The Italian school system is divided into three tiers: primary, secondary, and higher education. School reform was introduced in the early 1960s and continues. The primary or elementary school is compulsory and free; elementary education starts at 6 years of age and lasts until a student is 11 years old. Students are required to pass an aptitude exam at the end of elementary school before entering secondary school.
Compulsory education has been extended to lower secondary education or middle school and, in 1999, to the first year of upper secondary school. At the end of middle school, students take another aptitude test before entering upper secondary school. At the end of upper secondary education, students must pass a final exam (Esame di Stato) that allows them to earn a certificate (Diploma di Maturita) to enter the world of work or gain access to universities and non-university higher education schools. Upper secondary schools, sometimes also referred to as higher education, include the classic, linguistic, and scientific schools (liceos); education schools for nursery and elementary teachers; and technical, vocational, and professional schools.
There are private schools for all levels of education. Funding for private schools is primarily from private organizations; however, private schools may receive state funds if they follow the same guidelines as state public schools in terms of curriculum, personnel, and management.
Adult education exists for those who wish to acquire job skills, improve literacy levels, and continue their education. The Italian educational system recognizes the importance of cultural and linguistic pluralism and in schools. Accommodations are made for students with special needs. Italy, as a member of the European Community, is engaged in the European dimension of education and participate in a network of international initiatives.
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—Maria A. Pacino
Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceItaly - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education