Over the past five years I have often pointed out how the ongoing financial crisis that has hit Western economies has also had devastating impacts on virtually all sectors of society: trade, industry, the world of work, the economy on the whole as well as the health care system. As the years go by, however, there is an increasingly pressing need for us to find a way out of this critical situation and turn our attention to a crucially important institution in Italian society which is responsible for shaping tomorrow’s citizens: school.
School is undoubtedly one of the sectors of society that has been hit the hardest by the lack of financial resources that the global recession brought in its wake. The percentage of the GDP devoted to education is staggeringly lower than the average in all other OECD countries, and concentrated fairly exclusively in primary and secondary education, while universities and research centres have been left to fend for themselves.
If, on the one hand, this imbalance has led to the creation of a sterling primary education system, universities, on the other, with such limited resources, are struggling to preserve their traditional role in providing a gateway to a brighter future. Added to this are a few recent cases of examiners charged with tampering with admissions test results, honorary degrees awarded by virtue of a deeply-rooted patronage system, competitive exams won by candidates without a degree or a single publication under their belt, and professors who are being investigated by attorney’s offices across Italy for favouring members of their own families. The outcome of this sobering situation is the low opinion that most countries have of our universities, as well as the unavoidable need for all those who wish to work as researchers to pack up and relocate abroad in search of better opportunities.
In the last few years, following intense economic pressure, several measures have been taken in an effort to reallocate the (limited) resources available, from the Moratti Reform to the Gelmini Reform, whose actual effectiveness sparked off considerable debate at the time. These reforms were made by implementing plans based on the pivotal principle whereby costs are reduced but educational standards, as one might expect, are not improved. Furthermore, the economic processes that we are witnessing are generating discrimination or, in other cases, simply creating the necessary social, political and cultural conditions for discrimination to come into being. Growing income inequalities in all OECD countries, coupled with soaring competition and a deterioration of the social bond have resulted in higher crime and murder rates while widespread insecurity is leading to an alarming lack of cultural and political openness. The root causes of all this can be traced back to the growing migration flows which inevitably increase the risk of discrimination as thousands of people of different races, ethnicities and religions find themselves living side by side in the host country.
In this context, ‘street teachers’ have been playing a major role in curbing the ongoing educational crisis. In fact, they could even provide inspiration for a reform aimed at developing our country’s talents and enhancing its unarguable contribution to global progress.
“School today is unable to develop the necessary competences and talents which make it possible for us to continue to belong to an advanced industrial society. It is so far removed from the actual needs of the world of work that it has become, to all intents and purposes, a factory spawning unemployed people with a university degree.”.
Piero Angela, ‘Nel buio degli anni luce’, 1977
Translated by Claudio Peli