In Italy there is frequent discussion of reforms in the school system and the continual search for solutions which are right for educating our schoolchildren in the best way. With old buildings and instruments that need modernisation, it would be a good idea to follow the example of five foreign educational systems that are particularly effective.
We start with Estonia, a country which we have already dealt with in the past precisely because of the way it has decided to focus on the school system. One major fact is that ten years ago foreign students studying in Estonia numbered about 400, today there are more than 4000, in other words ten times as many. This is due to teachers being given responsibility – with a great deal of independence in the management of the educational programme and appropriate salaries – and teaching that keeps up with the times, for example by using the ProgeTiger, a program created to teach the basics of computer programming at all levels, from primary school to life-long education for adults.
In Finland there are no examinations or marks for pupils until they are sixteen years old and the schools are always run by the state and free of charge.
A little further north there is another excellent system. The Finnish system is acknowledged as one of the best in the world and is continually in a state of innovation. The latest development was two years ago: Finnish schools must ensure a “cooperative” approach, allowing pupils to choose a subject that interests them around which a part of the teaching work is organised. The changes are part of a system that is already very different to ours, as demonstrated by the fact that the equivalent of our primary schools starts at the age of seven and there are no examinations or marks before the pupils reach the age of 16. Those who wish to can sign up for secondary school until the age of 19 in preparation for university which is also run by the state and free of charge. On a closer look, all Finnish schools are run by the state, a feature that allows considerable uniformity in education regardless of social class, and raises the teaching standard to a high level with teachers who have degrees (even for primary school) and are required to pass extremely severe tests in order to be employed.
Still in Europe, there is the case of Switzerland: compulsory school up to the age of sixteen is managed federally by the cantons just like our senior schools. The central government is instead in control of the professional schools where courses may last as long as four years. What makes the Swiss method different is the attention given to the school environment; pupils are loaned textbooks which they leave for the pupils of the preceding year, together with pencils, paints and various equipment. Blackboards, benches and technological apparatus are the latest but something to think about is a factor that is more than ever human: right from primary school the pupils are invited to go to school alone in order to instil a sense of responsibility in them and so that they learn how to get around the city, deal with the difficulties of the road and not have to depend on a parent.
Canada has used the educational system to get the best from the millions of immigrants that it has hosted.
Lastly, there are two other success models outside the old continent. The first is Singapore, where the teachers are chosen from the graduates of the national training institute. During the period of study the aspiring teachers live side by side with more expert colleagues and already receive a salary at this time. The teachers are also given incentives based on their performance, which are evaluated at the end of the year on the basis of the results obtained by their pupils and their schools. Special attention is given to professional refresher courses which all teachers attend for about one hundred hours every year.
In North America Canada leads the way, using the schools to manage the flow of immigration which brought millions of people into the country over the decades. To prevent the formation of pockets of illiterate or unqualified population, Canada has taken steps to encourage all social classes to enter the educational system, providing free education up to university level. This is done notwithstanding the federal organisation of the country in which management varies considerably from region to region, although retaining the common characteristic of not having specialised high schools as in Italy, but generic high schools on the American model.