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Structure of Education in Italy

Education in Italy progresses in stages, and is currently structured in the following manner:

Pre‐Primary Education

Pre‐primary Eeducation is imparted in kindergarten schools to children between the ages of 3 and 6 years. In Italy, pre-primary school is known as scuola materna. It is not compulsory for a child to attend preschool. Government run pre-schools offer free facilities while some private run schools charge fees.
The first series of compulsory education, lasting 8 years, begins in primary and lower secondary schools.

Primary Schools

The duration of primary education is five years and it is for children between ages of 6 and 11 years. Primary schooling is known as Scuola primaria/elementare and is compulsory for children.

It is at primary school that children learn to read and write and study Italian, English, the basics of science and mathematics, computer studies, geography, social studies and even religion (this is optional).
The five years of primary schooling helps the formative preparation and each primary class in the Italian school has 10 to 25 pupils.

Lower Secondary Schools

Lower secondary schooling is known as scuola media and like primary schooling it is compulsory as well. The duration of lower secondary education is three years and it is for children aged between 11 to 14 years.
All lower secondary students must attend 30 hours of classes per week. Depending on the demand and interest of the students, some schools conduct additional classes which may go up to 40 hours per week. These additional classes include computer exercises, foreign language, sports education, music / art lessons and chess clubs. In every term of the lower secondary schooling, students get a report from teachers indicating his/her aptitude, behaviour and achievement during the term.

Upper Secondary Schooling - the second series of compulsory education with two career paths

The duration of upper secondary school is five years and it is for students aged between 14 and 19 years. Upper secondary schooling is known as scuola superior. It is compulsory for students to undertake two years of general studies (biennio), followed by an optional and specialized course (triennio) which takes three years to complete. All students are exposed to a state-directed curriculum during the two years of general studies. The syllabus for this includes Italian language and literature, school science and mathematics, foreign languages, religion (optional), geography and history, social studies and physical education. In the third year of upper secondary level i.e. during triennio, specialized courses (indirizzi) begin and this is only for those students who have opted for it. While upper secondary course is in progress a 15‐year old student has the option to attend the last year of compulsory education through apprenticeship.

Depending on the career choice of the students at this time, they have to choose a suitable course. They have to decide whether they plan to enter a university or want to obtain a vocational qualification.
Upper secondary schools are classified into two categories: the liceo, which has a general academic essence, and the istituto, which emphasizes vocational practice. Every Italian district has at least one classic school, a science school and a technical / vocational school.
Students who wish to obtain upper secondary school diploma (diploma di maturita), must pass some written and oral exams. The nature of the exams is as follows:.
  1. Examination 1 is writing an essay in Italian on any aspect of literature, history, society or science
  2. Examination 2 is writing a research paper related to the chosen specialization
  3. Examination 3 is about contemporary and general issues and a test in chosen foreign language
  4. Examination 4 is an oral examination which assesses the students about their learning in the final year course, their future plans etc.
On passing the above examinations a diploma is awarded to the candidate. This upper secondary school diploma is generally considered as a qualifier to enter university. Not all diplomas are qualifiers to university education;students must check whether a particular diploma is a qualifier before enrolling into upper secondary schools.

Specialised Upper Secondary Schools

There are various specialised upper secondary schools which students can choose as per their area of interest. Specialised courses are offered by liceoi, technical institutes and vocational institutes.
  • Classical High School (Liceo Classico): This five year upper secondary program  prepares a student for university education. An important part of the curriculum of this program is a course in  Latin, Greek and Italian literature. In the last three years of this course, philosophy and history of art are also taught.

  • Scientific High School (Liceo Scientifico): Physics, chemistry and natural sciences are the major subjects of this course and it takes five years to complete this. A student needs to study Latin and one modern language.

  • Fine Arts High School (Liceo Artistico): This course prepares a student for university studies in painting, sculpture or architecture and it takes three to five years to complete.

  • Teacher Training School (Istituto Magistrale): This course takes three to five years. Preparation for primary school teachers takes five years, while training course to become nursery school teachers takes only three years. Teacher training diploma holders have to seek employment after completion of this course since they cannot enroll to university education.

