The Italian case-The educational system in Italy


In Italy, there are both preschools and kindergartens. The preschool is for children aged between 3 and 5 years and it has an educational function. The kindergarten, instead, is for children under the age of 3 and it has a care function. Both of them are not compulsory.


It begins at 6 years of age and lasts 5 years.
As far as the unity of the curriculum in all schools is concerned, there are National Indications that set out the goals for the development of competencies and the learning objectives for each discipline:

– Italian
– English language
– History
– Geography
– Mathematics
– Science
– Music
– Art and image
– Physical education
– Technology
with the addition of Civic Education (introduced in 2019) and, for those who want, the Religion.


In Italy, secondary education is divided into first-grade and second-grade secondary schools. First-grade secondary school (Scuola secondaria di primo grado) starts at the age of 11 and lasts 3 years. The second-grade secondary school (high school) starts at the age of 14 and lasts 5 years.

Compulsory education, according to the Law 296 of 2006 lasts for 10 years, from 6 to 16 years of age, and includes the eight years of the first cycle of education (elementary school and first-grade secondary schools) and the first two years of the second cycle (second-grade secondary schools), which can be attended in the State secondary school or regional vocational education and training institutes. To be admitted to high school, it is necessary to pass a State examination that occurred in the last year of first-grade secondary school.
As far as the unity of the curriculum in secondary education is concerned, in the Italian educational system, there are six different educational pathways regarding the high school and several technical institutes with a limited number of courses of study and vocational institutes with eleven different courses of study. At the end of secondary school education, students who successfully pass the final exam, receive a certificate that gives them access to higher education.
There is not a specific number of teaching weeks related to the academic year in high school. They depend on three main factors: 1) the beginning and the end of the school year, which is always different; 2) the holidays; 3) the 36 days off per year that the teachers could ask for.

In high school a week consists of 18 hours of teaching.

Concerning the existence of private schools, according to Article 33 of the Italian Constitution, private bodies can establish schools and educational institutions. These schools are subdivided into “paritary” and “non-paritary” schools. Paritary schools are part of the national education system they guarantee equal rights and duties for students; the same procedures for holding State examinations; fulfillment of compulsory education; qualifications with the same legal value from State schools. Instead, the non-paritary schools cannot issue qualifications with legal value, so students attending them have to complete a qualifying examination at the end of each school course.


The humanistic aspect is still very strong in the Italian education system. However, the principles of STEAM education are more used in laboratory activities where intellectual, reflective, manual, and creative skills are brought into play: constructing the problem, then reflecting on it and finally reworking the knowledge to solve it. These activities stimulate confrontation with others and develop critical thinking skills for fruitful learning.
There are teachers specially trained in STEAM education, even if they are fewer. There are also specialized STEM high schools that follow the Italian scientific high school curriculum with an enhanced science curriculum and more hours to be devoted to STEM subjects.
As far as the possibility for teachers to be trained in SETAM principles, the Ministry of Education should train teachers through free online courses, which give credits to move up the rankings.

School teachers are not completely informed about STEAM and its benefits.
The training of teachers IN STEAM education depends on the path they choose.
As STEAM encourages critical thinking, critical thinking is also encouraged in Italian schools, even if there is a huge gap between theory and practice.
STEAM consists of approaching technology among other courses. The offer of technology courses depends on the curricula of the high schools.
STEAM includes art courses. The teaching of art courses It depends on the high school, if a student chooses the art high school curriculum, art is more predominant at a practical level, otherwise, in the other high schools, the art courses are mainly addressed in a theoretical way.
STEAM includes an alternative approach to science lessons. In Italy, teaching is mainly focused on theoretical aspects, and therefore there is a lack of practical elements such as workshops and exercises. In addition, not to be underestimated, are the limited school infrastructures, which are important for more technical training.
STEAM includes engineering courses In Italy engineering courses are offered mainly in Technical Institutes and High Schools with the scientific curricula.
STEAM includes an alternative approach to Mathematics. In Italy, there are a lot of prejudices and cognitive biases about the complexity of mathematics and in general of STEAM subjects, adding to a predominantly theoretical approach in high school, as mentioned above.

In general, people who know about STEAM education believe in its benefits.

Moreover, the practical aspect adds to the student’s knowledge and interest, having fun and showing them how they can apply what they have learned in the outside world. It is important also to mix the STEM and Non- STEM educational curriculum to achieve a real multidisciplinary approach.


In Italy, there are 97 higher educational institutes of which 67 are State Universities
19 legally recognized Non-State Universities
11 legally recognized Non-State telematic Universities.
The years of university studies vary according to the program and the decision of the student to continue his/her educational path or not.
–              First Cycle: Bachelor’s Degree (Laurea) is a 3-year program of study. The student could choose to enter into the job market or continue his/her study with a Master’s Degree or the 1st level of University Master’s Diploma.
–              Long Single-Cycle:  Master’s Degree (Lauree Magistrali a Ciclo Unico) is a 5/6-year program of study for highly qualified professions in specific sectors as Medicine, Law, Architecture.
–              Second Cycle: Master’s Degree (Laure a Magistrale) is a 2-year program of studies. Once completed, the student could decide to access a Ph.D. or attend the 2nd level of the University Master’s Diploma.
–              Third Cycle: Ph.D. (Dottorato di Ricerca) is a 3-year program of study, and it is the highest level of university education.
–              1st level Master – 2nd level Master: are 1-year programs of studies and they are divided into 1st level (possible to attend after Bachelor’s degree) 2nd level (possible to attend after Master’s Degree).

