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Investigation 29 March Mar 2021 0615 29 March 2021

A vision of schools beyond DaD? Three priorities to pursue according to Minister Patrizio Bianchi

Once head of former Minister Azzolina's task force for re-opening schools, economist Bianchi is now the new Minister of Education under the Draghi government

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Patrizio Bianchi, Mario Draghi's new Minister of Education.

Before his appointment, he taught Economics and Industrial Policy at the University of Ferrara, of which he was rector from 2004 to 2010, and held an important UNESCO chair in Education, Growth and Equality. A former councillor in the Emilia Romagna region entrusted with coordinating European development policies, schools, vocational training, universities, research and employment, he recently headed the task force of former Minister of Education Lucia Azzolina to restart schools during the COVID-19 emergency.

During an interview we held shortly before his appointment to his new ministry post, he shared his vision for the school of the future, including the distance learning programme (DaD) and Recovery Plan investments. The ministry, meanwhile, has already allocated €335 million for schools under the support decree enacted by the government: 150 million for health facilities, 150 million on training support and 35 million for connectivity tools. Funds and solutions not only to complement the school year end, but also to build "a bridge to one another, recovering skills and socialisation". In fact, some of the proposals under consideration among the regions include a plan to keep schools open during the summer, though only for students who want to be there to recover the social and relational spaces that DaD has taken away from many children.

In recent months, he explained, "there has been an extraordinary effort by individual schools, but it has not become a systemic effort". Priorities should now be addressed for three dimensions: personal relations, the environment, and relationships with the local community.

In September 2020, you said: COVID should be used to reform schools. A message shared by many, if not all. After several months, however, it seems that we are still dragging our feet in Italy.
I am still convinced that this dramatic discontinuity must serve to relaunch and redesign Italian schools, since there were many critical points in our educational system even before COVID. The lingering pandemic has exacerbated these situations. While the previous government did a lot to assist schools, the situation is clearly very different from region to region.

Very little has been done about all the projects initially planned to 'do school differently' (lessons outside the classroom, in theatres, cinemas, museums, parks and so on). A lack of imagination, resources, or something else?
There has been an extraordinary effort by individual schools, but it has not become a systemic effort. We were late in learning that our schools constitute a pillar of development and we are paying for years of cuts, which now translate into a lack of digital skills, adequate educational spaces and resources for autonomy.

DaD should be part of an educational approach encompassing different and various training tools, though it cannot replace presence

While initially seen as an opportunity, the Italian distance learning programme (DaD) now seems to have become a nightmare for everyone. Should we drop it permanently or maintain it? So how can it be improved?
DaD should be part of an educational approach encompassing different and various training tools, though it cannot replace presence.

You had drawn up a post-coronavirus reboot plan. What did it entail?
Many aspects of our plan now appear in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, proving the necessity of working on schools as a priority investment to revitalise the entire country.

In the latest draft, the plan allocates 28.4 billion out of 209 billion to the education sector. Will these funds suffice to really put schools back at the heart of the country's system?
At the core of the matter, we are looking to shift the way we view schools, which are not a cost but a structural investment that certainly needs extraordinary intervention to make up for years of underinvestment, but which must henceforth guarantee adequate resources, not least in view of the demographic downturn, which will require special attention to families and children to avoid finding ourselves in a socially unsustainable situation.

Which are the concrete priorities you think should receive investments?
People are the priority, their preparation, their stability, their career paths. Learning environments, indoors and outdoors, constitute a second priority. The third priority entails relationships with our local communities for cultivating autonomy in long-term community education pacts.

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