The good news is that school dropouts in Italy fell to 13.8% in 2016, down from the 20.8% of students who were abandoning their studies 10 years earlier. The bad news is that Italy is still well above the Europe 2020 figures, which aim to reduce the quota to 10%. In addition, there is still a noticeable North-South divide, with Sicily, Campania, Sardinia, Puglia and Calabria registering figures for school dropouts above the national averages.
As shown in a TuttoScuola (a publication for education-sector news and analysis), over 3.5 million students got “lost along the way” between 1995 and 2014. The data is improving on the whole, but there are still some extremely worrying figures. Let’s look at the details.
The latest report published by a special unit of the Institute for Education Universities and Research at the end of 2017 highlights that, in the 2015/2016 academic year, 14,258 children - that is, 0.8% of those attending “middle school” (lower secondary education in Italy, for ages 11 to 14) - abandoned their studies mid-year or between years. In the South, the figures for those abandoning their studies reaches 1% (1.2% on the islands and 0.9% in the southern mainland). Meanwhile, the percentage in the North East is lower, at 0.6%. The regions with the highest dropout rates are Sicily, on 1.3%, and Calabria, Campania and Lazio, on 1%. The lowest percentage can be found in Emilia Romagna and Le Marche, at 0.5%.
But there’s also a significant gender difference: more boys than girls are abandoning school. A student’s background is also central to dropout rates, confirming the lack of social mobility in the country. Indeed, more foreign citizens drop out than Italians, at rates of 3.3% and 0.6% respectively.
Dropouts also occur more frequently among those who are behind with their studies: repeating a year can be considered as precursory to the abandonment of studies - and in some cases it can be used to predict it. The percentage of students who are behind and leave the schooling system is 5.1%, while it is just 0.4% for those who are on track. Dropout rates are higher for students over the age of 16, which is the upper limit for mandatory schooling.
Past data on middle school dropouts, however, shows that the phenomenon is diminishing. There has been a total drop of 1.08% on the 2013/2014 rates and 0.83% on those for 2015/2016.
Dropouts between lower and upper secondary education
Between the 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 academic years, 34,286 of the 556,598 children attending the third (and final) year of middle school left the schooling system. That is 6.16%. Of these, 4.47% went into regional professional training, 0.02% began apprenticeships, 0.06% left for legitimate reasons (home tutoring, moving abroad) and 1.61% abandoned education entirely.
But there has also been an improvement in terms of dropouts between lower and upper secondary education on past figures: it was 1.18% in 2013/2014, 0.77% in 2014/2015 and 0.52% in 2015/2016.
As students get older, the numbers increase, with 4.3% - or 112,240 students - dropping out of upper secondary education (14 to 19 years old). The numbers are highest in the first year (7%). And once again, more boys leave than girls. The South still has higher percentages than the national average (4.8%). Sardinia, Campania and Sicily stand out, with percentages of 5.5%, 5.1% and 5% respectively. The lowest figures, meanwhile, are found in Umbria (2.9%) and Veneto and Molise (3.1%). If we take a closer look at the citizenship of these students, it is also the case for high school that it is more common for foreign citizens to dropout than it is for Italian natives.
The total number of dropouts from licei (typically more academically-focused secondary schools) is generally lower, with an average of 2.1%. The percentage is 4.8% for technical colleges and 8.7% for professional institutes. At 4.8%, the rate for artistic licei stands out from the other licei. At technical colleges, the number of dropouts from subjects related to economics is 5.2% and to technology 4.6%. Of Italy’s professional institutes, those with an industry or craft focus had the highest total dropout rate, at 11%. The high rate of professional institute students abandoning their studies could, however, be considered inaccurate, given that (and this more or less evident in each different region’s system) some of them could have moved into the regional education system or professional training without having notified the school.
But here too there has been an improvement on past figures: it was 4.4% in 2013/2014, 4.6% in 2014/2015 and 4.3% in 2015/2016.
The report from the Institute for Education Universities and Research special unit says that, in order to tackle the issue of school dropouts, it will be necessary to revise how classes are structured, to strengthen and facilitate lab work with more flexible and open-minded management and to rebuild the relationship between schools and families. It adds that, in order to tackle the issues of school dropouts and education poverty, there is a need to build a quality schooling system, as well as for hard-line promotion of full-time schooling, after-school activities, support for digital innovation and labs and teacher training. In his book, Lettera a una professoressa (Letter to a Teacher), Milani wrote that, “Schooling in Italy has only one problem: the children it is losing”. It is, then, in the classroom that Italy needs to begin if it is to get its kids back behind the desks .