History & Background
Italy is a parliamentary republic divided into 20 autonomous territorial regions. Each region is divided into provinces. Italian is the official language for the majority of Italy's 57.6 million inhabitants; however, regions with localized languages are considered "special status regions," and resources are provided to meet the educational needs of those living in these areas. Roman Catholicism is the most popular religion, but there is no official state religion. After experiencing political disunity from the fifth to the nineteenth century, Italy began unification in 1859 with the seizing of Lombardy from Austria.
As a member of the European community, Italy has become increasingly globalized and its population reflects the diversity of immigrant cultures and languages. The role of schools has expanded to accommodate the needs of changing demographics. In the nineteenth century there was a high degree of illiteracy among the Italian population, especially in the southern region, notably in Sicily. As Italy shifted from agricultural to industrial society, schools became increasingly more important to the socioeconomic and cultural development of the country in the twentieth century. In the new millennium, Italian schools are emphasizing literacy skills for a post-industrial global democracy.
Educational institutions, including religious, Catholic based and other private schools, had always been available to the ruling classes. The oldest university in Europe was established in Bologna in 1158.
Italian public education can be traced to 1859 when law 3725 mandated four years of free, compulsory elementary education and the Casati Law centralized the Italian educational system. In 1904, law 407 extended compulsory education, mandating all children through age twelve to attend schools. At the same time, the Italian governments recognized the needs of a more industrialized society and implemented vocational training.
In 1923, the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades were separated from elementary school and became scuole di avviamento (technical schools). Compulsory education was extended by two years. Elementary schooling, which was divided into three lower grades and two upper grades, continued until approximately 1957. Giardini d'infanzia (kindergartens) were established by a 1923 royal decree, but they were not officially operated until 1968.
During the fascist era (1922-1943), Ministry of Education and provveditori (provincial inspectors) controlled Italy's educational system and dictated the rigid curriculum and policy. Municipalities had very limited power. Elementary schools were allowed a more creative curriculum and upper secondary students were encouraged to engage in historical-critical inquiry, but the main emphasis was on standardized curriculum and methodology.
Since the 1950s, the Italian school system has undergone profound changes. Decentralization of administration has increased. Syllabi and curriculum have been revised, and teaching methodology has improved. Teachers have greater roles as instructional leaders in the educational process. Inservice training and other means of professional development provide educators with current information in their fields of specialization.
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