The Italian school system

During the past year many changes have been made to the Italian school: the reintroduction of one main teacher, the mandatory use of a uniform, the grading of the students’ behavior, just to say a few.

However, besides these recent changes that have taken place because of a new law (Riforma Gelmini), many are the differences that I’ve noticed after the first days of school. Obviously my notes are made by comparing the American system to the Italian one, and most precisely to the specific schools my kids are (and were) attending.

Books – Books are provided by the government, the only expense for the student’s family is for the class supplies (paper, pens, erasers, uniform, etc.) . I spent about Euros 100 (~$150) for both kids.
Notebooks – Kids have a notebook for each subject.
Hours – Kids can either go to school from 8am to 1pm, including Saturday, or from 8am to 4pm, excluding Saturday.
Recess – Kids attending school from 8am to 1 pm have only one 20 minute recess (around 10am). They stay in class. Most schools don’t have a playground.
Volunteers – Parents are not allowed to volunteer in class, unless they are holding a certain level of expertise in a field or topic that the students are learning. In this case they can teach in class for a few hours.
Diary – Kids have a diary to keep track of the homework they need to do.
Fundraising Auctions – Auctions are not held in public schools.
Communication – Families and teachers communicate through the student’s diary. Emails are currently not used.
Office – In my kids’ school, the school office is open only one hour in the morning, and one hour in some afternoons.
Physical Education (P.E.) – Kids need to have specific clothes (white t-shirt and black shorts) and shoes for P.E. They keep them in a bag that remains at school (until washing is required…).
Principal – Some schools share the same principal. In our case, we share the principal with four other schools.
Religion – Catholic religion is taught in all public schools. Kids have the right to refuse the attendance, in which case they are moved to another class for alternative activities. The crucifix is present in all classes.
Classrooms – Besides the desks and chairs, my kids’ classrooms have a blackboard with chalks, and a metal armoire for supplies. If it wasn’t for the 2009 calendar on the wall, it looks exactly the same as when I was there 30 years ago.


  1. Mediazione says

    Cara Silvia,

    Complimenti per questo bellissimo blog! E in bocca al lupo per la vostra avventura Italiana. Sono arrivata al tuo blog attraverso una ricerca su google. Sono un'insegnante di Italiano a Washington, DC trasferitasi negli Stati Uniti da Napoli poco più di due anni fa.
    Beh, volevo solo dirti che se mi autorizzi, vorrei usare l'articolo che hai appena scritto sulle scuole italiane con i miei studenti americani. Insegno Italiano 1 e 2 in una scuola media e nella classe di Italiano 1 stiamo proprio vedendo la scuola.
    Grazie mille! E ancora auguri per la vostra avventura!

  2. says

    Ciao Tosolini!
    Ecco perche non vi abbiamo sentiti da molto tempo – state in Italia! Molto interessante le tue osservazioni aggiornati delle scuole. Mi interesserebbe sapere le tue OPINIONI del contrasto dei due sistemi. Quale preferite? Veramente l'aula del tuo figlio sembra squallida. Quale orario avete scelto voi? Come vanno i tuoi figli nel nuovo sistema? Hanno difficolta'? Capiscono tutto? Siamo curiosi.

  3. says

    This is incredibly interesting as my Italian husband and I are set to leave Milan in 2010 and "try" life in my country – the U.S. I've been here in Milan for ten years. We have a two-year-old son and one of the many reasons I want to leave is the education system. There are some differences between Trieste and Milan – for one, the kids don't wear uniforms here in the public schools. At scuola materna they wear the grembiule, but at elementary school, no uniform. Here parents have to buy books each year – the schools do not supply them. As the books are supposedly "updated" each year (many people think it's a racket and a way for the publishing companies to make money), you can't pass them down to younger brothers and sisters. Where we live the elementary school looks really sad – not a very exciting or creative place to learn. The school doesn't even have a photocopier and parents have to take turns making photocopies for the class! And parents also have to supply many other things including toilet paper, which isn't put in the bathrooms but given to the teacher. A kid who needs toilet paper has to ask the teacher who asks (in front of the other students) how many squares of toilet paper he/she needs. But these are not even the main problems for me. I think that while Italian schools may prepare children well intellectually (my husband, an engineer, is a product of this system), they don't prepare students for the real world. The focus is on rote learning, memorization and not on problem solving and creative thinking. In any case, thanks again for this post, and I really appreciate your observations!

