Outlining her plan for education reform, minister Stefania Giannini said the occasional language lesson was no longer enough and that other subjects should be taught in English.
“If we don’t succeed in teaching our students a foreign language from when they are young, everything that we say is rhetoric,” the minister was quoted in l’Unità as saying, adding that she wanted to guarantee having specialist language teachers in Italian schools.
Before becoming minister last month, Giannini taught linguistics and during her career has sought to internationalize Italian universities and promote exchange programmes.
Speaking in Rome this week, she called on lawmakers to “have the courage” to make her roadmap for education a priority. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has already promised to revamp the school system, calling for state investment of €3.5 billion.
Italy is, however, lagging behind the majority of European countries in its linguistic ability, according to a global study of English language proficiency.
Italians were judged by Education First, a study abroad organization, to have a “basic level” of English, similar to that of the French, Chinese and Russians. Most European countries were ranked as having a “high” or “good” level of English, while the Spanish beat their Italian rivals by boasting a “medium” level of English.
Despite Italian MPs reportedly taking upwards of €400,000 worth of language lessons, many are unable to work in English. Some who had claimed expenses for classes stumbled over their words or were stunned into silence last year, when they were unexpectedly quizzed in English by a TV reporter.