Education in Italy

Education in Italy is compulsory from 6 to 16 years of age,[2] and is divided into five stages: kindergarten (scuola dell'infanzia), primary school (scuola primaria or scuola elementare), lower secondary school (scuola secondaria di primo grado or scuola media inferiore), upper secondary school (scuola secondaria di secondo grado or scuola media superiore) and university (università).[3] Education is free in Italy and free education is available to children of all nationalities who are residents in Italy. Italy has both a private and public education system. However, the quality of the public schools is also higher compared to the private schools, in terms of "educational and labour market outcomes".[4]

Education in Italy
Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca
Minister of EducationLorenzo Fioramonti
National education budget (2009)
Budget€61 billion
General details
Primary languagesItalian
System typepublic
Compulsory primary education1859
Literacy (2015)
Total99.2% [1]
Post secondary386,000


In Italy a state school system or Education System has existed since 1859, when the Legge Casati (Casati Act) mandated educational responsibilities for the forthcoming Italian state (Italian unification took place in 1861). The Casati Act made primary education compulsory, and had the goal of increasing literacy. This law gave control of primary education to the single towns, of secondary education to the provinces, and the universities were managed by the State. Even with the Casati Act and compulsory education, in rural (and southern) areas children often were not sent to school (the rate of children enrolled in primary education would reach 90% only after 70 years) and the illiteracy rate (which was nearly 80% in 1861) took more than 50 years to halve.

The next important law concerning the Italian education system was the Legge Gentile. This act was issued in 1923, thus when Benito Mussolini and his National Fascist Party were in power. In fact, Giovanni Gentile was appointed the task of creating an education system deemed fit for the fascist system. The compulsory age of education was raised to 14 years, and was somewhat based on a ladder system: after the first five years of primary education, one could choose the 'Scuola media', which would give further access to the "liceo" and other secondary education, or the 'avviamento al lavoro' (work training), which was intended to give a quick entry into the low strates of the workforce. The reform enhanced the role of the Liceo Classico, created by the Casati Act in 1859 (and intended during the Fascist era as the peak of secondary education, with the goal of forming the future upper classes), and created the Technical, Commercial and Industrial institutes and the Liceo Scientifico. The Liceo Classico was the only secondary school that gave access to all types of higher education until 1968. The influence of Gentile's Idealism was great,[5] and he considered the Catholic religion to be the "foundation and crowning" of education. In 1962 the 'avviamento al lavoro' was abolished, and all children up to 14 years had to follow a single program, encompassing primary education (scuola elementare) and middle school (scuola media).

From 1962 to the present day, the main structure of Italian primary (and secondary) education remained largely unchanged, even if some modifications were made: a narrowing of the gap between males and females (through the merging of the two distinct programmes for technical education, and the optional introduction of mixed-gender gym classes), a change in the structure of secondary school (legge Berlinguer) and the creation of new licei, 'istituti tecnici' and 'istituti professionali', giving the student more choices in their paths.

In 1999, in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the Bologna Process, the Italian university system switched from the old system (vecchio ordinamento, which led to the traditional 5-year Laurea degree), to the new system (nuovo ordinamento). The nuovo ordinamento split the former Laurea into two tracks: the Laurea triennale (a three-year degree akin to the Bachelor's Degree), followed by the 2-year Laurea specialistica (Master's Degree), the latter renamed Laurea Magistrale in 2007. A credit system was established to quantify the amount of work needed by each course and exam (25 work hours = 1 credit), as well as enhance the possibility to change course of studies and facilitate the transfer of credits for further studies or go on exchange (e.g. Erasmus Programme) in another country. However, it is now established that there is just a five-year degree "Laurea Magistrale a Ciclo Unico" for programmes such as Law and a six-year degree for Medicine.

