‘Teachers must change their view of foreigners’

Earlier this month, Italian parents reportedly pulled their children out of two schools deemed to have "too many foreigners" in the classroom. The Local explores how immigrant children are viewed in Italy.

'Teachers must change their view of foreigners'
Attitudes towards immigrant children are slowly changing in Italy. Photo: US Army Corps/Flickr

In recent years, Italy has had to adjust to a new wave of immigration and is now facing the challenge of integrating both first and second generation immigrants in schools.

While progress has been made in recent years, Roberta Ricucci, a senior researcher of schools and second generation immigrants at the International and European Forum for Migration Research in Turin, tells The Local many Italians still hold a negative view of children with foreign parents.

So much so, two schools made headlines recently after parents reportedly pulled their children out because of the ratio of Italian to foreign children.

Ricucci also gave the example of a school in Turin where Italian parents removed their children due to the high number of “foreign” children.

Even though second generation immigrants have been brought up in Italy, Ricucci says they continue to be considered as “foreigners” by Italians.

Meanwhile, teachers often push foreign or second-generation immigrant children to follow technical or vocational paths instead of encouraging them to go to university.

“Italian teachers need to change the way they see foreign children."

This attitude may well be influenced by the current immigration law, which rules that children born to foreign parents cannot gain Italian citizenship until they are 18.

But new data has allowed for a distinction to be made between children born in Italy to foreign parents and those born abroad. 

Clearer definitions have led to better programmes such as providing new arrivals with Italian language classes, Ricucci says.

Second generation children often speak Italian fluently and a second language at home. Still, Italian schools “are not really aware of the importance of bilingualism”, according to Ricucci.

But she says that attitudes are slowly changing.

“Both foreign and Italian parents are working together to stress the benefits of multicultural classrooms, because children will be confronted with a multicultural society in the future,” she says.

While in some schools the children of immigrants are seen as slowing down Italian children, Ricucci says the opposite is also happening. “There are a lot of Chinese students who are first in all the subjects and are considered as good examples by all parents."

Such cases have a knock-on positive effect on society, with Italian parents starting to change their view on immigrant families as a whole.

But she says more needs to be done, starting with a change in the law to give citizenship to children born in Italy.

Integration projects in schools are a step in the right direction, although they're often unsustainable because they are designed by a single teacher and funded year by year.

“We can collect thousands of good practices but we need good intercultural policies, not only in schools but in the whole of society,” Ricucci says.

Schools can act as catalysts for the wider integration process, as children are given the opportunity to understand different cultures, but a broader “cultural change” is needed in Italy.

Over the years many immigrant families have joined the middle class and become well-established in Italy.

It is now time for “Italians to change the way they view immigrants,” Ricucci says. 

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Schools update: Italy makes a U-turn on Covid distance learning rules

In under 24 hours, the Italian authorities have changed the rules on distance learning again, scrapping the revised plans to return an entire class to distance learning if just one infection is recorded.

Schools update: Italy makes a U-turn on Covid distance learning rules
Italy has tightened the Covid health restrictions in schools amid rising case numbers. Photo: Marco Bertorello /AFP

The rules on when distance learning – or ‘DAD‘ (‘didattica a distanza’) as it’s known in Italy – is triggered in schools have changed again: the whole class will automatically go into quarantine only if there are three positives cases detected.

Just one day after announcing tighter restrictions to keep the spread of coronavirus in check within schools, Italian authorities have now promised better support for tracking of cases to avoid activating remote learning.

“There will be no return to DAD in the case of the presence of a single infected pupil,” government sources told news agency Ansa.

The revised rules “will intensify testing activities in schools, in order to strengthen the tracking”, because “ensuring attendance in presence and the conduct of lessons at school in absolute safety is a priority of the government,” they added.

After studying the health situation in schools along with the Scientific and Technical Committee (CTS), Italy’s coronavirus emergency commissioner, Francesco Figliuolo, backed the move and guaranteed support for improved tracing.

The decision comes less than a day after the authorities announced that quarantine would apply immediately for the whole class – and distance learning would replace the physical classroom – if a single pupil was found to test positive for Covid-19.

The new regulation was confirmed in a circular on Tuesday and signed by the Ministry of Health’s director of prevention, Giovanni Rezza, according to reports.

Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Authorities had given the green light to the move based on concern over the sudden increase in school-age infections, as well as worries over the rising cases of the Omicron variant, while the regions had requested to tighten up the rules on the management of quarantines at school.

READ ALSO: ‘Get vaccinated’: Italian virologists urge caution over Omicron Covid variant

The increasing weekly incidence of the number of new infections in schoolchildren was cited as a cause for concern, amounting to 125 per 100,000 in the period November 19th – 25th, according to official data from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS).

These figures are “a far cry from the optimal value of 50 per 100,000,” which allows for better tracking of cases, according to the details of the circular.

The latest rules on distance learning

The rules as they now stand (again), therefore, dictate that distance learning will be triggered – or rather will continue to be triggered – with just one positive in class for children up to the age of six, where it is more difficult to maintain distance and since masks are not compulsory for this age group.

Quarantine is enforced for classes with two positive cases among pupils aged 6 to 12 – a group currently not eligible for vaccination.

From the age of 12 onwards, a class will go to DAD if there are at least three positive cases, as before.

Speaking on the short-lived decision to change the school rules on quarantine, Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said, “We considered it prudent, with a choice shared with the regions, to return to the initial plans.”

He also referred to the headteachers, who had complained about implementing the rules and that it was difficult to track cases.

The President of the Association of Headteachers, Antonello Giannelli, said that the decision to enforce DAD following one positive case was exactly what school leaders had warned about and that they hadn’t been heard.

He said they were ‘Cassandras‘; an Italian term used to refer to people who predict disastrous events without being believed.

Photo: Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

“The schools, despite a thousand difficulties and with an immense workload on the shoulders of managers and staff, have held up,” he said .

“The same cannot be said of the prevention departments, which have not been able to guarantee the timing of testing from the outset, and in many cases have not applied the tracking procedures,” he added.

EXPLAINED: What parents should know about the new Covid rules in Italian schools

Since the beginning of the school year and until now, the rules stipulated that three positive cases in a class would trigger remote learning.

However, many local health authorities struggled to quickly carry out the swabs needed in classes with one or two positive cases. So much so, that some head teachers refused to apply the protocol, according to Italian media reports – a problem the authorities have now pledged to assist with.

In recent weeks, as the number of infections and the number of quarantined classes have increased, regional authorities have begun to push for a return to the more restrictive model previously in place.

Education Minister Patrizio Bianchi spoke on Tuesday of the decision being “an absolutely prudential measure”, taken because “we want to keep schools absolutely safe” – even if the ministry’s priority is to keep “teaching in presence”.

The decision on Tuesday came as a cause of concern for the trade unions, who expressed worries about implementing the new rules.

“We have urgently requested a meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Health because the circular has alarmed all school staff and produced new problems for managers who will have to review the procedures for tracking again,” stated Maddalena Gissi of the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (CISL).

The U-turn on strategy is intended to prevent exactly this eventuality and to maintain school attendance – Italy’s education minister Patrizio Bianchi said at the beginning of the school year that, “We will never return to DAD”.

The government implemented steps to ensure that pupils could learn in person, after constantly changing Covid restrictions kept them in and out of classrooms since February 2020.