Brief history of the Italian school: how it has changed from the Middle Ages to today

There school history it is an important element of the social and cultural history of our country. Across the education systemIn fact, the inhabitants of the Peninsula become citizens and develop their skills and personality. Over the years, the Italian school system has changed a lot times. The first school laws, aimed at eradicating theilliteracy, were introduced immediately after the unification of Italy, but for many years education, particularly higher level education, remained de facto reserved for to wealthy citizens. Some were issued in the 1960s and 1970s reforms and, also thanks to the improvements in the economic situation, almost all families they gained the ability to send their children to school and university. In recent times the school system has been reformed according to the principle of “company school”, appreciated by part of the ruling class, but criticized by various students and teachers. Let's see in summary the evolution of the Italian school.

  • 1School in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment
  • 2The Unification of Italy and the Casati and Coppino laws
  • 3The twentieth century and the Gentile Reform
  • 4The reforms of the 60s and 70s
  • 5Recent reforms and the “company school”.

School in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment

In medieval times the school was managed mainly by religious institutions. The “predominance” of the Church lasted throughout the modern age, although since the Middle Ages there had also been educational institutions promoted by the States, which became more numerous in the 18th century.

Students of the University of Bologna in a bas-relief

After the French Revolution and the arrival of Napoleon's armies, the principle also arrived in Italy of secular, free and compulsory education for everyone. The system did not immediately establish itself throughout the Peninsula, but it nevertheless represented an important innovation. After Restorationthe innovations introduced by the French were eliminated or applied less intensively.


The Unification of Italy and the Casati and Coppino laws

At the time ofUnification of Italy, pre-unification states were equipped with heterogeneous education systems. The most advanced was that of Kingdom of Sardiniawhich in 1859 had introduced the Casati lawaccording to which theelementary education era free And mandatory for two years. After the Unification the law was extended to the entire Kingdom of Italy and in 1877 was reformed with the Coppino lawwhich, in addition to raising compulsory schooling to fourth year of elementary school, introduced the sanctions for non-compliant parents, which had not been foreseen until then.

The Coppino law aimed to fight the plague of illiteracy, which was very widespread (in some rural areas it reached 90% of the population). The application was limited by the fact that not all families could afford to send their children to school and deprive themselves of their work in the fields, but nevertheless the law represented a fundamental turning point and, gradually, it allowed illiteracy to be reduced.

The Dictation (1891 painting)

THE higher levels of education instead it was frequented only by a small minority of citizens. The system in force after the Unification provided for a gymnasiumwho dated for five years after elementary school, and a Lyceumwhich lasted three years and gave access to university. They also existed technical institutes with various addresses, which however did not allow access to university studies.

The twentieth century and the Gentile reform

In the first decades of the twentieth century, new reforms were introduced, including the one promoted in 1923 from Giovanni Gentile, education minister of the Mussolini government. The Gentile reform established a elitist and classist school system: classical education, based on gymnasium and high school, was reserved for wealthy citizens; for the citizens of the humblest classes, after primary school there existed the work placement schoolin which a trade was learned.

In the following years, the fascist regime introduced new measures, such as School charter from 1939to transform the education system into a tool for creating political consensus and fascistizing young people.

Game for teaching geography, based on the Italian colonial conquests (credits Mattia Luigi Nappi)
Game for teaching geography, based on the Italian colonial conquests (credits: Mattia Luigi Nappi)

The reforms of the 60s and 70s

The Constitution of the Republic freed the school from fascistization and guaranteed the freedom of teaching to teachers, but it did not change the main characteristics of the system. Significant innovations only came in the 1960s and 1970s. From the 1963 was introduced unified middle school and the work placement school was abolished. Furthermore, the vast student protest of 1968 it made the education system more democratic and ensured that students and their parents obtained the right to be represented in the administration of schools and universities.

The first measures to encourage the inclusion of people were also introduced in the 1970s students with disabilitieswho until then were discriminated against and relegated to differential classes reserved for them. More generally, thanks also to the improvement of the country's economic conditions, since the years of the economic miracle (1950s-1960s) schools have become accessible to an ever-increasing number of families.

Protests of 1968

Recent reforms and the “company school”

In more recent times, the school has undergone new changes with Berlinguer reforms (1997), Moratti (2003), Gelmini (2008), of the “Buona Scuola” (2016) and others. The reforms have changed many aspects of the education system: they are addresses changed of high school, the principle ofschool autonomynew measures have been introduced for pupils with disabilities and with special educational needs. Furthermore, the principals were assimilated to the figure of managers, according to the principle of the “company school”, and was introduced school-work alternation to provide students with professional experience. Some observers have noted that education today reserves little importance to basic knowledge (Italian, mathematics, history, science, etc.), which are indispensable for the education of the citizen, and favors disciplines that have an immediate practical application and which are required by the labor market. Also for this reason, the reforms were subject of protests by the students and an important component of the teaching staff.