Reform of the educational system sparks protests in Italy

The notorious reform bill on education system has been approved, yesterday morning at 10.30, by the Italian Senate. After days of protests that took place all over the country, The “Gelmini Decree” gathered 162 votes of approval and 134 against (3 senators did not vote). Immediately after the Senate approved this bill, students went mad outside Palazzo Madama and all over Italy.

Clashes erupted yesterday among students in Piazza Navona, a few steps away from “Palazzo Madama”, home to the Italian Senate as the decree was being approved. Even though no one was seriously harmed, the clashes are significant; yet they still do not indicate that the students are united against the government. Officers from the PD (Veltroni’s Partito Democratico) and the IDV (Di Pietro’s Italia dei Valori) were among the protesters. Students were chanting: “Clowns” Clowns!” to the politicians inside the Senate. Students protested throughout Italy, from Milan to Rome, and even in Florence; in Naples, however, they were relatively calm.


The bill is aimed at reducing public spending, to a level that the government has previously set as a essential goal to achieve, in order to reduce our public debt. The “Gelmini Decree” will also set a series of rules regarding the educational system. As the young Minister of education explains, “there will be a grade regarding students’ behavior against bullying; ‘civic education’ will be introduced as a new subject and there will be grades instead of written assessments; the cost of books will be kept down; and there will be a designated professor to oversee these new courses. The majority of Italians approve of these reforms. Gelmini also added: “ in a week from now, we will also reform university”.

Yet the students don’t seem to agree with Mariastella Gelmini; their slogan is: “ we won’t pay for your crisis”. The University of Rome –“La Sapienza” – is paralyzed by thousands of students chanting slogans against the government. In their opinion, schools and universities must not be involved in the new government’s budget spending, they should be left untouched.

Here’s a short abstract from a communiqué made by some protesters at the “La Sapienza” University:

“This government wants to wreck democracy, through the fear, through the terror. But today, from La Sapienza in mobilization and from the squattered faculties, we want to say that we have no fear and we won’t step back. On the contrary, our intention is to make the government retreat: we won’t stop struggling before Law 133 and the Gelmini decree will be withdrawn! This time we will proceed till the very end, we don’t want to lose, we don’t want to submit to this arrogance. For this reason we ask all faculties of the Country to do the same: they want to repress the squatting”.

As a consequence of this bill, popularity of the Education Minister has lowered consistently. The post, though, is one of the most challenging; since, at least once every other year, Italian students protest against some aspect of the educational system. This year everyone is convinced that the “army of the young” is not protesting just for the sake of doing it, or to avoid studying.

Marco Taradash (politician) and Gaetano Quagliariello (Senator) think that this time the protest has been promoted by the teachers, because they were afraid that with the introduction of the new bill, they would lose their power. One of the most controversial reforms, in fact, will have a direct effect on their income. Italian students at every level are used to spending a consistent amount of money on books every year. Starting today though, schools will be forced to keep the same books for at least five years. This way, families will be able to save some money but, at the same time, professors will lose some.

As we said before, Veltroni and Di Pietro are not of the same mind. “we decided to promote a referendum, to cancel as much as we can of Gelmini’s decree… We’re already studying the question, it will be published in the forthcoming days”.

“Our members are already gathering signatures on the streets against the Alfano’s Bill – said Di Pietro in a press release – they will do the same the day after the publication in the official gazette of this now infamous law, which is humiliating millions of families, students and teachers”.

What do the students think about all this? Giacomo Tarico, a student of Cooperation and Development in his final year at La Sapienza has articulated his opinion on the issue: “the protest has been transformed into something that makes absolutely no sense, in my opinion. This was about the reform of the education system and has instead become a battle between leftwing and rightwing students. The first ones think that the government is trying to step over their right of studying and therefore they are organizing themselves to protest against the Gelmini Decree. Usually, this means preventing other students from studying. If you go to the University today (like I did) and try to accomplish something, you’ll end up with nothing in your hands, La Sapienza has been paralyzed. The irony is that the reform of the University has not been presented yet. The so called rightwing students, on the other hand, are trying to study but they are labeled as sheep and prevented from going to class”.

Tarico is convinced that the protests are damaging hurting thousands of students coming from the south that are paying for their rented rooms anyway and are forced to study and work at the same time.

“There are not so many students protesting. But they have the support of their teachers that are trying to make use of them. I would like to see the professors protesting instead of the students. Young people here know nothing about what’s going on with the decree, I spoke with them, they know nothing. You can see young girls going around asking everyone if there is class or not, they’re totally unaware of what’s going on, all they interested in is studying.

While telling me about what went on at La Sapienza today, Tarico eventually becomes angry: “Since they [the professors] are so well aware of what’s going on, why don’t they protest themselves instead of using kids?”. “This is becoming a battle between students, but it shouldn’t be! [Here at La Sapienza] they prevented the Pope from giving a speech on the ground that they are a secular institution and now they labeling other students just because they have a different point of view? It is absurd, they can protest as much as they want but they can’t prevent other students from studying”.

On the contrary, some students I interviewed at Piazza di Spagna today (they spoke under the condition that they would remain anonymous), while they were protesting, think that the reform is not a good thing. When asked about why the Gelmini’s bill is bad for the educational system they said that “you don’t have to ‘cut the school’ [cut funding for the school], you can’t”. When asked about how will the reform damage their life, they went ahead saying that “this is about cuts, cutting funds for the school is no good, nor is it good for for the university”.

At this point, I asked the four guys – who were 18 years old – if they had read the reform bill, they said that no one that they know had. The guys went on saying that the professors told them that cutting funds for the educational system is anti-constitutional. I pointed out that there was at least one positive thing in this reform: if you buy a history book today, it will last for five years. They all agreed that it was a good way to save some money and a good starting point for a reform.

The controversial decree on the reform of the educational system has been approved, but it also sparked protests among students all over the country and even among politicians in the Senate. Anna Finocchiaro, group leader of the PD at the Senate said right after the bill passed this morning: “The whole opposition, both at the Chamber of Deputies and at the Senate that is speaking out loud against the decree, today you think that the bill is approved and the battle won. It is not this way, and I think this is not what the country wanted”. Even Massimo D’Alema, former foreign Minister thinks that “It is a disaster to act via bills and reforms while going against, the culture, the students, the whole society, and an important part of this country”.

The Italian school system clearly needed a reform long ago, and today, the country is lacking in a competitive educational system. The best Italian students usually leave the country whenever it’s possible. A country without a good educational system cannot produce young and talented students and a country without talented young people has no future.

Andrea Loquenzi Holzer and Brittany Christine Toscano

Also at http://www.loccidentale.it

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Andrea Loquenzi Holzer

The truth will set you free

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