Education International its EU organisation, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), strongly support the call by their Italian member organisations - the Federazione Lavoratori della Connoscenza (FLC-CGIL), the CISL-Scuola and the UIL-Scuola for action against the plans by the government to dramatically downsize the education sector.
As part of the measures to increase the coffers of government by cutting down public spending and increasing income taxes, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi plans to get rid of teachers in most specialised subjects and pare down primary school classes to one teacher each, starting in 2009. The reform would also cut the school week by almost half, inconveniencing working parents of Italy's 2.8 million children aged 6 to 10.
Reverting back to an outdated schooling model
If turned into law, the reform is essentially reverting Italy's education sector to a schooling model cast aside 30 years ago. It will perhaps help save 8 billion Euros a year for Europe's most-indebted country, according to Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini.
But, according to the teachers, it will ultimately ruin the future of the next generation. FLC-CGIL General Secretary Joëlle Casa says at least 140,000 jobs, including 80,000 teaching positions, will be cut. This means that assistance to children with disabilities will disappear, class sizes will increase significantly and some schools will have to close down, making travelling distances for some children much longer.
The reform will not only affect primary and secondary schools. It also aims to reduce one-third of the current resources allocated to public universities, and will reduce at least 10% of their research staff.
Teachers rise in protest
To show their discontent towards the plans, which are currently under debate in parliament, teachers greeted returning pupils wearing black when the school year started on 15 September. An all-night protest was held on 2 October in 25 primary schools in Rome. Despite these protests, the government is showing neither signs of backing down nor any willingness to enter into discussion with the teachers.
Difficult times ahead for teachers, pupils and parents
"It is insane to presume teachers can take twice the workload with half the resources," stated FLC-CGIL’s Casa. "Especially when class sizes are already on the rise and teachers across the country are facing difficulties coping with the workload, such as the increased scope of the lessons, or giving special attention to children speaking Italian as a second language."
At present, as many as three teachers take turns with the lessons, and the school runs from 8:30 till 4:00 in the afternoon. As of 2009, classes will be run by one teacher working a 24-hour week, similar to the schedule three decades ago, and lessons stop at 12:30.
Working parents will find it hard to cope with making a living and taking care of their children. Apart from having to look for childcare facilities, which are few and expensive in Italy, working mothers will not be able to choose to work part-time by law as is currently the case, but will be subject to the decision of their employers. Other measures, such as stricter conditions for medical leave and parental care, will add to the burden of working parents.
Italy is last in education spending
According to the "Education at a Glance 2008" published recently by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Italy ranks last, behind the Czech Republic, in public spending on public education: less than 10 percent of its total public spending in 2006. It also ranks 23rd behind Slovenia in teacher pay: a primary school teacher earns on average 21,257 Euros a year.
National strike on 30 October
To prevent such destruction to the education sector which will destroy the lives of teachers, children and parents, the three teacher unions are organising a nationwide strike from 30 October.
"This government is destroying our education system," said Casa. "And by the same token, violating the fundamental principles of the Italian constitution."
EI strongly supports its member organisations' strike action and urges other member organisations to show their support to Italian colleagues.
"In these times of global financial crisis, it is the duty of governments to support their people, not destroy the vital public services upon which families and communities depend," commented EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. "It is both unjust and cruel that education should be sacrificed to increase the country's financial resources, while tax cuts are being given to the rich."
EI and ETUCE published a joint statement on this assault on education on 20 October.