 2019, albeit with some small declines in certain territories. The gaps between regions of the country remain very significant and in some cases (Calabria and Sicily) they are present since the beginning of primary school.

In accordance with the report “School inclusion of students with disabilities 2021-2022", during this year students with disabilities who attend Italian schools increased by 5% (compared to the previous year). The number of teachers for special needs keeps increasing, with a better student-teacher ratio than the one provided bylaw, even though one out of three doesn’t have a specific education and 20% of them are appointed late.

Young people defined as NEETs (Neither in Employment nor in Education or Training) are an Italian peculiarity. In ISTAT data we can also find that in 2021 young people (15-29 years old) who don’t work and don’t study in Italy have reached a worrying level of 23,1%, going down after the increase recorded in 2020 due to the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment. The incidence in the South is double compared to the Centre-North.

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 undertaking aptitude tests.

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 and Merit and of the Ministry of 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.

School drop outs

According to ISTAT's 2023 Annual Report 'The state of the country', in 2022 early school leavers between the ages of 18 and 24 will be 13.6 per cent for boys (it was over 20 per cent in 2012) and 9.1 per cent (from 14.3 per cent) for girls, a difference of +2.5 and +1.1 points, respectively, compared to the EU27 average values.

The phenomenon of Neet, the young people who do not study and do not work, affects girls (20.5 per cent) more than their male peers (17.7 per cent), the 25 to 29 age group (one young person in four is Neet), residents in the regions of Southern Italy (27.9 per cent), and foreigners. The latter present a rate (28.8 per cent) higher than that of Italians aged 15-29 by almost 11 percentage points, and this distance doubles in the case of girls (37.9 versus 18.5 per cent).