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‘Absurd situation’: Why teachers in Italy are up in arms ahead of the return to school

As Italy prepares for the reopening of schools in September, teachers are calling for the government to reform an "absurd" national job posting system which is feared will increase the risk of spreading Covid-19.

'Absurd situation': Why teachers in Italy are up in arms ahead of the return to school
Schools across Italy are due to reopen for the first time since early March due to the coronavirus outbreak. File photo: AFP
Vittoria P. is one of thousands of Italian school teachers set to return to her place of work at the beginning of September, two weeks before students are due back in class after a six-month closure due to coronavirus.
But for Vittoria, going back to her job at a state middle school means leaving her husband and five-year-old son behind in the southern province of Taranto, and travelling to temporary accommodation near Turin, more than 1,000 kilometres away in the north of the country.
Vittoria last year flew back and forth “six or seven times” between Turin and her family home in the south, explaining that her parents paid for the plane tickets as her salary “barely covers” her living expenses.
As well as being costly and inconvenient, she says that having to work so far away from her home and family is “painful”.
“I’m glad to have work, but it means leaving my son, and for the administration which decides our placements this is not considered a valid reason for me to remain in my home province,” she says.
Vittoria says she had little choice but to accept the offer of an open-ended contract in Turin last year, explaining that she wasn’t given a position closer to home as competition is much fiercer for teaching jobs, as well as other types of state employment, in the poorer south of the country.
Photo: AFP
Olga Perch (not her real name), an Italian state school teacher campaigning to change the system, estimates the total number of teachers affected at “possibly tens, possibly hundreds of thousands.”
These displaced teachers, or “immobilizzati”, are “obliged to teach for years in strange cities or provinces without any chance to move back home. Actually they are always on the move, always with their suitcases ready,” she tells The Local.
While there is no data available showing how many teachers work outside of their home province or region, more than 108,000 applications for transfers were processed this year according to official figures. 55 percent of these requests were approved.
Elisabetta, a teacher from Florence who lives in Milan, was among those who tried unsuccessfully this year to be transferred closer to home.
“I cannot plan to rent a proper house, since every year I’ll be trying to be transferred: I don’t know where I will be living,” she says. “My salary doesn’t allow me to travel monthly to Tuscany where my family is, pay the rent and live a decent life in Milan, one of the most expensive cities in Italy.”
“Even though this was my first attempt to get a different assignment, I have already understood that the system is at fault when it comes to respecting the rights of teachers who work outside of the city where their own families live.”

Getting moved to a school closer to home is difficult, Olga says, because of “a complicated system of regulations, obligations, constraints and restrictions that affect teachers’ mobility contracts agreed between the government and trade unions.”
Some teachers take legal action, but this is not always successful either, she notes.

But now teachers are banding together online to campaign for reforms to the system – which they say are urgently needed now due to the potential risk of spreading coronavirus from one part of the country to another.
“Even these days, at the peak of the debate about the reopening of schools, nobody seems worried by the fact that thousands of teachers will travel weekly hundreds of kilometres across the country, shuttling from north where they teach by car, by train or by plane to the south, to their homes in the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, where their families live – spouses, children and elderly parents,” Olga says.
“Thus, unwillingly and maybe silently, they will be responsible for spreading the virus all over Italy, putting public and their own health at risk.”
Photo: AFP
In July, Olga launched a Facebook group for teachers campaigning for change and also began a petition to the Italian Senate, demanding the government “intervene to solve this long-standing problem as a matter of urgency due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The petition attracted 2,001 signatures in just 48 hours, before she closed it in order for group members to be able to submit it in person to the education minister, as well as to the Senate. 
But with just days to go now before teachers must be back at their places of work, it looks as though nothing will change for this academic year – even though Olga points out that some teachers are yet to find out where they will be posted, and that many will be informed with just one day to make costly travel arrangements.
Vittoria, who says she has “mixed feelings” about going back to work next week, insists the government should have looked at improving the system before now, perhaps using an emergency decree to do so if necessary.
“There is a lot of discussion of managing risks when going back to school, but no one is talking about this particular risk,” she says. “Something has to change.”

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Back to school in Italy: how much will it cost, and how can you save money?

With Italy’s schools reopening in September, parents are beginning the annual rush to stock up on essential supplies. New figures reveal families will have to shell out more this year.

Back to school in Italy: how much will it cost, and how can you save money?

