“My mother filled the house with her passion for teaching. When we were children, in the summertime she organized me and my four siblings into a team of journalists. We produced the newspaper we called ‘summer thoughts’ on our kitchen table. It was a serious newspaper, believe me. It had a cover, a lead article and pictures. My mother was an amazing teacher and my father taught too. I worked in the corporate world for many years, but when I got opportunity to teach, I was drawn in.” These are the words of Carlo Mazzone, a teacher selected as one of the top ten finalists for the prestigious Global Teacher Prize (a $1 million award sponsored by the Varkey Foundation presented annually to a teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession, the winner will be announced on December 3). He is the first Italian to ever make it to the shortlist. Mazzone, who teaches ICT and computer science at the ITI G.B.B. Lucarelli technical institute in Benevento, was chosen from among more than 12,000 candidates from over 140 countries.
Carlo Mazzone is 56, he was born in Ceppadoni in the province of Benevento, a hillside town of 3,000 inhabitants. “I still live here,” he tells us. “I made every effort to stay in my home region.” It has always been his dream to stay and work in southern Italy. Following his degree in Computer Science which he gained from the University of Salerno at the age of 27, he started his career as a software programmer. “In 2000,” he recalls, “I entered a public competition for a teaching post and then more or less forgot all about it. The first job offer came in 2004 and I wholeheartedly began this adventure with a clear mission: to do things differently, school is a source of hope for the future, a stronghold of society. It should be at the very heart of our focus.”
Mazzone teaches computer science and, after having held a number of teaching posts, seven years ago he arrived at the Lucarelli technical institute. “Here,” he continues, “I can give my very best. The school’s main subject is computing and if I have been nominated for the Global Teacher Prize, I owe it above all to the opportunities I have had to dream up and start up a different kind of school. The first thing I did was to introduce the concept of entrepreneurship into my teaching model, ideas that come to life at school may one day grow into something much bigger.” Mazzone has his students working in groups of three and each team chooses their leader, who acts as the interface to the client. “And I’m the client,” he says with a smile, “the teacher.” Each team creates its own brand and product. “A video game, a web or mobile App,” Carlo Mazzone explains. “When you ask the youngsters to do something they enjoy, something they think is really useful, they come alive and they have fun. They ask you questions, and they no longer see you as ‘the person who gives them their marks’ but as ‘the person who can give them a hand’. There is a shift in the teacher-pupil relationship, you are not someone they want to avoid, you are a point of reference they can trust. School needs to forget sitting behind desks and join the real world.”
I’ve brought about a shift in the teacher-pupil relationship, you are not someone they want to avoid, you are a point of reference they can trust
Can he give us an example of entrepreneurship in the classroom? “A group of my students,” Mazzone replies, “invented Farm Animal Trade. Their project passed the regional heats and then it went on to the national Junior Achievement competition for business education called ‘Impresa in Azione’ (business in action): the start-up that came to life in our classroom came first among the 24 finalists. This in turn led to the team representing Italy in the international competition where there were 40 teams from 39 European countries. My students came third in the JA Europe Company of the Year Competition 2019 which was held in Lille, France between July 3 and 5 last year.”
The students created an actual company by simulating every aspect which meant also becoming entrepreneurs, and they created a web application to manage the buying and selling of farm animals.
“Their project aimed to solve a real problem,” Mazzone adds, “In Italy, the buying and selling of farm animals is still done in the traditional way through an intermediary, which means this process is more costly and requires more time. This is still a problem for all farmers today, and they had this idea because some of the school’s pupils come from farming families and have to deal with this very issue. The Farm Animal Trade project aims to do without the intermediary by setting up a platform where private individuals and farmers can advertise the animals they want to sell to potential buyers anywhere in Italy. The strong point of this start-up is that it guarantees that every animal offered for sale is perfectly healthy and traceable. When an advert for animal for sale is inserted in the app, specific information must also be included such as the location and identification of the animal as well as health certificates. Putting sellers directly in contact with buyers, brings down costs and speeds up the process.”
The Farm Trade Animal team of students has also applied for funding from ‘Resto al Sud’ (I’m staying in the south - a programme supporting the launch of new entrepreneurial activities in the Southern regions of Italy). They’ve had an interview and are waiting to hear the outcome. But whatever the result, they will be founding their own company.