  • Artistic Schools (Istituto d'Arte): This is a three year course which trains a student to work in thean art field of art and leads to arts diploma (diploma di Maestro d'Arte).

  • Technical Institutes (Istituti Tecnici): This five year course prepares a student for both university studies and for a vocation. A majority of students in technical schools get trained to work in a technical faculty with application in agriculture, industry or commerce.

  • Professional Institutes (Istituti Professionali): These three or five year courses helps a student to achieve a vocational qualification in a particular profession.

Higher Education in Italy

University is open to all students who have qualified to enter. Generally the required qualifications are five years of secondary school education and a diploma from upper secondary school. Students who have attended vocational schools also can attend a university, Student who have attended a four-year secondary school program need to complete an additional year of schooling to qualify for university.

The style and process of education at university level is very different from that of secondary education. Currently the higher education in Italy follows the Bologna structure, a specific set of higher education practices followed by 43 countries.

Bologna structure came into being from a series of reforms intended to make higher education in Europe more competitive, attractive and more effective. The three principal objectives of the Bologna process are:
 (a) the introduction of the three cycle system (bachelor/master/doctorate)
 (b) quality assurance in education, and
 (c) recognition of qualifications and duration of study.

Based on the Bologna structure, higher education in Italy divided into three distinct categories:
  • university education,
  • higher-level artistic and musical training,
  • higher-level technical training and
  • other higher education opportunities.
Italian university education has three main cycles of coursework. They are as follows:

First Cycle is known as Primo Ciclo

There are two programs in the first cycle
  • Bachelor’s program known as Corso di Laurea with three years’ duration
  • Single-cycle degree known as Corso di Laurea Magistrale a Ciclo Unico with five to six years’ duration

Second Cycle know as Secondo Ciclo

The second cycle has two programs as well
  • Master’s program known as Corso di Laurea Magistrale with two years’ duration
  • First Llevel vocational master Master Universitario di Primo Livello

Third Cycle known as Terzo Ciclo

There are three programs in this cycle
  • Doctorate  known as Dottorato di Ricerca
  • Specialisation school known as Scuola di Specializzazione
  • Second level vocational master known as  Master Universitario di Secondo Livello
Teaching in Italian universities usually takes place in large lecture halls and students are expected to take initiatives for self study outside the classroom to prepare for exams. Recently, courses over the web named as telematic education have started gaining momentum in Italy.

Some of the oldest universities in the world are in Italy. The oldest is the University of Bologna which started in the year 1088., The word “university” was coined at its foundation. The University of Padua was established in the year 1222.

Non-University Higher Education

The non-university higher education sector can be categorized under four heads associated to specific institutions:
  • First is higher schools of design which includes polytechnics for the arts, academies of fine arts, higher institutes for applied arts, music conservatories and recognized music institutes, higher institutes for musical and choreographic studies, national academies.
  • Second being higher schools for language mediators.
  • Third is higher integrated education (FIS) i.e.: programs of higher technical education and training (IFTS)
  • The fourth category includes various fields and institutions under the supervision of ministries other than that of Education such as archiving, diplomatics, restoration, military studies, etc.

Educational Policy and Regulation of Education

The Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR) regulates educational policies. It implements its policies through subordinate institutions at national and local level.  For Primary and Secondary stages of education, there is a national curriculum directed by the Ministry of Public Education.

At the national level, there are three departments which direct and implement educational policy based on the guidelines of the Ministry. These are:
  • Department of Education
  • Department for ministerial planning and for ministerial management of the education budget, human resources and information
  • Department for the universities, higher education establishments in art, music and dance
At the regional level, the Regional Education “Uffici”, which are autonomous administrative centres, support and aid the schools by disseminating and implementing the policies received formulated by the departments.
The principles of subsidiary and autonomy determine the institution of education in Italy. The Ministry charts out its policies to ensure uniform and minimum standards of education throughout the country. The regional offices have the liberty to lay down programs suited to their respective regions but within the overall guidelines of the Ministry. Schools have autonomous status for determining didactic methodologies,organising educational events / procedures, and taking up research and development activities.
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