Education - UK or Italy?

02/23/2012 - 06:46

Hello,I am thinking of relocating to Italy with my 2 children - a boy of 5 and a girl of 3. My wife is Italian which will make the potential move easier and the children are bi-lingual.How does the Italian education system compare to that in the UK - particularly secondary and university education?

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We lived in Italy for 10 years, moving out when our children were a few weeks old and 3. Both completed all their nursery and primary education in Italy. Overall we were happy with the standard of education they received at this level, especially with the older child. Unfortunately the younger one had teachers who were not  of the same quality and the school had a policy of the same teachers following the child throughout their primary education. One area where we did have major concerns was the lack of flexibility in the system - there is a lot of learning by heart and little variation in the style or variety of teaching - very much rote learning. With our eldest this was not an issue, but with the younger, he certainly struggled to memorise things and learn them off by heart so lost a lot of confidence. Although we did look at them going on to secondary schooling in Italy we decided against. We looked around the local media school, the teachers were well meaning but the facilities were extremely limited and they focussed purely on the academic subjects. Art, music, PE did feature but only for about 1/2 an hour a week and on a very  limited basis, ie no specialist teachers and no sports facilities at all. DT, FT  and drama simply did not exist. As a result we moved back to the UK so the children could follow a UK curriculum offering a far more, all inclusive, all round education. We do still visit Italy and from when they meet up with their friends and compare notes  it is clear that they are both far ahead of their Italian peers in all subjects in terms of work covered. When we decided to make the move, what struck us was the amount of support we received from Italian parents - all had complaints about the schooling, few had a good word and all said they would do the same if they had a choice. As for our children, when asked which system they prefer, both, without hesitation say the English one is far better. You don't say what part of Italy you are considering moving to. In all major cities there are international schools offering a variety of curricula - so if you are nearby to a major city you would certainly have more options. Hope this helps - others may have had a different experience and have made a different choice, but at  the end of the day you have to do what is right for the children concerned.

Thank you Andiamo - your feedback is much appreciated. We would be moving to Latina area. The closest internartional schools are probably in Rome. I assume that your children are bi-lingual? How does your experience of the education systems weigh up against the quality of life?

Certainly the quality of life in Italy is extremely good but then we are fortunate and also enjoy a good quality of life in the UK. To us, the children enjoying school and achieving their optimum is vital - I don't mean accademically, I mean as well formed and informed, all round characters who are in a position of being able to make a choice with their futures from a wide range of options rather than from a limited range. We did not want doors to be closed to them and we had a fear that that is what would happen if they entered into the Italian secondary system where at age 14 choices are made for life - ie do they go on to the liceo classico / scientifico / linguistico etc etc or to a more vocational school. If the wrong choice is made, from what we have been told it is nigh on impossible to change. Now, if they choose to do so, they can still go to university in Italy, but could equally choose to go elswehere. We simply did not feel that the constraints and focus of the Italian secondary system was right for our children -  we were lucky and had a choice, which we made and do not regret. Yes, they are both bilingual.

Positives-When I moved over eight years ago my children were 5, 8 and 10. We live in a rural area and all three were in the same school, they picked up the language really quickly and settled easily. I liked the fact that the class sizes were very small- in fact only 8 kids in my daughters class so she recieved a lot of help in the first couple of years. I was also glad that unlike the UK, religion is not compulsary and as we are not catholic the head suggested when the other kids were doing religion that mine could have extra Italian lessons. I like the idea that in secondary school they can choose which school they want to attend: I.T, mechanics, catering, geometre, art, and various others which as well as the usual lessons gives the child practical lessons in their chosen subject. Negatives -I have no idea how good/bad British schooling is now so couldn't really compare other than to say I believe the Italian system is very hard and if the child doesn't meet a certain standard at the end of the year he/she may well have to re-sit the year and this happens to quite a few kids and it can have a very negative effect as they loose their friends and repeating the year can be tedious- it's hard enough for teenagers to stay focused so not necessarily a good thing.  For me the quality of life wins hands down in Italy and ever since we arrived I have asked my kids on a regular basis  'do you want to stay or go back?' They have always replied that they want to stay in Italy. It's not for everyone and people often return to what they know but you could try it out for a year or two, nothing to stop you going back later if you find it's not what you expected and with your children being so young they would adapt to the changes- I say go for it! Andiamo I understand what your saying but when they choose the school it's not carved in stone they can change later- though it means buying another set of books. Which can be expensive.

I went to school within the UK system, went to Rome La Sapienza  University, taught in the Italian school system (media  and superiore) for 5 years, my children went to the European school in Brussels studying in the Italian section and so my comments are coloured by all this:

  1. Although you get the impression that the Italian system makes you choose too soon – remember that the English one limits you even further at 16! The subjects you then study are a maximum of 4, while in Italy, regardless of the type of school you decide to study in, the number of subjects is wide. E.g. liceo classico = Italian, Latin, Greek, foreign language, History, Geography, Philosophy, Maths, Physics, Natural Sciences, History of Art, Sports Sciences, religion (or alternative activity); liceo scientifico = the same but with no Greek and more emphasis on the “scientific” subjects; the so-called istituti tecnici  concentrate on the vocational side to include subjects such as business studies, marketing, more language teaching, political economy, law, IT…depending upon which one you decide to go to, but still do Italian, Maths, History, etc;
  2. Where they do fall down quite badly in my view is the lack of sports, music, drama etc – the subjects which make you an all-rounder and which most parents have to arrange for out of school.
  3. I did languages at A-level in the UK – English, French, Italian and Latin. When I went to Rome University to do Languages, it was very clear, very early on that, while I had the DEPTH, my Italian counterparts had the BREADTH; i.e. I had studied authors at A-level: Milton, Keats, Shakespeare etc for English; Molière, Racine, Camus etc for French; Carlo Levi, Goldoni, Foscolo etc for Italian; they had a good general knowledge of e.g. English literature from Beowulf to today (well, the day before yesterday!) but could not really talk about Shakespeare, his works, who influenced him, whom he influenced and so on.
  4. The teaching of languages in Italian schools is still abysmal – my sister still teaches English in the secondary system and comes home tearing her hair out at her first year students…
  5. My experience of the Italian teachers my children had in the European School … let’s just draw a veil over them – HOWEVER, my daughter loved it and is now doing wonders at an English University, my son, on the other hand, had to be taken out and is now at an English boarding school which he loves and where he is doing really well.

As a result, my experience of the two school systems leads me to the conclusion that you must know your own child first and foremost and if you are lucky enough to have a choice go for what suits them. BUT, at the end of it all, I think that any school system will work for your kids – look at what educational systems across the world have produced, good and bad and in all walks of life: Golda Meir, Tony Blair, Giorgio Armani, Barak Obama, Berlusconi, Marconi, Einstein, Nobel, Hitler, Vittorio Gassman, Osama bin Laden,  Mandela... If you want more detailed information on the Italian education system I suggest you consult: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/index_en.php. The information they provide is good and up-to-date.

Excellent post by Raggio! May I add that a child's education is also the responsibility of the home, parents and family. The school, teachers and educatin system are all important,but the are only part of the education process. I do believe that it is important to get a wide variety of subjects at secondary level, to obtain good and sound general knowledge, which should be also fostered and developed throughout our lives.

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