Education Crisis Threatening Italy’s Economic Future

Unless Italy manages a sharp, comprehensive turnaround in the next ten years, its children could be facing a very tough economic and social environment by the time they reach adulthood, The Daily Beast reports. The recent economic collapse exposed a number of systematic ills facing the country including high levels of poverty, low quality of education and high dropout rates.

According to a recently released report by Save the Children Italy, the country can be considered the worst place to grow up anywhere in Europe. To combat this the organization announced a new initiative called Childhood Alarm.

The first goal of Childhood Alarm is to publicize the problem, which it did with protests staged in 16 cities around the country. Children walked in front of Italy’s most recognizable historical landmarks while holding pictures of starving and hungry kids and posters proclaiming sayings like “My Future Has Been Stolen.”

Organizers say that unless action is taken soon, the future will be hopeless for a growing number of Italy’s youngest children and adolescents. Italy ranks seven times below the European average on 12 standard childhood socioeconomic indicators like access to good nutrition, regular education, social inclusion, overall economic outlook and future employment opportunities. Only Greece and Bulgaria rank lower in the organization’s European study. “We are afraid for the future of the children of this country,” said Valerio Neri, director general of Save the Children Italy. “Looking at all the indicators, the outlook for Italian children is extremely negative.”

The outlook for these children is poor as Italy enters the second year of a crippling recession brought on by the global financial collapse of 2008. Nor is there much optimism for the future, as the high school dropout rate means that the country will be feeling the lack of an appropriately trained workforce for years to come.

Italy has an 18% school dropout rate — nearly double the European average of 10%. There are many reasons why Italian kids leave school so young; some drop out to find work on the black market or to help their parents out with their businesses.

Sometimes they drop out because parents can no longer afford to keep them in school, either because they cannot pay for books, meals or transportation, or, worse, because they feel embarrassed that they cannot afford proper clothing and shoes. Of those who do complete high school, only a small fraction—less than 30 percent—will enroll in university. If they do make it through university and earn a degree, they face unemployment that hovers around 40 percent for university graduates. Given the statistics, it is no great surprise that in education opportunities, Italy ranks fourth-worst in Europe, ahead of only Malta, Portugal, and Spain.