Regret attending certain AP classes

Missed an entire school year - Italy's youngsters atrophy in distance learning on the screen, and they are not allowed to move in class

School in lockdown: Italy's children have learned little in the last year. The exchange with people of the same age has been blocked to this day.

«We cannot move and chat with one another. We also sit in our individual benches during the breaks. Always, except when we have to go to the toilet. " That's what Livia says, almost 14 years old. Since September she has been attending the first high school class at Liceo Plinio Seniore in the university district near Termini train station. 66 percent of the lessons are face-to-face classes, each in half-classes with 13 children, two days at school, one day distance learning at home. The other half of the class only knows Livia from the screen. She misses the exchange with her classmates, establishing contacts is very difficult in the individual bank. She has only gotten to know one girl in her class better. "My daughter's social life is practically at a standstill," says Livia's father, Domenico.

The schools are closed for months

At the beginning of March 2020, the Italian government closed all schools of all levels. Until the summer break, there was only distance learning on the screen. Since the start of the new school year in September, face-to-face classes have been back in principle, but due to the second Covid-19 wave, they have only been held to a limited extent and sometimes not at all, depending on the region and school level. According to Unesco surveys, the school lockdown in Italy was tougher than anywhere else in western Europe, apart from Great Britain.

«If you don't want to, you don't learn. It takes a lot of willpower », says Francesco, 18 years old, Livia's older brother. He is attending the same grammar school and is supposed to take his Matura in June. From the lockdown in March to the holiday break in December, he went to school for a full six weeks. Since mid-January he has had face-to-face classes every other day, in half-classes. It is only in these days that it is gradually becoming clear how the exams should take place. "I organize myself, I make a poker face," he says. There is also pride, the young man knows how to master the difficult situation with its uncertainties.

Last year, those in power kept talking about grandparents who are at risk and who have to be protected from the virus. On the other hand, they never spoke of the children and adolescents and their needs, or only spoke towards the turn of the year. From the autumn, educators and psychologists warned of developmental disorders and learning stagnation among adolescents, and newspapers reminded that there was a right to education in Italy. In several places, schoolchildren put school desks on the street, they demanded to return to the classroom with the announcement: "You are stealing our future."

«In the morning we stand in line in front of the school building, we have the temperature measured and go to our seats, we sit there for a few hours, then we go home. It is often ventilated, in the classroom it is cool, 13 degrees. " This is how Livia describes everyday school life at her high school.

Adriana Bizzoco, the mother of the siblings, regrets that a lot of what used to be part of the school has been lost. There is no longer any drawing or gymnastics, all the hours in the chemistry laboratory have been canceled, as have the mathematics support hours, project work has been suspended, and excursions are largely prohibited. Francesco wanted to take part in a robot competition with other students, but that was stopped in the middle. After all, there are still music lessons. Livia plays the guitar, Francesco the piano.

«During the lesson, the teachers primarily take care of the students present, of the half-class in the classroom. The other students at home are mostly just spectators. " This is how Francesco experiences distance learning in half-classes. The good teachers are also good teachers in the new situation, the less good teachers become worse. And some students in his class would have problems with distance learning. «You don't have a sufficient internet connection. You cannot log in when the brother is on the line. Or the connection breaks down. "

Computer specialists are fighting the digital divide

Change of scene, out to the eastern outskirts. In the basement of a school building, about six kilometers from Termini train station, aid organizations distribute food parcels to those in need. Poor people get pasta, vegetables, tinned clay, soap here. And: There are some computers ready for schoolchildren and students who do not have one. Volunteers with computer science skills set up devices that have been decommissioned so that they can be used again. Other volunteers offer online tutoring.

