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Access to knowledge and culture remains a problem for many children in Italy, in particular for those who are born in underprivileged familiar contexts. This is the bitter reality that emerges from “Illuminiamo il futuro 2030”, Save the Children’s report published in September 2015, a result of a research launched in 2014 specifically dedicated to educational poverty.

Educational poverty: what are the causes?

According to the organisation, educational poverty is defined as “the impossibility for children and teenagers to learn, experiment, develop and freely foster their capacities, talents and aspirations”. This deprivation implies a serious limit to the development of cognitive, social and relational skills which are fundamental for future wellness, for working success and for permitting an active participation in the economy and more generally speaking, in new generations’ society. Data that Save the Children has collected so far take into account several indicators such as early school-leaving rates, results on competences in school education OCSE PISA1, and the educational and cultural context offered by the territory where children take part to recreational, sport, cultural extra-curricular activities. The analysis highlights both the relationship between family poverty and children’s educational poverty as well as the intergenerational transmission of the socio-economic and cultural disadvantage.

In Italy, according to OCSE PISA surveys, 24,7% of 15 years old students do not achieve the minimum level of competences for mathematics and 19,5% of them do not reach the minimum levels for reading, making them appear as “low achievers” in the OCSE countries’ classification. Nonetheless, results vary significantly depending on these factors:

  • Family’s socio-economic and cultural status: economic and cognitive poverty are interdependent variables. Compared to children who live in adequate socio-economic conditions, those who live in underprivileged contexts face more difficulties in reaching minimum competences in mathematics and reading skills. At the same time, those who only have access to very low levels of education have more difficulties in finding a well-paid job and progressing in their working path2.
  • Geographical area: teenagers living in underprivileged families in the south or in the islands (Sicily and Sardinia) show results which are definitely inferior to those that live in the north (between 26,2% and 31,2% of the children who live in the north do not reach minimum competences while in the south numbers reach 44,2% and in the islands, 41,9%).
  • Recreational and cultural incentives: children who did not practice any sports, read any books, who did not go to concerts, to the theatre or who did not go to any museum obtain inferior results compared to its pals who did recreational, cultural and sport activities.
  • Relational factors: many teenagers who feel left out at school have academic results inferior to the minimum requirements.
  • Gender: girls generally have lower results in mathematics compared to boys, but higher results in reading skills.
  • Migration origins: 41% of minors who were not born in Italy do not reach minimum competences in mathematics and do not acquire minimum reading skills, while for second generation’s children, percentages lower to 31% in mathematics and 29% for reading skills (percentage for non-migrant children is 19% for mathematics and 15% for reading skills). The situation is even worst for migrant children that live in the south or on the islands.

Save the Children’s goals

According to Save the Children, eliminating educational poverty and interrupting this inequality chain among minors are both possible objectives. In order for this to happen, the involvement and the commitment of key actors such as institutions, associations, universities, local municipalities and students themselves is fundamental. To start the process, Save the Children has identified three principal aims – which all have short-term (2020) and long term (2030) objectives – to “illuminate the future” of children that live in Italy and that aim at eliminating educational poverty before 2030:

1. Learning and personal developmentall minors must have the possibility to learn, to experiment and to develop their capacities, talents and aspirations.

1a. All 15 years old teenagers must achieve minimum mathematics competences and obtain minimum reading skills (measured according to OCSE PISA exams) in every Italian region.
1b. Early school leaving rates (measured in accordance with the European indicator “Early School Leavers”) must, at a national level, be lowered by at least 5% and should not exceed 10%, as it has been established by the 2020 European Union strategy.
1c. In every Italian region, all minors between 6 and 17 years old must – every year – conduct at least four of these activities: go to the theatre, to a museum, visit a monument or an archeological site at least once a year, practice some sports, use internet frequently, read books (according to the data collected in 2014, 64% of the children did not carry out any of these activities).

2. Educational offer: all minors should have access to high-quality education.

2a. By 2030, the gap between public early childhood educational services coverage offered in the different regions should not be superior to 10 percentage points. Reduction of differences must occur only thanks to the rise of support for low performers (2012-2013 data show that 25% of educational services have been covered, diverging by 8% from what has been agreed by the European Union in the Barcelona targets for 2020). Investments for early childhood are fundamental since they “influence outcomes in life, educational performances, market gains and can contribute to reduce inequalities” (Daniela Del Boca, University of Turin).

2b In every Italian region, both primary and secondary schools should guarantee to students’ full-time activities, including music, sport, voluntary work, art and reading activities (2013-2014 data show that 68% of primary schools and 80% of secondary schools do not offer a full-time schedule to students).

