How the pandemic created opportunities in Italian schools

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The pandemic has inspired much reflection on distance learning and the use of digital tools in Europe. INDIRE researcher Giuseppina Cannella explores Italy’s new digital landscape and the changed role of the local community and cultural spaces.

Schooling in Italy after the pandemic

In its Four OECD Scenarios for the Future of Schooling (2020), OECD talks about a potential empowerment of the digital learning environment, as well as the possibility to plan activities within broader learning ecosystems. This future does not seem unlikely. Already in the last few years, we have seen distance education and the use of digital tools flourish in primary and secondary schools – and many studies point to their potential benefits.

In Italy, the pandemic has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has generated inequity among students and an increased level of social exclusion, amplifying the gap between urban and rural schools in terms of connectivity, technological equipment and teacher training. On the other hand, it has allowed many schools to experience new organisational and didactic forms that integrate digital, indoor and outdoor spaces.

These new forms include the embedding of the local context into the curriculum and the use of (cultural) learning spaces outside the school building.

Embedding the local context into the curriculum

The pandemic has prompted many schools to connect more with the local context and territory. Some schools located in geographically isolated contexts or urban centres have created community hubs through educational policies that share a common vision. These hubs allow them to carefully define the aims and objectives of their educational pathways, as Cheminais outlined in 2009.

The Italian Ministry of Education also released the Piano scuola 2020-2021 (in Italian), which aims to bridge inequalities by promoting partnerships among schools, families and society. Notably, this document introduced the administrative and cultural tool of the Educational Territorial Alliance Agreement, with the goal of changing the way teaching is organised, improving the use of learning spaces, and orienting the curriculum toward more openness and inclusion. This reform is aimed at all Italian schools.

Use of learning spaces outside the school building

The following two good practices illustrate how such a crisis can be transformed into an opportunity.

  1. To avoid crowded classrooms and promote outdoor activities during lockdown, eleven lower secondary schools in Reggio Emilia identified cultural spaces outside the school building that could host them. Museums, cultural centres and playgrounds were equipped with school furniture so that students and teachers could work in an inclusive way.
  2. A small, rural primary school in Bobbio enhanced the use of outdoor spaces such as forests, rivers and playgrounds. To accomplish this, the school had experts from local associations design active learning in collaboration with the teachers. The extension of didactics to cultural spaces also led the school to adopt an experiential learning approach. This restores the sense of a school as a ‘laboratory of life’ and distinguishes learning space as one of the ‘favourable conditions’ for acquiring skills and knowledge that Laneve talked about in 2005.

These two cases show how a school can subvert the dominant model of education by collaborating more with the local community, and can serve as a good example for other small and/or rural schools.

Giuseppina Cannella has been a researcher at INDIRE for more than ten years. In this time, she has investigated the innovation process within lower secondary schools in terms of e-maturity and studied how ICT can help small schools to overcome cultural and geographical isolation. Since 2013 she has been involved in research regarding the impact of the school space on the design of learning activities in standard and small schools.