“In most cases, truancy in distance learning is first due to the lack of a computer or internet connection, and only then to a lack of will and desire,” says Andrea Simone from the aid organization Nonna Roma. He estimates that 20 percent of students in Rome do not have a computer at their disposal, only a mobile phone or tablet, and 70 percent do not have a sufficient Internet connection. “There is a digital divide: here the sections of the population who have computers and the Internet, there those who do not. We want to close this gap ”, says Giampiero Obiso from the organization Computer Scientists Without Borders.

Lessons on the smartphone - if the network allows it

A survey by the organization Save the Children shows the extent of the problems. For 46 percent of young people between the ages of 14 and 18, the past year was a “lost year”. 65 percent think they have to foot the bill for adults' inability to cope with the pandemic. 42 percent think it is unfair that they are not allowed to go to school, but that adults go to work. 38 percent rate distance learning as a negative experience. 28 percent have one or more classmates who no longer appear for class. In southern Italy, according to EU data, over 16 percent of young people left school without a professional or high school diploma; in the north it was 10 percent.

“I follow the lectures on my smartphone. First the professor lectures, it goes according to the textbook, then you can ask questions. I meet the other students on Whatsapp. " Davide Giantomaso, 20 years old, started his political science degree last year. He comes from a poor background, he couldn't buy a computer. Today he picks up his laptop, the freshly overhauled device is ready for him.

The new Minister of Education, Patrizio Bianchi, an economist, wants to bring all students back to the classroom as soon as possible, with the necessary safety precautions. The young people suffered badly from the constant distance learning, especially in disadvantaged areas of the south and in the interior of the country, where the Internet has large gaps. As a first measure, he extended the school year to the end of June, otherwise it would end in May. The minister demands that the school should be placed at the center of the future development of Italy. His predecessor had also asked for a return to the classroom, but was unable to get through.

"I'm eight years old." Talukder Hossin doesn't say much more. The girl was born in Italy but hardly speaks any Italian. Her parents are from Bangladesh. It has been in the first grade since September, and face-to-face classes are planned for this level. In December there were school lessons in the morning, and since January also in the afternoon. "Last year Talukder sat in front of the television a lot," says her mother, Monika Mridola Eta. A translator helps with the conversation.

The Bangladeshi woman has been in Italy for ten years and is expecting a second child. She only leaves the house for shopping and to pick up groceries. Her husband takes the daughter to school and picks her up. He has been in Italy for thirteen years, now he has lost his part-time job because of Covid-19. The family lives on social assistance, but that is not enough to even rent the two-room apartment. Talukder receives a school lunch at lunchtime. Eating is done at a distance.

"The problem of abandoned students is worsening"

“The Italian schools, especially those at secondary level, missed almost an entire year of teaching. The nail salons were open, but the schools were closed. " That's what Paola Mattei, political scientist at the Università statale in Milan says. «Schools were never at the center of the debate in Italy, not even in the past. The parties are not interested in the school, at most some unions. "

That's why the schools were simply closed for a very long time. With all the precautions taken, they are a safe place, there is demonstrably little contagion. There are difficulties before school and after school, but that is a matter of organization, the timetable, the transport. “It works in some places, not at all in others. ‹Good governance, bad governance› - there are both. " Mattei has conducted interviews with school principals and teachers across Italy. In the conversation she sums up what she was told.

  • Learning progress stopped. “The success of distance learning is questionable. In math, the students were in the same place in October where they had been in early March. You haven't learned anything. The learning gap will have an impact on the academic or professional career of many students, it is inevitable. "
  • Social divide deepens. “Distance learning has exacerbated social inequalities across the country. The peripheries are affected. In Milan, too, not all students have their own room in certain quarters. Many do not have a computer available, nor do they have an adequate Internet connection. Almost everyone has a mobile phone, but a physics lesson with sketches on the small screen - that will be difficult. "
  • Students left behind. “This is the learning situation: Many students are distracted by siblings, sometimes they cannot log in, or contact is broken off in the middle. So it is difficult to follow distance learning. The students disengage, it is difficult to motivate them. The problem of abandoned students is worsening. "