2c. All principal educational institutions have to, in all Italian regions, guarantee a canteen service of quality for all. Such a service must be free of charge for all minors who live in a certificated condition of poverty (2011-2010 data show that 40% of schools did not have a school canteen).

2d. In every Italian region, all students should be able to attend schools with adequate learning structures (2012 data show that 59% of the students attend schools that have inadequate structures, which are not conform to standards)

2e. In all Italian regions, every classroom must be provided with fast internet connection. Moreover, all schools will have to be able to teach IT skills to their students3.

3. Eliminate youth poverty: eliminate youth poverty in order to foster educational growth, by eliminating minors’ absolute economic poverty in every Italian region (in 2013, 13,8% of children aged between 0 and 17 years old were experiencing absolute economic poverty). In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary to implement support interventions for families’ income. Beside this, social and educational services must be strengthened, parenthood needs to be sustained and disadvantaged families should have free access to essential services.

Save the Children’s predetermined goals are clearly ambitious if we consider current performances. Nonetheless, according to the international organization, these are “realistic objectives”, but they should be included in a wider project that aims at improving welfare, urban, environmental, sport and cultural policies.
It is fundamental that the school system is transformed in an “educational community” responsible for improving students’ competences thanks to extra-curricular activities and laboratory instruments.

Moreover, considering the important territorial differences, it is necessary to focus the intervention on deprived areas such as southern Italy, deprived urban areas and small isolated territories. Thanks to National and Regional Operative Programs (PON, POR) and the executive program of the FAED, a strategic use of available European resources is fundamental.

European and international measures

Save the Children’s programme is part of a greater debate which is taking place at the United Nations, and in particular in the “Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development Goals” which highlights the necessity to “provide everybody with a quality, equal and inclusive education and permanent learning opportunities”. The objectives are in line with the 2020 European Union strategy that foresees to reduce school drop-outs to less than 10% and to reduce by at least 20 million the number of people who find themselves in situation of poverty or marginalization.

In the “Social Investment Package” published in 2013, the European Commission pushes member countries to invest in children and young people and to fight the transmission of disadvantages from a generation to the other. In the document, EU members are requested to create quality services for early childhood, considered as the fundamentals for the correct development and for the future wellbeing of young people. It also recommends to counter phenomenon such as school drop-out, recognized as being a contributory cause to social exclusion and poverty. The programme is also based on the 2013 “Investing in children: breaking the circle of disadvantage” European Commission’s recommendations that confirm member states’ need to invest into education in order to “increase the capacity of the educational system to stop the vicious circle of inequalities and assuring that all minors receive an inclusive and high-quality education that promotes their emotional, social, cognitive and physical development”.

Let’s brighten the future

Concretely speaking, since the campaign “Let’s brighten the future” has been launched in May 2014, Save the Children has opened 13 educational centres in disadvantaged territories. By now, 4510 people have benefitted of them (among which 2854 people follow regular the activities). Beside this community-based initiative, the organisation has launched another kind of intervention which is individual and personalised. The centre provides an economic contribution for the purchase of schoolbooks, musical instruments, sports’ courses fees, summer camps for children and teenagers who live in a certified condition of poverty. Up to now, 300 contributions have been delivered in Italy.

In order to put these actions into practice, Save the Children is co-working with associations, local services, cooperatives and school institutions, adopting a perspective of second welfare.

1  PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. To date, students representing more than 70 economies have participated in the assessment. Since the year 2000, every three years, fifteen-year-old students from randomly selected schools worldwide take tests in the key subjects: reading, mathematics and science, with a focus on one subject in each year of assessment.

2  In his article “La scuola in frantumi (the shattered school system), Marco Revelli- President of Italian Commission on Social Exclusion -,affirms that povery is very much linked with people’s educational level and underlines that a percentage of 82.9 of absolute poverty cases belong to people with a low or very low educational level. (Marco Revelli, Scuola, società, diritti, lavoro, “La scuola in frantumi”, in Paideutika, Anno VI, 2012, Ibis ed.).

3  In the Italian Digital Agenda (Decreto Crescita 2.0 (D.L. n. 179, sulla G.U. 18/10/12) it was declared that all the classrooms would have been provided with fast internet connection bt the end of 2014. This project ended in a fiasco, considering that 2014-2015 data show that only 28% of Italian classrooms have a fast internet connection. This delay is due to lack of financial investment in ICT by the Italian government. In Italy, less than 2% of GDP is invested in ICT.

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