The Istat "Permanent Census in the Classroom" initiative was conceived as an effort to make future generations aware of the far-reaching innovations brought about through permanent censuses. "Istat believes very strongly in this project to bring a culture of statistics closer to our younger generations. The initiative was launched in 2019 and addresses primary and secondary school pupils", says Serenella Ravioli, communications director at Istat.
The learning path contains handouts, tables, charts, quizzes, games, infographics, films and video lectures. There is also a contest split into the "Censuses" statistics competition and the "Census and Territory" ideas competition.
The project showcases a myriad of objectives. The first is certainly to explain the usefulness of censuses. It is also a way of raising awareness of the importance of statistics for knowledge of reality and for reading and understanding phenomena. But not only that: Istat's project will serve to improve the ability to use data to represent the demographic, social, economic and cultural phenomena of a territory.
The inaugural round of the initiative in the 2019/20 school year involved 210 schools, 260 teachers and five thousand students. The second round of the initiative started in October 2020: innovations were introduced in the context of the pandemic to enable full implementation of activities and student participation via distance, in-person or also blended learning contexts.
In this year's programme, students are challenged to come up with a creative project that tells the story of their region based on statistics. This year's winners will be announced in May and the awards ceremony will take place in June 2021.
"This contest not only stimulates our pupils' ability to read and understand quantitative information but also enhances their ability to present and communicate statistical data", explains director Ravioli.
This contest not only stimulates our pupils' ability to read and understand quantitative information but also enhances their ability to present and communicate statistical data
The initiative benefited from an ad hoc public relations campaign to promote and showcase the initiative through various channels (website, social media, press, etc.). The initiative even has a dedicated platform (https://scuola.censimentigiornodopogiorno.it/) for compiling all the information and materials in progress: a hub for projects carried out by current and future students.
A census is an invaluable tool for gaining detailed and precise knowledge of the territory: by providing data on socio-demographics and territorial dynamics useful for planning projects and services with greater awareness for all Italian and foreign citizens living in the country.
"We gave a lot of thought as to whether census developments should be brought into schools. And we are convinced of its benefits. Our young people are part of an age bracket that is very receptive to the development of literacy skills. They are curious, quick and good at memorising messages. Not to mention that they can become information ambassadors for families", says director Ravioli.
However, school children need to be given the tools to understand and make the best use of the available data, which are now accessible to practically anyone with an internet connection.
"What is lacking", explains Ravioli, "is education in reading data, particularly statistical data. The mission of the Istat (Italian National Institute of Statistics) is to serve the community by producing and delivering high-quality statistics, analysis and forecasts. Understanding data develops an in-depth knowledge of Italy's environmental, economic and social reality at various territorial levels and supports the decision-making processes of all stakeholders in society: citizens, administrators, etc."
Understanding data develops an in-depth knowledge of Italy's environmental, economic and social reality at various territorial levels
In keeping with these objectives, the "Permanent Census in the Classroom" initiative affords students with the tools to engage with statistics independently. A guided tour of Istat's databases was therefore devised to help visitors understand the wealth of information available, how it can be used and what it means.
"The entire learning path proposed within the initiative and leading up to the contest only requires basic primary school knowledge. The kids enjoy our very special virtual mascot "Pop!", a friendly guide for children and young people along the path of discovery of the census and statistical information", says director Ravioli.
Teachers play a key role in running the initiative. The teaching materials were designed and differentiated by school order, and further tailored to be adapted to each class group. Teachers use them according to their own needs and the learning objectives they want to achieve.
They cover both theoretical and practical lessons. The teacher then plans the pupils' activity to take part in the contest, which involves identifying an Ambassador to represent the class during the statistical competition and, subsequently, the actual Creative Project, carried out by the entire class group, clearly in accordance with the rules established by the health emergency.
"Beyond the operational aspects, I would really like to underline the importance of the school administrators and teachers for the success of the initiative. They played an outstanding role in mediating and coordinating activities during a time of emergency, enabling the students to complete their education. It was a truly synergetic experience", says Ravioli.
Inevitably, everything or almost everything has changed over this past year. The DaD approach entailed a reshuffling of activities and rules, starting with the extension of the contest deadline. This even includes a new "Special Category" for classes unable to complete the Creative Project.
"We had faith in the initiative and did not want to deprive the participants of recognition for their efforts. So instead of in-person awards, we organised two online events on 19 June, with actions aimed at ensuring adequate visibility for the best projects. They were great; the switch-over to computer video did not hamper their creativity or desire to express themselves. On the contrary. The work was very well done, we committed very qualified resources from the Directorate to the project and it was included among the participants in Indire's "Discover more about the world around you" project. Research institutions for students, teachers and parents", concludes Director Ravioli.