  4. says

    Interesting observations! You state that there are "alternative activities" for students who do not wish to participate in Catholic education? Do you know what these activities are? Are they comparable, like learning about all world religions, or are they just something to occupy the time of the children?

  5. Rossella says

    Assomiglia proprio anche alle mie classi, sia alle elementari che alle medie. Come e' andata l'esperienza? quali sono stati i pro e i contro di aver mandato i vostri bimbi a scuola in Italia? suppongo forse lo rifareste in futuro, se si, per un periodo piu' lungo forse? Cosa ne pensi dei metodi ancora un po' 'arcaici' che usano, tipo niente email, classi spoglie, niente parco giochi pochi intervalli? Quante domande! Sono curiosa! Se mi puoi rispondere ti ringrazio!

  6. says

    I'd like to thank and answer to the many people who posted a comment related to our blog about the Italian school system:

    CAROLINA: I totally agree with the last comment of "Anonymous". I think that it doesn't matter how the school physically looks as long as it gives you the right education. And I also prefer the Italian one for the reasons Anonymous listed: it gives you a broader cultural spectrum. And curiously enough, my daughter said that she prefers the Italian school because teachers are more cheerful and they use the blackboard with chalks…
    My kids adjusted extremely well to the new school, with no relevant problems (actually, with no problems at all), both socially and as far as the language (but we do speak Italian at home).

    EMILY: during the religion hours the kids that don't attend are moved to another class where they either draw, make their homework, etc. Basically another teacher "babysits them" while doing her/his class.

    IA: Books are provided by the government in Trieste. Based on Michellanea's comment, I understand that this varies from city to city within Italy.

    ROSSELLA: Yes, I would do this experience again, but for the entire school year (we are back to Seattle right now, so the kids went to school in Italy from Sep to Dec). Honestly, the only con is that the kids have to leave their home in the States for a long time, otherwise I see only pros.
    The thing that bothered me the most was the lack of communication between school and parents. It's like they want the parents to "stay away" from their classes. I offered to volunteer several times, but was never allowed.
    The kids weren't bothered by the lack of outdoor recess time. Of course, I would have preferred them to go outside, but it was something I could live with. They went to school each day until 1pm, so, eventually they had the whole afternoon to enjoy the outdoor. Not a big deal.

    Thanks again to all our readers!

  7. Bernadette says


    I am considering moving to Italy-Sicily for a year starting in August of 2011. My son is going to be in the 9th grade in 2011 and does not speak Italian (nor do I) My plan is to learn as much Italian as possible this year (same for my son) so that I can at least understand some of the language.

    I am not able to locate how to go about enrolling my son in a high school in Sicily and if they even have schools where english is spoken that do not cost. I am not sure of the best approach and would absolutely welcome any insight into this!

    I am a massage therapist in the states and would like to continue work in Italy as such–any information on this would be helpful as well.


  8. Athena says

    My child’s attending 1a this year, and we’re not even allowed to go upstairs to the classrooms, only in particular cases and for particular people!. I’ve no idea what it looks like!
    The downstairs is for Kindergarten and there is no playground for the primary school children.
    His rucksack is quite heavy and I don’t understand they have to humph in so many books to school? A trolly works fine until you have to walk up to sets of stairs.

    Certain books we did not have to pay for. The free books were those for religious education, which we do not need. What a waste of government (our) money. Can’t I just exchange them for 2 of the books that he really needs, and get then for free?
    We’ll get a coupon to get some money back for the books that we had to pay for.
    We have opted out of R.E. and I was even questioned about this by a teacher. It’s gotten rather chilly since then!

    Does anyone know where I can get some helpful info. on home schooling in Italy?

  9. Caleb says

    I can attest to the fact that, here in Trieste, books are provided by the government but obviously that’s not something that happens everywhere, Trieste has more perks that way than many other parts of Italy! I think a lot changes from school to school. For example, uniforms are not worn at our children’s new school (they were at their old one) and they have 4+ teachers (English, Science/Math, Italian, History/Geography, Religion, etc.).

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