Wednesday, June 20

School's Out in Italy

Now that I have a couple of teens in my life, I am a not so silent observer to some of the most outrageous things that happen in Italian public schools.  This past year has been a real eye-opener.  I've been left speechless by some of the incredible stories in school politics; Amused by the teachers who are just trying to cope; Outraged at the lack of any sort of esprit de corps (aside from the copying en masse of homework and on tests); Amazed that when city buses go on strike, the kids simply stay home; Flabbergasted that schools get disinfested for bugs - during the school day; and Dumbstuck by the fact that there were no final exams covering the full year just past.
Nonetheless, I still believe that an Italian education (excepting for the oral exams and all the cheating), in terms of book-smarts, can still be superior to most anything the average U.S. school has on offer.  Regardless, when it comes to taking on some of the afore-mentioned issues, animated discussions ensue at the dinner table on most everything.  
This year, it was the posting of grades which tickled me pink.  On Thursday, a kid had taken a picture of the results for his friends and put it up on his facebook wall.  Because it was fuzzy, we called the school on Friday to ask when the grades would be posted (just to make sure it wasn't a photoshopped image).  In response, we were told "Monday."  So, this is when most of Italy catches onto the approximation of all public services.  They start 'em early.  Our teen replied, in perfect deadpan, "But if it's already on facebook?!"  To which he received the reply - Monday - kicking off a few lessons in Italian living, Italy's 3R's:  
1) Readying conspiracy theorists -- the friend had posted a mockup of final scores on his wall [he hadn't], 
2) Recounting untruths (or approximations) -- since the woman had no idea when the posting would be made and just said the first thing that came to mind and 
3) Responsibility - as in, not taking any / not getting informed / not venturing outside your own place of operations
picture from Printable Home School
When it comes to grades, I asked, with sheer naivete', "But, what's the surprise? If you don't have final exams, and you more or less know your scores throughout the year, can't you figure it out if you pass or fail?"  Once the laughter had died down around the table, I was surprised to hear that scholastic scoring had very little to do with objectivity.  In fact, our teen was shocked at how well he did in the end, seeing that he's at best a 'B' student.  "That's because, they had to raise my scores in order to get everyone else to fit the roster of scores. If I'm the best, but an average student, that means more than half the class would have flunked out."  I guess it's the Italian version of Leave no student behind - grade inflation.  The profs basically award you with a combination of acumen, simpatia, effort and how you rank with the other kids in the class.  
The kids had never heard of a 'bell curve'. 
Oh - and, in your ignorance, don't even try to ask if there was a year-end shindig to send them off into their summer festivities.  You will be patently dismissed as an Alien life form. What an education this school year has been - at least for yours truly.

1 comment:

Joanna said...

The university system is no different.

Out of 30, a score less than 26 is considered low by most students. Yet the pass mark is only 18. It is almost impossible to fail, and if you don't like your mark then you can retake the exam up to 10 times.

Even as a foreign student with shaky Italian skills, I didn't scored any lower than 25 on my exams despite the course, textbooks and exam all being completely in Italian. Even accounting for possible grade inflation (unlike, the lecturers were often rude and unhelpful), that's still 25% above the pass mark.

And anyone who passes the high school leaver's exam can go to any university they like to study Humanities, so it's not even like the students are all of a high enough level that you'd expect them to ace exams like you might at Ivy League or Oxbridge universities.