As of late June 2021, Italy remained in the top ten countries with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections. It was the first European country to implement lockdown measures, and had kept them in place for much longer than its neighboring countries.
The country decided to ease the restrictions on April 26 after the third wave subsided, but that was just one of the many. During the first lockdown from March 10 to May 3 last year, Italian students had to miss school for over two months, and had to stop again only months later in September as it was the beginning of a school break.
A survey about learning at a distance by UNICEF found that the prolonged lockdown in Italy caused its students to miss schools for up to 65 days. That was considerably high compared to the average 27 days of school absence among other developed countries.
Italian students’ learning experience has been greatly disrupted due to lockdowns and long school breaks. Furthermore, far too many children still lack access to the internet and digital tools that are essential for remote learning.
Due to the pandemic, children have been confined at home, unable to go to school. Remote learning, or online learning, has become the way out.
The Italian National Institute of Statistic (ISTAT) estimated that a third of Italian students, or up to 3 million, cannot access online-based learning due to the lack of necessary resources such as computers, tablets, or the internet.
Italy’s Ministry of Education allocated a budget of 85 million euro to support online learning. Seventy million euro would be spent on buying digital tools and giving the internet to students from low-income households. Another 10 million would be used for supporting schools in organizing online classes, and 5 million would be spent on training teachers how to use these online platforms.
Therefore, it could be said that there were still many children who had fallen through the cracks.
A UNICEF study which interviewed Italian parents from 1,028 households found 27% of the respondents did not have adequate digital learning tools for every child. A big family with several children might have only one computer, therefore, not all of the children can access class online during their school hours.
Save the Children Italy also found 28% of Italian students aged 14-18 had at least one classmate who could not attend any online class from the beginning of the lockdown, mainly because they did not have the tools or lack access to the internet.
A 2018 report from Save the Children said a fifth of children in Italy were in poverty, with most living in the southern regions such as Sicily and Calabria where the social exclusion rates were as high as 56% and 49% respectively. While in the northern regions such as Emilia-Romagna and Friuli Venezia Giulia, the rate of child poverty and social exclusion was only 13%.
Poverty has already been more prevalent in southern Italy. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, even more students were pushed out of the education system. In another word, they were forced to drop out.
A study called Distance Learning in the COVID-19 Era: Perceptions in Southern Italy, published in November 2020, found 20% of the students did not have resources for online learning, and also had to drop out of school.
Maria Leotta, a teacher from Sicilian city of Catania, voiced concerns over a possibility of increasing school dropouts because of the pandemic. She said only seven of her 19 pupils in the second grade showed up for their online Italian class.
“It’s been like this all year, students would come intermittently,” she said. “And it was even worse when classes were online … only a third of them would connect to attend my lessons.”
The aggressive spread of the virus in southern Italy has cost a lot of parents their jobs. With the already high rates of poverty, more children subsequently had to leave school because their parents could no longer afford it.
In every lockdown, Italy has ordered schools to shut as it sees a confined space of a classroom poses more risk to the virus transmission. However, several academics said it would only widen the gap of disparity in education.
Giovanna Mascheroni, Associate Professor of Sociology of Media at Università Cattolica, said organizing an online class cannot be the only answer.
“Most children were motivated to participate in remote learning activities. Moreover, their parents noted positive outcomes of remote learning, namely greater autonomy in the use of digital technologies for schoolwork and greater independence in managing their school-related activities,” she said.
“However, we cannot underestimate the inequalities that exist also among internet-connected families, nor can we ignore the few children who dropped out of school with the shift to distant learning.”
Gloria Tam and Diana El-Azar from the Minerva Project warned similarly in their article published in The World Economic Forum.
“When classes transition online, these children lose out because of the cost of digital devices and data plans… The gap in education quality, and thus socioeconomic equality will be further exacerbated.”
- Learning at a Distance children’s remote learning experiences in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic Giovanna Mascheroni, Marium Saeed, Marco Valenzo, Davide Cino, Thomas Dreesen, Lorenzo Giuseppe Zaffaroni and Daniel Kardefelt-Winther February 2021 https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/1182-learning-at-a-distance-childrens-remote-learning-experiences-in-italy-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.html
- Distance Learning in the COVID-19 Era: Perceptions in Southern Italy Francesco Vincenzo Ferraro 1,* , Ferdinando Ivano Ambra 2, Luigi Aruta 2 and Maria Luisa Iavarone 2 Published: 27 November 2020 Distance Learning in the COVID-19 Era: Perceptions in … – MDPIhttps://www.mdpi.com › pdf