Concerning the possibility of prolonging the studies, it depends on the course of study and the university. For some courses, there is the possibility of enrolling as not a full-time student but as a part-time student and thus being able to extend the duration of studies.
The Universities offer Master’s Degree (Laurea Magistrale) which is equivalent to Master’s in the whole of Europe but the universities in Italy also offer Master’s Diploma, courses of specialization that are not organized according to national programs, and single universities issue the relevant qualification under their autonomous responsibility. In order to attend a Master’s Degree, you have to pay.
Ph.D. students are paid.
The higher educational institutes are organized according to a system of credits (CFU -Crediti Fomativ Universitari) equivalent to the ECTS system.


The Italian education and training system is based on the principles of subsidiarity and autonomy of educational institutions.
The State has exclusive legislative competence for the ‘general rules on education and for determining the essential levels of services that must be guaranteed throughout the national territory. Moreover, the State defines the fundamental principles that the regions must respect in exercising their specific powers.
The Regions have concurrent legislative powers in the field of education and exclusive legislative powers in the field of education and vocational training.
State educational institutions have teaching, organizational and research, experimentation, and develop autonomy.
Students of different levels who have studied abroad have to pass a specific procedure to be considered as equivalent to home students because qualifications obtained abroad do not have legal value in Italy, so it is necessary to ask for their recognition if holders wish to use them to exercise a profession, take part in a competition or continue their studies.

Equivalence is the procedure whereby a diploma obtained abroad is declared to correspond to a specific qualification obtained in Italy. Once the equivalence occurs, it is always valid throughout the country.
Citizens of the European Union and holders of political refugee status or subsidiary protection status may obtain the equivalence of their foreign qualification with the corresponding Italian qualification (certificate of completion of elementary education, first and second-grade secondary school diploma, professional qualification) under the following procedure:

  1. Application for equivalence made directly to the Provincial Education Office (formerly the Provveditorato Degli Studi)
  2. Study title issued by the foreign school:
    –              translated into Italian and certified by the diplomatic-consular authority or by a sworn translator;
    –              legalization by the same diplomatic-consular authority of the signature of the issuing authority;
    –              declaration by the competent Italian diplomatic-consular authority of the legal nature of the school, the order, and the level of studies to which the qualification relates according to the legal system.
  3. Certificate of European citizenship;
  4. The curriculum of the studies followed by the person concerned, divided into school years, if possible indicating the subjects for each of the classes attended successfully. Program of the subjects covered by the course itself, issued by the school of origin abroad, accompanied by an official translation into Italian.
  5. Any other qualification or document that the interested party deems useful to prove the data contained in the curriculum, accompanied by the relevant official translation into Italian.
  6. Any documents considered suitable to prove knowledge of the Italian language (e.g.: certificate of attendance of Italian courses; participation in Italian cultural activities; work in Italian institutions or companies, etc.).
  7. A declaration by the competent Italian diplomatic-consular representation of the educational evaluation criteria in force in the foreign country of origin, indicating the minimum score for promotion and the maximum score.
  8. List in duplicate of the documents and qualifications submitted.

As far as the possibility of adapting the timetable in order to suit the needs of the families (e.g. introduce more extra classes in the afternoon, offer afternoon activities, offer obligatory courses in the afternoon) it depends on the level of education.

Elementary school: at the time of enrolment, parents can express their options concerning the possible articulation of the weekly timetable, which, according to the regulations, is structured as follows: 24; 27 up to 30; 40 hours (full-time). The acceptance of options up to 30 hours per week or for full time is subject to the existence of staff resources and the availability of adequate services; these circumstances must be brought to the parent’s attention at the time of enrolment.

First-grade secondary school: in the application, the parent expresses his or her options for the possible articulation of the weekly timetable which is defined as 30 hours or 36 hours (extended time) which can be increased up to 40 hours if there are suitable services and facilities to allow the compulsory carrying out of activities and at the request of the majority of families.

Concerning textbooks, they are not public and are decided by the board of teachers of the individual educational institutions.

In elementary schools all textbooks are free and can be purchased from any bookshop, presenting the booking coupon provided by the municipality or delivered directly by the school on the first days of classes. In the other schools, books are charged for.

There are additional expenses for students in public education, related to insurance costs, school trips, and canteen services.

Concerning special second-chance schools for students who have dropped out and wish to continue an older age, there are provincial centers for adult education (CPIA: Centri Provinciali per l’Istruzione Degli Adulti) are State schools established by the Ministry of Education and offer Italian and foreign citizens services and activities for adult education.

There are special foreign language schools for students who may not speak the native language, but they are private schools.

As far as the obligation to apply the national educational program is concerned, in Italy, there are National Indications, guidelines that the State traces for determining the essential levels of services that must be guaranteed throughout the national territory. The Regions have concurrent legislative powers in the field of education and exclusive legislative powers in the field of education and vocational training. State educational institutions have teaching, organizational and research, experimentation, and develop autonomy.

The Italian case-The educational system in Italy

83 thoughts on “The Italian case-The educational system in Italy

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