The Italian parliament has approved a slate of education reforms despite extensive protests by teachers unions and the Opposition. For Matteo Renzi, Italy’s Prime Minister, the reforms called “Good School” — which was approved with 277 votes for and 173 against — will reinvigorate the economy and help Italy improve its obsolete education system.
The reform bill mandates that pay raises will be given based on merit rather than seniority, gives more control to head teachers, provides tax breaks for private schools and proposes the hiring of 100,000 new full-time teachers.
With the new bill, individual schools will have more autonomy and will implement a vocational education system that follows the model of German education, where classes will be complemented by apprenticeships with companies.
A total of 400 hours of traineeship in firms is now mandatory during the last three years of vocational and technical school education. Students in other schools will have to complete 200 hours of apprenticeships.
More foreign languages and classes in economics, computer science, music and art will also be introduced as set out in the legislation. The bill, which generated bitter debate, saw opposition lawmakers holding banners disapproving the reform at the time of vote. At the same time, teachers unions had a protest sit-in within the Italian parliament.
“Today is a tragic day for our republic, and in particular for the thousands of people engaged in state education,” lawmakers of Five Star Movement, Italy‘s major opposition party, wrote in a statement.
Both left- and right-wing lawmakers reveal their intention to collect signatures for a referendum that will annul the bill.
The opposition says that giving more power to head teachers will exponentially promote clientelism, a phenomenon that already permeates Italian culture. Critics also say that the reform will divide education by strengthening high-achieving schools further and leaving struggling schools stagnant.
“One hundred thousand hirings, more merit, more independence. The ‘Good School’ is law,” Matteo Renzi said in a tweet immediately after the reform bill was passed.
International organizations and the Bank of Italy have been urging for education reform for years now, arguing that schools are partly to blame for the fact that children are not well prepared to face the modern labor market.
The bill caused several extensive strikes by teachers and students across Italy over the last few months. Teachers and unions characterized the passed bill “unfair,” and The Daily Star reports that Francesco Scrima, a teachers union leader, said the reform is:
“… an ugly law (that) increases the problems faced by the school system, which is once again reduced to an excuse to play political games.”
“More autonomy, more transparency, more responsibility, more assessment and more meritocracy: these are the watchwords of the Good School,” Davide Faraone, deputy minister for education, said.
Italy, which spends the least on education among Eurozone nations, will invest $1 billion on the reforms in 2015 and will commit an additional $3 billion per year from 2016.