As the last families return to their homes at the tail-end of the so-called grande rientro, Italian pupils are preparing to file back into the classroom for the start of the 2022/2023 school year. 

For those who aren’t too familiar with the Italian education system, all public schools are managed by regional authorities, meaning return dates generally vary by region.

READ ALSO: Explained: What are Italy’s Covid rules for schools in September?

For instance, this time around, back-to-school dates will range from September 5th to September 19th, with children from Trentino-Alto Adige being the first back in front of the blackboard. (See all the dates here).

Regardless of the dates pupils are expected back at their desks, the purchase of school supplies and textbooks is going to deal many Italian families a harder economic blow this year.

According to estimates from Italian consumer association Codacons, the prices of regular school supplies (backpacks, notebooks, pencil cases, stationery, etc.) have increased by as much as seven percent compared to last year. 

Prices, Codacons explains, have been mainly driven up by “greater energy costs for manufacturers” and “higher transportation fees” associated with the European fuel crisis. 

Students outside the Italo Calvino Institute in Turin, Italy.

Backpacks are the most expensive item in the back-to-school shopping list, with some branded articles going for as much as 200 euros. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

So how much should Italian families prepare to shell out?

According to Codacons, expenses for school supplies alone might add up to a whopping 588 euros per student

As usual, the most expensive item on the back-to-school list is the backpack, with some brand-name articles currently going for as much as 200 euros.

READ ALSO: Why Italians have a hard time learning English – and how things could improve

Significant expenses are also required for pencil cases or pouches (branded items may go for as much as 60 euros) and school diaries (around 30 euros for the most sought-after brands). 

On top of the above-mentioned school supplies (corredo scolastico in Italian), families will also have to pay for textbooks. 

While elementary school textbooks are supplied free of charge across the entire country, costs for middle school (scuola media) or high school (scuola superiore) textbooks generally fall between 300 and 600 euros, with prices largely varying according to the year and school children happen to be in. 

All in all then, Codacons estimates that the purchase of school supplies, textbooks and technical items (set triangles, compasses, goniometers, etc.) might set Italian families back as much as 1,300 euros per student this time around. 

However, as the prospect of this year’s back-to-school stangata (financial blow) gives rise to some much-justified concern among parents, Codacons and other consumer groups such as Altroconsumo and Tuttoscuola have already provided families with some useful advice on how to save up on both supplies and textbooks.

How to save money on school supplies

  • Avoid branded items. Children are easily influenced by TV and/or online ads and might push to get the most popular and fashionable articles on the market. However, off-brand items generally have the same features and durability as their more well-known counterparts and might go for 40 percent less.
  • Buy from a local supermarket rather than a stationery shop. At this time of the year, many supermarket chains offer very favourable deals on school kits, with prices being sometimes 30 percent lower than in specialist shops.
  • Don’t buy everything at once. Any item that is not immediately necessary can be bought at a later stage.
  • Wait for teachers’ guidelines, especially when it comes to buying material for art or geometry classes. Knowing exactly what items are required will save you from spending money on wrong or unnecessary articles.

A student completing a written test.

Italian consumer groups have advised families to avoid branded items when it comes to purchasing school supplies. Photo by Olivier CHASSIGNOLE / AFP

How to save money on textbooks

  • Buy second-hand textbooks. Purchasing libri usati might allow you to save up to 50 percent on school books. However, it’s usually best to check the state of the items – especially their exercise pages – prior to buying. Also, keep in mind that past editions might no longer be accepted.
  • Loan textbooks directly from the school. Not all institutes do this but some allow for various forms of comodato d’uso whereby families can loan textbooks for the entire length of the school year and then return them when classes end in June.
  • Look out for financial incentives. All schools set aside a budget to help low-income families with the purchase of textbooks. Incentives usually come in the forms of vouchers partly covering the price of the required items. Vouchers are allocated on the basis of a household’s economic situation, which in Italy is calculated as ISEE (Equivalent Financial Position Indicator or Indicatore della Situazione Economica Equivalente).
  • Shop online or in supermarkets. Some supermarkets and online marketplaces sell textbooks at favourable prices, with discounts usually ranging between 10 and 20 percent.
  • Buy digital textbooks. Again, not all schools allow this but in some institutes families have the option to buy the required set of textbooks in digital form. Students can then access the books via a pc, tablet or e-reader.