Italy has one of the world’s oldest state education systems, having first made primary school compulsory way back in 1859. While today, Italy’s education system may not be as highly rated as it once was – mainly due to distinct variations in the standard of education received in the north and south of the country – you can nevertheless expect your child to receive a fairly broad and globally well respected education in Italy. While children attending schools in the more affluent northern reaches of Italy are often perceived to receive a better standard of education than those in the poor, largely industrial south (a perception borne out by statistics), it should be noted that the country’s education system is centralised and governed by the same curricula wherever you live.
School is compulsory in Italy from the ages of 6 to 16. Prior to your children starting primary school (Scuola Primaria) you may choose to send them to a nursery/kindergarten (Scuola Materna) from the age of 3. Any child over this age is entitled to a place at a pre-school, although there is likely to be a charge to sending your offspring to one. Sculoa Primaria lasts for five years (between the ages of 6 and 11), during which time children are taught basic skills – such as reading and writing – and begin to study subjects including Italian, maths, geography, science and a second language (typically English).
The next stage of schooling in Italy is the Scuola secondaria di primo grado (first grade/lower secondary school), which lasts for three years (roughly the ages of 11 to 13/14). There, children generally study the same key subjects that they did at primary school, although are given more choice for extracurricular learning in areas such as computing, music and sports.
Upon completing this stage of secondary school, you (or your child) will then have a choice of how to proceed with their education at Scuola secondaria di secondo grado (second grade/higher secondary school). Basically, your child can choose to attend a Liceo (geared more towards the study or arts and sciences), an Instutio Tecnico (a technical institute which is orientated towards practical subjects) or an Instutio Professionale (which prepares your child for work).
Although Liceo is the most common choice of secondary school, there are even choices between the types of Licei that your child can attend. For example, a Liceo Classico features Latin, Ancient Greek, Italian, history and philosophy as its most important subjects, while a Liceo Scientifico is more oriented towards mathematics, physics, chemistry and natural sciences. There are numerous other examples, too. That said, all Licei have some subjects in common – including Italian, literature and maths. Generally, the curriculum is the same for the first two years at any Scuola secondaria di secondo grado, with specialised courses (Indrizzi) beginning in the third year.
All children in Italy may leave school at the age of 16 (or at the end of the third year of Scuola secondaria di secondo grado). However, in order to obtain a Diploma di scuola superiore (the main Italian secondary school qualification, which anyone who attends any type of Liceo will be working towards) they will need to stay in school for five years – by which time they will be 18 or 19 years of age. If your child attends an a Instutio Tecnico or Instutio Professionale then you may find that some courses only last for three or four years before a vocational qualification is awarded (Qualifica professionale), although the majority will still last five years (Licenza professionale).
Almost 90 per cent of Italian children attend free state schools, although other options are available including private, faith-based and international schools. One thing you will need to be aware of is that, without fail, state schools will always teach in Italian. Therefore, if your child struggles with the language this needs to be taken into consideration. It will cost money to send your child to an international school (and depending on where you are settling they may not be readily available), so it may well be worth thinking about hiring a private tutor to try and get them up to speed that way – this will almost certainly work out to be a more affordable option and you will probably be surprised at how quickly your children pick up the language (especially younger ones).
Anyone who receives a Diploma di scuola superior will be entitled to a place at an Italian university (although to attend the very best universities in the country you will need to have received good grades throughout your time at higher secondary school). However, even children who attend an Instutio may go to university, although it may be the case that they will have to pass an entry exam before they are accepted. If they have only spent three or four years on the course they will probably also need to complete the additional years of second grade secondary education before they will be accepted. On the subject of universities, it may be of interest to note that one of Italy’s leading unis – the Politecnico di Milano – has announced that from 2014, almost all of its courses, including all its graduate courses, will be taught and assessed entirely in English rather than Italian.