Compulsory School Age, Bought Diplomas

There have been two big pieces of news in Italian education this week:

The Education Ministry has announced that the age for compulsory schooling will be raised from its current 15 to 18 years. Parents and communities will be tasked with enforcing attendance, on pain of fines. (This law already exists for under-15s, though it doesn’t seem to be enforced with much success.)

The law further requires that everyone leave the system with some sort of diploma or qualification. There is more flexibility in choosing which qualification you come out with, because the new law mandates complete transferability of credits between different kinds of institutions. There will also be a work-study/formal apprenticeship program, in which on-the-job experience can be translated into scholastic credits and, again, transferability between this and classroom programs is supposed to be guaranteed. I don’t see how, in practical terms, this will be accomplished. Even the “experimental” liceo artistico now has a curriculum heavy with academic subjects such as physics; how could a student transfer from an apprenticeship program INTO a liceo without the background courses needed to keep up with the current year’s work?

The other piece of news, in ironic juxtaposition with the first, has been a scandal over hundreds or thousands of high school diplomas that were purchased rather than earned. 23 people have been arrested in several cities for their involvement with accredited private schools which guaranteed a diploma for anyone willing to pay fees up to 8000 euros. The “students” never even needed to show up for a class or test; everything was taken care of, from falsified attendance records to papers and exams written for them and graded by compliant teachers. In one case, an institution was accredited on the basis of a building, complete with “students” and “teachers,” specially hired for the day.

The clients of this system were naturally wealthy; the list apparently includes the children of VIPs, and some soccer players who materially were not able to spend time sitting in a classroom. This gives no comfort about the qualifications of a bank financial adviser of our acquaintance – a former soccer player.

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