In 2019, Education minister Lorenzo Fioramonti announced that next year Italy will be the first country in the world where the study of climate change and sustainable development will be mandatory for students.[6]

Primary education

Scuola primaria (primary school), also known as scuola elementare, is commonly preceded by three years of non-compulsory nursery school (or kindergarten, "asilo"). Scuola elementare lasts five years. Until middle school, the educational curriculum is the same for all pupils: although one can attend a private or state-funded school, the subjects studied are the same (with the exception of special schools for the blind or the hearing-impaired). The students are given a basic education in Italian, English, mathematics, natural sciences, history, geography, social studies, and physical education. Some schools also have Spanish or French, musical arts and visual arts.

Until 2004, pupils had to pass an exam to access Scuola secondaria di primo grado (Middle school), comprising the composition of a short essay in Italian, a written math test, and an oral test on the other subjects. The exam has been discontinued and pupils can now enter Scuola secondaria di Primo Grado directly.

Usually students start Primary School at the age of 6, but students who are born between January and March and are still 5 years old can access primary school early; this is called Primina. For example, a student born in February 2002 can attend primary school with students born in 2001.

Secondary education

Secondary education in Italy lasts 8 years and is divided in two stages: Scuola secondaria di primo grado (Lower secondary school), also broadly known as Scuola media, which corresponds to the Middle School grades, and Scuola secondaria di secondo grado (Upper secondary school), also broadly known as Scuola superiore,[7] which corresponds to the high-school level.

The Scuola secondaria di primo grado lasts three years (roughly from age 11 to 14).

The Scuola secondaria di secondo grado lasts five years (roughly from age 14 to 19). Every tier involves an exam at the end of the final year, called esame di maturità, required to gain a degree and have access to further university education.

While students in lower secondary school stay in their classroom for most of the time (during physical education they go to the gym for example), in high school they will be the one to move from the classroom to the laboratory, but the teacher still has to move from one classroom to another if the lesson is not held in a laboratory.

In the lower middle school pupils start school at 8:00 AM and finish at 1:00 PM (Although they can start later, they always have to attend school for at least five hours, with some differences based on the days they attend), while for high school, depending on the school, they attend school 5 to 8 hours a day based on the day of the week and the exact choice of school. Most schools have 10 minutes of recess, although high school students have 15 to 30 minutes depending on how long the day is.

For historical reasons, there are three types of Scuola secondaria di secondo grado, subsequently divided into further specialization. Currently all of the secondary schools in Italy have most of the structure and subjects in common for the first two years (Primo biennio)(such as Italian grammar, history and mathematics),[8] in the last three years(Secondo biennio e quinto anno, or triennio) most subjects are peculiar to a particular type of course (i.e. ancient Greek in the Liceo Classico, business economics in the Istituto tecnico economico or scenography in the Liceo Artistico) but subjects like Italian, English and mathematics are still taught.:

  • Liceo (lyceum), the education received in a Liceo is mostly theoretical, with a specialization in a specific field of studies (humanities, science, languages, or art).[9]
  • Istituto tecnico (technical institute), the education given in an Istituto tecnico offers both a wide theoretical education and a specialization in a specific field of studies (e.g.: economy, humanities, administration, law, technology, tourism), often integrated with a three/six months internship in a company, association or university, from the third to the fifth and last year of study.[10]
  • Istituto professionale (professional institute), this type of school offers a form of secondary education oriented towards practical subjects (engineering, agriculture, gastronomy, technical assistance, handicrafts), and enables the students to start searching for a job as soon as they have completed their studies, sometimes sooner, as some schools offer a diploma after three years instead of five, although it is considered a lower level of school compared to the others.

Any type of secondary school that lasts 5 years grants access to the final exam, called esame di maturità or esame di stato; this exam takes place every year between June and July and grants access to university.[11]

In 2013, The Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the OECD, ranks the Italian secondary education as the 21st in the world, above the United States and in the OECD average,[12] and observes a wide gap between results in Northern Italian schools, which performed significantly better than the national average (among the best in the world in some subjects),[13] and Southern Italian schools, that had much poorer results. Moreover, students in state-owned schools perform better than students in private schools. An Italian student is 19 when they enter university, while in other countries 18 is the more common age.

