Day 10: Schools, education, and the Italian COVID-19 lockdown

Sardinia – an Italian island on lockdown

Photo by Margherita Lavena

Today (Thursday) marks the 10th day of the Italian COVID-19 Coronavirus lockdown. As of this evening, there are 204 confirmed cases of the virus on the island of Sardinia.

Today also marks fourteen days since all schools and universities closed their doors, on March 5th. This was initially supposed to have been for a period of 10 days, but this date was then soon extended to April 3rd.

This date is again being reconsidered. This morning, international media reported that Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, looks to extend the lockdown restrictions even further.

“The total blockade will go on,” Conte said. “The measures taken, both the closure of (public) activities and the ones concerning schools, can only be extended,” he told the American media today. The Italian public are waiting for the next formal decision this weekend.

What does this mean for the individual students?

In Italy, the education system works slightly different than in other places around the world. Italian schools are usually divided into elementary, middle, and high schools. The national government normally provides guidelines that instruct schools on what material to cover and teach. However, individual schools follow a plan of Autonomia Scolastica, or Scholastic Autonomy – schools are allowed to make autonomous decisions, both on the curriculum, and method of teaching.

My wife Claudia, whose twin nephews attend school in Milan, explained to me how they are managing to keep up with school work during the lockdown there.

“My nephews are attending the last year of elementary school. The teachers are giving them work to complete every day through WhatsApp … they are not doing online lessons, as it’s believed that it would not be easy for kids their age to follow these lessons from home, unless for a limited time. The teachers are doing their best though, staying in touch with the kids and they even talk to them over the phone every now and then.”

They still don’t know when, or if, they will be able to go back to school this year – especially given the current situation in the Lombardy region, of which Milan is the capital.

“They will probably need extra lessons before attending school again, but at least they shouldn’t have to repeat this year. It will be more complicated for the ones in high school, especially the ones that should have their final exam – but they are doing more online lessons in high schools there.”

In Sardinia, an Italian friend of ours, Marta, is a student at the University of Cagliari.

“Basically, my department will be the last one to start with online lessons … apparently I am supposed to start next week. Other departments like pharmaceutical, and engineering, already had pre-made videos with lessons, so they are following those. The exams have been postponed, as well as the graduations. People who are following the lessons are doing alright, (it) seems like the system is working.” Marta said.

Talking about elementary and high schools in Cagliari, Marta outlined only some similarities with the action taken by the schools in Milan. “My sister is doing homework, which the teachers upload daily online … in the elementary schools they are not doing online lessons. I think that high schools are quite slow in the process of organising lessons online … they were not prepared at all. They are only giving lots of homework and things to study.”

Another good friend Ben, a fellow expat, only recently started teaching at a private English language school in Cagliari. Along with teaching for the first time, he has the added step of having to learn how to teach online.

“I just finished an individual online lesson, and the online classroom is as good as it could be. The main challenge is getting to know how to do the job online, but experienced teachers are also having the same problems.” Ben said.

“It’s also hard to deal with providing direct immediate feedback online, and there are external distractions in the students own homes … you just have to write it off, there’s not much you can do.”

The school decided that it was better to provide individual lessons, as opposed to offer a full class experience online, “with a full class there’s no real way to decide who speaks and when, and it just becomes too robotic.”

One common theme across all spectrums of the Italian education system, is that the near future remains unclear. Overall, people here are remaining hopeful despite the uncertainty of the COVID-19 lockdown, but understand that there are challenges to overcome.

It’s quite apparent that the Italian education system wasn’t fully ready to be thrown into this big change – the immediate necessity of alternative teaching methods. However, the silver lining of this situation, is that this may be what brings public education fully into the 21st century, allowing distance learning, new technology, and new teaching methods to become a reality.

#AndràTuttoBene – Everything will be alright.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.