Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

As Italy’s demographic crisis continues to worsen, a falling number of students in the country's schools is expected to mean smaller classes - but also fewer teaching staff and a lower education budget.

Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further
Will Italy’s declining population mean overcrowded classrooms become a thing of the past? Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Classes in schools across Italy are expected to shrink over the next five years, according to the latest demographic data from Italy’s national statistics institute (Istat).

While this is expected to spell the beginning of the end for the country’s so-called classi pollaio (overcrowded classrooms; literally ‘chicken coop’ classes), it also reportedly means major cuts to the national education budget are around the corner.

READ ALSO: Italy heading for demographic ‘crisis’ as population set to shrink by a fifth

In line with Italy’s long-standing demographic downtrend, the number of Italian students is yet again projected to drop in the school year starting next September.

According to Istat, there will be some 123,000 fewer pupils in the 2022-2023 year, bringing the total down from 7,407,000 to 7,284,000. 

The figure is expected to plummet even further over the next five years, with the latest data predicting that the number of pupils in Italy will decrease by 726,000 by 2027.

The drop is attributed to Italy’s chronic population decline, as deaths have surpassed births each year since 2007 – a trend which worsened further amid the pandemic.

Italy is now on track to lose a fifth of its population within 50 years, data suggests.

According to Istat, the country registered only 399,000 newborns in 2021: a 1.3 percent decrease against the previous year and, perhaps more alarmingly, a 31 per cent drop compared to 2008.

In 2020, the average number of children per Italian-born woman hit an all-time low of 1.17.

While the falling number of school pupils is bound to shrink the size of Italian classes, the phenomenon is also expected to mean further cuts to the country’s education budget. 

The 2022 Document for Economy and Finance, a yearly joint report drawn up by the Prime Minister and the Economy and Finance Minister, projects a whopping 7-billion-euro cut to resources destined for national education over the next five years.

READ ALSO: ‘Educational crisis’: Italy’s schools compare badly with the rest of Europe, study finds

This is expected to result in layoffs among teaching staff up and down the country, Italian newspaper Repubblica reported on Sunday.

“It’s unacceptable that, after years of cuts, the government has yet again decided to get their hands on the education budget,” a spokesperson for the Italian Teachers Union (Gilda degli Insegnanti) told Repubblica:

Staff cuts are expected to affect schools in small towns and big cities alike.

According to Massimiliano Sambruna, the General Secretary of Cisl Scuola Milano (a union representing Milan-based teaching staff), the city of Milan alone will have “24 fewer primary school classes and 180 fewer teaching jobs” come next September. 

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‘No Meloni’: Why students across Italy are protesting on Friday

Some disruption was expected in central Rome, Milan and other Italian cities on Friday amid student protests against the new government's policies on education.

'No Meloni': Why students across Italy are protesting on Friday

Thousands of Italian students were reportedly taking to the streets on Friday to demand more investment in the country’s schools and universities – something they say is not a priority for the new hard-right government led by Giorgia Meloni.

Italian student unions Unione degli Studenti and Rete degli Studenti organised the day of coordinated demonstrations, which they dubbed ‘No Meloni Day’ in protest at the new prime minister’s stance on education.

Protestors said they were against her government’s focus on “meritocracy” after the education ministry was renamed the ‘Ministry for Education and Merit’.

Critics of the ministry’s new name say it promotes the idea that academic achievement is based solely on effort, and ignores structural injustices that prevent low-income students from progressing in school.

Alice Beccari, Unione degli Studenti communications manager, told Italian media that the group was however not protesting “exclusively” against the current government’s ideology.

“As in past years, we protest against reforms aimed at the privatisation and industrialisation of schools,” she said.

The main protest in Rome was expected to cause some disruption to bus services, as students march from Circo Massimo to the offices of Italy’s education ministry in the Trastevere district.