Constitutional & Legal Foundations
In 1859, before the unification of Italy, the Legge Casati (Casati Law) established the provisions for the organization of state education. The law included five sets of regulations dealing with higher education, upper secondary classical education, technical education, primary education and normal schools (for elementary teacher preparation). This system called for highly centralized administration and a clear division of upper secondary education between the liceo classico (a pre-university requirement) and vocational, "utilitarian" secondary schools for practical job training. The Coppino law introduced compulsory schooling in lower primary grades.
The 1923 Gentile reform legislation made the following provisions: preschool (nursery school) was neither compulsory nor free; five-year-olds must attend primary schools, which were divided into two groups or cycles; lower secondary education had six different institutions; upper secondary education had five different institutions; and higher education included state-funded universities and private universities.
Radical school reform occurred as a result of the fall of fascism and the 1948 constitution that espoused democratic principles. The basic principles of education were established by the Italian Constitution, which emphasizes freedom of education; the nation/state's responsibility for providing educational institutions at various levels; education for all individuals regardless of background; parental responsibility for educating children; and financial resources for needy students to pursue higher education. Article 33 states that teaching about arts and sciences shall be free and open to all and that the republic shall establish the general educational principles and create state [public] schools of all levels. Article 33 reaffirms that schooling must be compulsory and free, but it allows private schools to be established as long as they meet all requirements and standards of public schools. This article also allows institutions of higher learning to be established autonomously within the limits of the law.
The first paragraph of Article 34 ensures that schools shall be open to all citizens and, like a portion of Article 33, emphasizes educational equality. This article provides for government scholarships for needy students. Article 117 establishes regional authority over vocational education (except those requiring higher education).
Some laws governing Italian education include law 1054, which relates to nursery school education (giardini d'infanzia, scuole materne); law 653, which addresses school exams; and law 503, which is concerned the elementary school curriculum for scuole elementari. During the 1960s, a number of laws reformed Italy's educational system: law 444 applied to preschool education; law 1895 established middle schools (scuole media); law 119 modified school examples; law 910 opened universities to upper secondary (liceum) students, including those attending non-university track upper secondary institutions; and in 1961 a law made technical colleges more flexible so they could more easily adapt to technology advances.
Legislation passed in the 1970s led to significant educational reforms. Law 477 provided for the legal status of state school personnel, the establishment of school assemblies, and the implementation of experimental educational methodologies. Law 517 regulated teaching in elementary and secondary schools, student assessment, and integration of special needs students. Because of this legislation, evaluation of students' progress no longer relied exclusively on exam grades; teachers' analyses of students' progress and development were also included. Teacher-designed lessons were required to accommodate the needs of individual students and include remediation for special needs students.
Additional reforms in the 1970s focused on the structuring of schools and schooling to meet the needs of a growing global labor market. Curricula included the study of science, math, and languages. Student exchange programs were initiated and expanded. Teaching pedagogy and content, program criteria, and modes of student assessment were revised and updated. Inservice training for teachers encouraged them to become "transformational leaders."
Two key pieces of reform legislation were passed in the 1980s. Law 270 provided regulation regarding the legal status of teachers, recruitment, and training, and Law 168 established the Ministry for University of Scientific and Technological Research.
In the 1990s there were a number of new laws and presidential decrees relating to education. Law 148 reformed elementary education. Law 341 reformed the university teaching. Law 104 continued to emphasize the integration of handicapped students in school. Law 59, passed in 1997, reformed public administration and simplified school administrative procedures; implemented in 2000-2001, these regulations granted wider educational, organizational, and research autonomy to schools.
Several presidential decrees directly related to portions of Law 59: decree 275 established strict regulations concerning the number of students per class; decree 233 regulated territorial organization of schools; decree 258 ordered reorganization of the Educational Documentation library in Florence and the European Center for Education; decree 300 provided for the reform of Regional Institutes for Research, Experimentation and In-Service Training (IRRSAE); and decree 112 introduced strong education decentralization from the Ministry of Education to provincial and local authorities.
University autonomy has also been widened. Law 425 reformed state exams for higher education, and Law 9, passed in 1999, re-emphasized the need for compulsory education and extended it to 10 years.
In 2000, some legislative issues addressed the equity and equality of education between public and private schooling. Other legislative concerns targeted changes in Italy's education system that would better prepared its citizens to enter the twenty-first century job market.
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