Higher education

Italy has a large and international network of public and state affiliated universities and schools offering degrees in higher education. State-run universities of Italy constitute the main percentage of tertiary education in Italy, and are managed under the supervision of Italian's Ministry of Education.

Italian universities are among the oldest universities in the world. In particular the University of Bologna (founded in 1088), University of Padua, founded in 1222, and the University of Naples Federico II are the oldest universities in Europe.[14][15] Most universities in Italy are state-supported.

There are also a number of Superior Graduate Schools (Grandes écoles)[16] or Scuola Superiore Universitaria, offer officially recognized titles, including the Diploma di Perfezionamento equivalent to a Doctorate, Dottorato di Ricerca i.e. Research Doctorate or Doctor Philosophiae i.e. Ph.D.[17] Some of them also organize courses Master's degree. There are three Superior Graduate Schools with "university status", three institutes with the status of Doctoral Colleges, which function at graduate and post-graduate level. Nine further schools are direct offshoots of the universities (i.e. do not have their own 'university status'). The first one is the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (founded in 1810 by Napoleon as a branch of École Normale Supérieure), taking the model of organization from the famous École Normale Supérieure. These institutions are commonly referred to as "Schools of Excellence" (i.e. "Scuole di Eccellenza").[16][18]

Italy hosts a broad variety of universities, colleges and academies. Founded in 1088, the University of Bologna is likely the oldest in the world.[19] In 2009, the University of Bologna is, according to The Times, the only Italian college in the top 200 World Universities. Milan's Bocconi University has been ranked among the top 20 best business schools in the world by The Wall Street Journal international rankings, especially thanks to its M.B.A. program, which in 2007 placed it no. 17 in the world in terms of graduate recruitment preference by major multinational companies.[20] Bocconi was also ranked by Forbes as the best worldwide in the specific category Value for Money.[21] In May 2008, Bocconi overtook several traditionally top global business schools in the Financial Times Executive education ranking, reaching no. 5 in Europe and no. 15 in the world.[22]

Other top universities and polytechnics include the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, the LUISS in Rome, the Polytechnic University of Turin, the Politecnico di Milano (which in 2011 was ranked as the 48th best technical university in the world by QS World University Rankings[23]), the University of Rome La Sapienza (which in 2005 was Europe's 33rd best university,[24] and ranks among Europe's 50 and the world's 150 best colleges[25] and in 2013, the Center for World University Rankings ranked the Sapienza University of Rome 62nd in the world and the top in Italy in its World University Rankings.[26]) and the University of Milan (whose research and teaching activities have developed over the years and have received important international recognition). The University is the only Italian member of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), a prestigious group of twenty research-intensive European Universities. It has also been awarded ranking positions such as 1st in Italy and 7th in Europe (The Leiden Ranking – Universiteit Leiden).

According to National Science Indicators (1981–2002), a database produced by Research Services Group containing listings of output and citation statistics for more than 90 countries, Italy has an above-average output of scientific papers (in terms of number of papers written with at least one author being from Italy) in space science (9.75% of papers in the world being from Italy), mathematics (5.51% of papers in the world), computer science, neurosciences, and physics; the lowest, but still slightly above world-average, output in terms of number of papers produced is recorded in the social sciences, psychology and psychiatry, and economics and business.[27]


Compulsory education is highlighted in yellow.

