Reportage. In the rain in Rome, a broad social alliance of parents, teachers, students and trade unions gathered by the ‘Priority to school’ movement criticized the government's lack of back-to-school readiness. ‘Going back to school was pure propaganda.’

With schools short-staffed, Italian educators take the streets

There are 30,655 fewer classrooms in Italy than the 406,424 necessary to maintain the physical distance between students as established by the protocol approved by the Scientific Technical Committee on the school system.

Almost 550,000 students don’t have an adequate place to have their lessons, two weeks from the beginning of the school year, in the time of COVID. Out of the 85,000 teachers being hired, as trumpeted in recent months, only 22,000 posts have been filled, because in Italy there is a shortage of qualified teachers on the official lists.

There are 2,278 administrative manager roles that remain vacant, despite the latest contest.

There should have been an extraordinary recruitment plan on September 1, but the Minister of Education, Lucia Azzolina, didn’t want to expedite the process of hiring the 32,000 teachers who are set to be hired in the coming months after the contest to be held in October.

All these data were published Saturday by the national secretary of FLC CGIL, Francesca Ruocco, in Piazza del Popolo in Rome, under a pouring rain, during the protest organized by the “Priority for Schools” movement, joined by 80 associations and movements from thirty cities and the unions FLC CGIL, CISL and UIL Scuola, SNALS, GILDA and COBAS.

“Minister Azzolina wants to run contests in the middle of the health emergency, without respecting at-risk teachers and those who might be in quarantine. We have been teaching for years, there are EU laws and directives that provide for the direct hiring of those who have more than three years of experience,” added Anita Pelaggi of the Coordinamento Precari della Scuola Autoconvocati (Self-constituted Coordinating Committee of Precarious Workers in the School System). “And then, there is the scandal of the 70,000 teachers and ‘COVID’ staff who can be dismissed without compensation at the first lockdown.”

“In many schools, there is an average of only one hour and 45 minutes of lessons, from 11:25 to 13:40 for example, without workshops or teachers. The rest is done via distance learning,” said Gloria Ghetti, a teacher and activist of “Priority for the Schools.”

“‘Going back to school’ was pure propaganda,” said Giammarco Manfreda (Rete Studenti Medi – Middle School Student Network). “In Rome, during the lockdown, 56% of students were unable to continue attending classes.”

“The pandemic has made the problems that had been plaguing the school system for years explode,” said Alessandro Personè of the Unione degli Studenti (Students’ Union).

“The government did nothing of what it was supposed to do: it had seven months, but it came to this point totally unprepared. We are as we were before the closure. In order to have a school system without double shifts, without online teaching that is nothing more than entertainment and without precarious workers, we have to start again with classes of 15 students,” said Piero Bernocchi of COBAS.

The condition of support teachers in this emergency reopening of the schools was described by Maddalena Gissi, secretary of CISL Scuola: “There are 21,000 vacancies, but it was possible to hire only 1,657 people, all due to a lack of candidates.” In the Italian school system, there are “259,757 students with special needs, for whom there are almost 200,000 teachers, 52% of whom are precarious.”

As the event was underway on Sunday, the Ministry of Education reiterated that the appointment of annual substitute teachers would be completed by next week. The unions, however, described a different state of affairs: “30-40% had been appointed until a few days ago, and, according to our calculations, the number will not go over 50%,” said Pino Turi (UIL Scuola). In addition to the vacant teacher positions, there are many irregularities in the awarding of the points for the Provincial Substitute Lists, published online starting this year. The unions expect an avalanche of appeals in the coming months.

For weeks, we have been hearing about the epic struggles around school desks, with or without wheels. This was what the government deemed most urgent. The desks—not new spaces to halve the number of students in overcrowded classrooms, not the permanentization of precarious workers to ensure the right to study and knowledge for students. To date, there are just 400,000 desks out of more than 2 million requested, as we wait for new data. “The schools have reopened only thanks to the sacrifices made by teachers and staff. All the problems still remain to be solved,” added Rino Di Meglio from GILDA.

The collective public hearing conducted yesterday from the stage of the Roman protest was useful for deconstructing the parallel reality presented by the government. On Sunday, Prime Minister Conte claimed that “the school year has resumed in an orderly way, respecting the rules, a symbol of an Italy that is getting up and starting to run again.” Conte added even more flourishes to this feat of rhetorical athletics, speaking at the Festival of Economics in Trento: “In this context, asking to have all the substitutes on September 14 means living in the world of fairy tales.”

However, if we pay attention, nobody has asked for that; the demands have been to make positions permanent and to establish a prospective reform of teacher recruitment. “The government would do well not to underestimate this protest,” noted Annamaria Furlan (CISL). That’s good advice, given that there are millions of people experiencing the reality of a school system that is a shadow of its former self, seeing firsthand the distance between the official announcements and reality.

The platform of the broad social alliance set up by ”Priority for the Schools” includes the allocation of 20 billion of the Recovery Fund and at least 1% of GDP for education. This needs to be “stable and constant,” said Francesco Sinopoli (FLC CGIL), who recalled the need to renew the contract for the education sector in order to increase what are the lowest wages in Europe. “It is the bare minimum, after 20 years of cuts,” added Costanza Margiotta of “Priority to the Schools.”

“The decisive test will be the next budget law. It’s time to start a real debate and think about a real reform,” added Maurizio Landini (CGIL).

“The dispute is important, but so is the exercise in collective imagination about what and how to teach and learn. This movement has begun to make it a reality,” concluded Maddalena Fragnito of “Priority for the Schools.”

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