Hard times in Italian schools?

by Michele Rocca

It is a matter of fact that inequality has been growing in developed countries in recent decades, but how does this affect the future aspirations of pupils?

With this research question, a broad network of organizations including LEAP and headed by CIAI (Centro Italiano Aiuti all’Infanzia) has launched an ambitious project called #Tu6Scuola.

Is it still possible to improve one’s income status through education? How does family socio-economic status shape the dreams of children?

Last week, I visited Ancona and Città di Castello (a small city close to Arezzo) to collect data for the baseline phase of LEAP’s impact assessment of the project #Tu6Scuola among students in their first year of middle school (ages 11-12). I was not alone, indeed another LEAP affiliated student joined me and other LEAP students were previously sent with the same aim to several middle schools in Palermo, Bari, Como and Milano.  The schools were selected with useful but also very tricky criteria: complex socio-economic context.

The data was collected through a questionnaire that was divided in two parts. The first part was a cognitive test made of three modules and the second part included questions on family background and personal aspirations and beliefs. My partner and I collected data on almost two hundred pupils and had a great field experience that led to several reflections, two of which I share below.

1-Points of view

I am thirty years old now and looking back on my own middle school experience I am quite sure to state that the words “economic crisis” were not in my vocabulary. I was born in 1987 and during middle school I was growing up in the wealthy 90s for I felt no urgency to think about my future. Of course there were friends considering  (a medical career or dreamers saying that they would be astronauts or football players, but as rule of thumb, the future was not a concern. I was thinking that after graduation the economy would find me a job. I was very naïve, I know.

But after this experience, and some amusing and insightful chats with the students, I recognize that times have changed. There are still a lot dreamers and “football player” has definitely taken the first position in the job ranking (wanting to become an astronaut can be considered an old cliché, no doubt), but the interesting part is that now kids also want to be architects, chefs, nurses or programmers. If you grow up in an environment where the words “economic crisis” are common knowledge, you accept it as a constant in your equation and you probably take it into consideration in defining your aspirations.

2- Melting pot country

Still, looking back to my childhood, I remember one Ethiopian girl during elementary school and one Romanian boy during middle school.

When I was in Ancona last week, on each door there was a paper with the translation of the word class in ten different languages.  On average, for each group there were students of three or four different nationalities. It was interesting for us to see how Italy is changing and I am very curious to see what will be the results of this project will be.

Hence, quoting Charles Dickens, I think today it is a period of rapid changes rather than hard times.ciai-ancona-3-e1532957678728.jpg

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