by Miriam Rossi * – Unimondo

“Still, for one year, school to preserve my stubborn boyhood. Then my lonely life on the open sea – like a lost sail.”
Italian poet Antonia Pozzi wrote this poem in 1929 at the age of 17.

Almost 100 years later, young people’s perception of school has changed. According to M., a secondary school pupil who expressed a certain discomfort in school, there is little respect for pupils: “Sometimes teachers intervene to mock (or even humiliate) pupils who have difficulties in learning tests, or they are trivially incapable of understanding the obvious forms of discomfort expressed by young people.” The labels applied by adults certainly do not help young people to feel protected in school, quite the opposite. In addition, there is a feeling of dissatisfaction among the pupils because of the incongruity of the didactic methodology, which consists of writing on paper and carrying rucksacks full of books that talk about environmental sustainability, without considering the possibility of favouring all the work on individual digital tools, such as laptops and tablets, or of using teaching methods that are more innovative than traditional classroom teaching and in different environmental contexts. Finally, a feeling of frustration, dictated by the impossibility of dialogue with teachers, due to their anxiety about assessment and the overcrowding of classes, as well as the competitive climate sometimes breathed with classmates due to the high expectations of parents or perhaps out of sheer rudeness, which does not remain outside the school premises.

R. confirms the perceived lack of serenity in the classroom and the pressing demands for results that sometimes do not take into account the complexities of young people. R., now 18, left compulsory education last year before completing the course he had attended. In addition to acquiring skills (or simple concepts), he explains that he would have liked to find help in school, which did not come. He says this by talking about the need for a more welcoming and understanding climate, less focused on tests and bureaucratic skills progression; sometimes even a more stimulating climate, capable of pushing aside whatever bad things may have already entered a young person’s mind and heart. Regretting the choice? “Maybe a little bit now,” but probably mainly because of the human exchange with classmates that is a crucial lynchpin of the school experience.

Attention to mental health and well-being seems to be the point for many young people leaving compulsory education, increasing the number of early school leavers. According to the latest available data from the Ministry of Education and Merit (MIM), for the 2019-2020 school year, the dropout rate in Italy is 20%, i.e. it affects 1 in 5 students, if by this we mean a phenomenon that includes dropping out, leaving the education system early, absenteeism, passive attendance or the accumulation of gaps and delays that can invalidate the student’s prospects of cultural and professional growth (the so-called implicit dropout). The figures show the percentage of 1.14% of young people who do not go on from lower secondary school (middle school) to upper secondary school, an average that actually affects males more (1.24%) and those living in the south (1.5%). One in six boys aged 18 to 24 has no qualifications, compared with one in ten girls. Although the number of early school leavers has fallen slightly compared to the previous year, Italy still ranks fourth to last in Europe in terms of the number of early school leavers: 13.1% (corresponding to around 543,000 young people) compared with the EU average (9.9%).

There are many causes of early school leaving, including the socio-economic situation of the individual, the educational background of the family, the attractiveness of the labour market, the relationship with the school and the educational programmes offered, and the individual and personal characteristics of the person. In any case, whatever the cause, which is likely to be multidimensional (be it biological, psychological or social), early school leaving must be analysed in a holistic manner, bearing in mind that effective and equitable education systems are essential for individual well-being as well as for economic prosperity and social cohesion, and therefore in the context of the country’s systemic strategy for employment and growth. The lack of profitable schooling determines “a very worrying phenomenon: when young people leave school prematurely, it means that they run greater risks of unemployment, poverty, social exclusion and deviance,” as the Authority for Childhood and Adolescence warns.

20 November was the Day of the Rights of the Child, a kind of Children’s Day in international law. On 20 November 1989, a long list of rights was adopted that states are obliged to guarantee to children. From the right to equal treatment and welfare, to the right to life and development, to the right to be heard and to participate: these are the four fundamental principles of the 54 articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The right to education, in the sense of schooling, is enshrined in no less than two articles of the international document (arts. 28 and 29), which provide for “compulsory and free primary education for all,” in order to promote the development and growth of the child as a good citizen, respectful of human rights, traditions and culture, environmentally sustainable, responsible and capable of living with respect for others (including those who are different from oneself). This, then, is the purpose of school as it emerged at the World Table: basic competencies and skills “in reading, writing and arithmetic” are only the antechamber to the acquisition of broader relational and social skills at school.

Cover photo © BlurryMe/ 

* Miriam Rossi (Viterbo, 1981).
She holds a Ph.D. in History of International Relations and Organisations and specialises in Human Rights, the United Nations and international politics. She currently works at the University of Trento, after 10 years in the world of research and as many in the field of international cooperation (training, planning and communication)