It seems to be a right of passage for Italian students to ‘Occupy’ their schools, something that has been going on since before we became familiar with the term in English courtesy of Wall Street’s protest movement. But what exactly is going on in Italian Schools?
Following decades of decline, especially the last 5 years, the education budget has been pared further and further, leaving Italy’s percentage spend at under 5% ranking it around the bottom of the OECD tables. Reports from the frontline, as it were, tell of a whole infrastructure falling apart in a system of education that is fiercely outdated by western standards.
Italian second-level students have a typical six hour day of lessons, and to generalise, these take place in 90minute sessions and in the format of a lecture. With the cutbacks some schools have been forced to take a 3-day week as there simply aren’t enough teachers to cover classes; materials are non-existant in many cases, such as art & music, technology and computer classes being taught in ‘theory’. Similarly administrative staff are being shared between schools, sometimes between whole districts and the system has simply failed to cope.
Conditions in schools (and colleges) have declined in line with the systematic decline. Regular reports of crumbling buildings, unpainted classes, heatless schools, toilets out of order for months, vermin infestation and leaking roofs are par for the course.
The latest round of austerity under the EU’s appointed leader for Italy, Mario Monti, has pushed the education system too far and the students have said ‘enough’. In many cases the teachers are surreptitiously aiding the occupations and you can even get information on how to occupy your school via the student education website studenti.it .
Italy’s youth unemployment is rising to Spanish levels – 35% now – and job prospects for graduates are now 2nd lowest in the EU zone. Amidst that climate protest is inevitable.
Rome, Bari, Modena, Turin…one by one, as the autumn term rolled on, news travelled of more schools falling under student Occupation. By mid-November the list exceeded 200. Occupation can take various forms, however a general summation is that the students vote to lock the gates and remain in school 24hrs a day. Sleeping bags, political workshops and football. It sounds like every leftist kid’s dream. It is such a widespread phenomenon that there are guidelines for dealing with the authorities. As the schools are public (and not the elitist Catholic private schools) the police are less inclined to get involved in physical confrontations and often the occupations are left to work out agreements over demands or disband after agreed timescales.
However police aren’t always as understanding when it comes to student protest –
Monti speaking at his alma mater, Milan’s Bocconi University, where he was an economics professor before becoming prime minister, expressed sympathy, saying young people were paying for “serious errors accumulated over the past decades”.
For more information on the Occupations follow these links:
In Italy Angry Students Occupy Schools – Daily Beast
Chalk, Blackboard, Tear Gas – Chicago Tribune
Italian Students Occupy School – diary of an erasmus student in Italy
University students storm local government assembly – (in Italian) Repubblica
Visit to an Occupied school – first hand account of a visit to a school under occupation (not the best English)