levelnamedurationcertificate awarded
Pre-school educationScuola dell'infanzia (nursery school)3 years (age: 3 to 6)
Primary educationScuola primaria (primary school)5 years (age: 6 to 11)Licenza di scuola elementare (until 2004)[28]
Lower secondary educationScuola secondaria di primo grado (first grade secondary school)3 years (age: 11 to 14)Diploma di scuola secondaria di primo grado
Upper secondary educationScuola secondaria di secondo grado (second grade secondary school)5 years (age: 14 to 19) (compulsory until the age of 16, or until year 2)Diploma di liceo
Diploma di istituto tecnico
Diploma di istituto professionale
Formazione professionale (vocational education) (until 2010)3 or 5 years (age 14 to 17 or 14 to 19) (compulsory until the age of 16, or until year 2)Qualifica professionale (3 years), Licenza professionale (5 years)
Higher educationLaurea (Bachelor's degree)
Diploma accademico di primo livello
3 years
Laurea magistrale (Master's degree)
Diploma accademico di secondo livello
2 years
Laurea magistrale a ciclo unico (Bachelor's + Master's degree)5 years only for:
Farmacia (pharmacy)
Chimica e tecnologie farmaceutiche (pharmaceutical chemistry)
Medicina veterinaria (veterinary medicine)
Giurisprudenza (law)
Architettura (architecture)
Ingegneria edile-Architettura (architectural engineering)
Conservazione dei beni culturali (conservation of cultural properties)
Scienze della formazione primaria (sciences of primary education), necessary for teaching in nursery or primary schools
6 years, only for:
Medicina e chirurgia (medicine and surgery)
Odontoiatria e protesi dentaria (dentistry)
Dottorato di ricerca (PhD)
Diploma accademico di formazione alla ricerca
Diploma di Perfezionamento – PhD (Superior Graduate Schools in Italy)
3, 4 or 5 years

See also


  1. "- Human Development Reports".
  2. "comma 622". 27 December 2006. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  3. "- Human Development Reports" (PDF).
  4. Bertola, Giuseppe; Checchi, Daniele; Oppedisano, Veruska (December 2007). "Private School Quality in Italy" (PDF). Discussion Paper Series. IZA Institute of Labor Economics (IZA DP No. 3222).
  5. Moss, M. E. (2004). Mussolini's fascist philosopher: Giovanni Gentile reconsidered. New York: P. Lang.pp 26–73.
  6. "Italy to become first country to make learning about climate change compulsory for school students". 6 November 2019.
  7. "liceo".
  8. "SCUOLA/ Liceo o istituto tecnico, non fatevi ingannare dal mito della 'cultura'".
  9. "Microsoft Word - Allegato A definitivo 02012010.doc" (PDF). Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  10. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 March 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. "OECD Education Rankings – 2013 Update". 10 April 2008.
  14. Kamp, Norbert. of Naples Federico II|University of Naples%5d%5dpedia/federico-ii-di-svevia-imperatore-re-di-sicilia-e-di-gerusalemme-re-dei-romani_(Federiciana) "Federico II di Svevia, Imperatore, Re di Sicilia e di Gerusalemme, Re dei Romani" Check |url= value (help). Treccani. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  15. "Cenni Storici". Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  16. "Pagina di transizione".
  17. "Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR) Decree" (PDF).
  18. "Scuole - Scuole di Eccellenza".
  19. "Università di Bologna (oldest university in the world)". Virtual Globetrotting. 21 October 2006. Retrieved 27 October 2009.
  20. "Conferenze, ospiti, news ed eventi legati agli MBA della SDA Bocconi – MBA SDA Bocconi". SDA Bocconi. Archived from the original on 27 June 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  21. "Gatech :: OIE :: GT Study Abroad Programs". Archived from the original on 8 May 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  22. "Sda Bocconi supera London Business School – ViviMilano". Corriere della Sera. 12 November 2008. Archived from the original on 24 September 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  23. "Politecnico di Milano – QS World University Rankings". Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  24. "Top 100 European Universities". Archived from the original on 30 April 2008. Retrieved 27 October 2009.
  25. "ARWU2008". Archived from the original on 22 August 2008. Retrieved 27 October 2009.
  26. "". Center for World University Rankings. 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2013. External link in |title= (help)
  27. Nancy Imelda Schafer, ISI. "SCI-BYTES: Science in Italy, 1998–2002". Archived from the original on 29 August 2008. Retrieved 27 January 2010.
  28. "Archivio Corriere della Sera".
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