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 for years been the subject of attention and concrete action to stem a particularly critical phenomenon.
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.
In 2020 in Italy the percentage of 18-24 years old in an ELET condition (Early Leavers from Education and Training), meaning young people who go out from education and training systems without having acquired a diploma or a qualification, it’s around 13%, 543 thousand young people, slightly less than previous years but still far away from the objective fixed by the Europe Strategy 2027 of the 10%. According to ISTAT Annual Report 2021, young people who leave their studies having reached middle school diploma were 543.000 in 2020 (46,6% living in the South): it’s a population aggregate particularly vulnerable for what concerns the access to work field and for social inclusion, not only during young age, but also subject to negative repercussions for the future economical conditions. The Italian educational system struggles to keep many young students to develop their knowledge and provide them with the necessary competences asked in the working environments by companies and corporations. In this picture there is also the one regarding young people of 25-34 who decided to expat and went up to 355.000. from 2008 to 2020.
A close look at the trend in early school leavers from education and training shows a steady decline in the drop-out rate over the last decade, as confirmed by 2019 data. The European Commission's Education and Training 2020 Monitoring Report shows that Italy's early school leaving rate is still among the highest in the EU, especially in the south and among foreign-born youth. The percentage of young people in the 18-24 age group leaving education and training early was 13.5 % in 2019, down from 14.5 % in 2018, confirming the downward trend. While below the national target of 16 %, the early school leaving rate remains well above the EU average of 10.2 % and is a considerable distance from the EU 2020 benchmark of 10 %. The rates vary considerably between regions, from 9.6 % in the North-East to 16.7 % in the South. Boys are more likely than girls to leave school early (15,4 % compared to 11,3 %). The school drop-out rate for 18-24 year olds born abroad is 32,5 %, almost three times higher than for those born in Italy (11,3 %) and considerably higher than the EU average of 22,2 %. To combat early school leaving, central and peripheral school administrations, regions and local authorities have intervened in recent years with dedicated and systemic measures, allocating resources and promoting guidelines, analyses and actions. The Ministry of Education has set up a steering committee to combat early school leaving and, through specific guidelines, considered it 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 that lead to cultural deprivation and, consequently, higher drop-out and abandonment rates are more evident. 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.
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 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 transition regions to the more developed. An investment in line with the EU strategy for smart, sustainable, inclusive growth and the implementation of 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, Sardegna and Sicilia 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 concerned 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 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.
In the FaSI research report different databases of good practices related with school dropouts are analysed. 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, that 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 proof the 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 student 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 produce severe risks of social and work exclusion.
In the wider framework of the PNRR, the Mission 4 talks about the possibility to introduce interventions targeting the national divide in secondary schools of II level and for the reduction of school dropouts, especially in the South, with projects for kindergartens and nursery schools.
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 and that would prevent and taking 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.