Schooling in Italy – what’s best for expats?
Before we arrived in Italy we had a couple of important decisions to make and the first one really was around the kids schooling.
Scuola Primaria (Primary School) or Elementare – from the age of six (or 5 and a half)
Scuola Media (Middle School) – between the ages of eleven and fourteen
Scuola Superiore(High School) – fifteen when they enter and nineteen when they leave
So when we first got there our two kids would go into Scuola Elementare at ages 9 and 11 they would be placed into prima media (1st year middle school) and quarta elementare (4th year primary). Italians are very inquisitive (in a nice way) and accommodating and so they were the centre of attention, I don’t know if this was a good thing but at least they weren’t left on their own in the corner which would be another worry.
Private vs Public
We looked at private schools and international schools and were advised that these are full of Italian kids with problems as their parents believe that as the classes are smaller their ‘little brats’ will get more attention and discipline. So we decided that the best way to allow us to integrate quickly was to send them to the state school. For us this has proved to be the right decision, as mentioned in a previous post by 6 months they were both pretty fluent, how they achieved this is another story!
Level of education
We do get asked about the level of the schooling here and for a comparison between here and the UK. Generally we are happy with the school system in Italy. Italians love the classics, art, history and are a very visual nation (which is why bella’is the most used word in Italy, everything is beautiful to Italians). I’ve heard that they watch more TV than any other other nation in Europe and read on average only one book a year. However, combined with a good grounding in Maths and English from the UK and a focus on the above I think the kids have a good balance of skills.
Holidays are a bit sparse apart throughout the year. Italy has 3 months during the summer because of the heat and next to nothing throughout the year, so by the end of the year they are pretty knackered! During the year there is some time off at Easter and ten days or so at Christmas. One thing to consider is that in many regions in Italy kids go to school on Saturdays as well, so weekend getaways are not always possible. Oh, by the way some schools turn a blind eye if you take your kids out of school for a week in January or February to go skiing, its called settimana bianca (the white week).
Homework is pretty frequent which I’m a bit of a fan of (especially now that I don’t have to translate it into English, do it and then translate it back into Italian again (see a previous post which goes into more depth about how long it took us each night to go through this process, generally about 3 hours each night! ). Especially in the middle school they are taught to self-study and manage their time in the afternoons. They generally start school around 8am and finish around 2pm and the idea is that instead of keeping them till 4pm, those extra 2 hours should be spent on independent study, not just homework.
So in summary, for us I think the best option was to give our kids a baptism of fire and immerse them in Italian from day one. Surprisingly there were only a few days in three months where we had tears, mostly from our oldest daughter but with sympathetic ears and understanding we got through it. Don’t get me wrong there were days when the ‘hate’ word was used but kids do adapt and quickly, although at the time it might have seemed an age I found that if we deflected their attention to other things after school then it wasn’t that big a mountain to climb.