Month 3-Italian and American School System Discussion

In my Italian class this week, we met with high school age Italian students. We discussed the similarities and differences between the American and Italian school systems/process. Before going into the discussion, our class composed some questions to ask the students and we tried organizing how we could explain the American education system…here is a funny photo showing how complicated our American schools seemed to our Italian professor.

Mapping out the logistics of a typical American school

After the discussion, we found many differences between the Italian and American school systems. The Italian students will stay in high school for three, four or five years. If they finish high school in three years, they usually decide to jump right into a job. The high schools that are four or five years are very specific schools that specialize in a subject. After middle school, the students need to choose one of these specific high schools: linguistic, technical or scientifically concentrated high schools. The student’s choice of high school will then determine their future college, and eventual career. Interestingly, the students do not have summer jobs. Occasionally, girls will babysit, but these students will not work their first job until around age thirty. Unemployment is high in Italy and it is extremely hard to find jobs.

A typical school day in Italy starts around 8am and ends around 1:30pm. The students have 5 hours of classes and a lunch break. Italians have full school days on Saturdays, too. The most overwhelming difference between American and Italian schools is their method of academic evaluations. Each academic class requires students to do 2-3 interrogations per semester. Interrogations are oral exams randomly placed throughout the semester, where a student will sit in front of the class and answer their teacher’s questions. Students are graded by their responses. The students told us that they normally study 3-4 hours everyday to be prepared for the oral exams in case they are selected to present the next day. Additionally, like in the United States, teachers will give out written exams every two weeks. These evaluations are standard across Italy and help determine which colleges the students can attend.

The best part about Italian colleges compared to American universities is that one year of college is only $3,000. Colby’s tuition of upwards of $70,000 is extremely steep in comparison. The Italian universities are simple; they have basic classrooms, exams and books, which are covered in the tuition. The universities do not have clubs, sports, dining halls or housing,which creates this opportunity for cheaper college. Students in Italy do not spend any free time playing sports or volunteering. They are entirely focused on school work and relaxing in their free time. I miss the active, involved community we have in American universities because there is a greater camaraderie and support for each other.    

Studying at a university in Italy is unique because of the country’s rich history in art, literature, fashion and architecture. Their best learning opportunities are beyond the walls of the classroom and I see that as a big privilege studying here. One week students can study the Fascist period in the 1920s, and the next week they can go to the main sites where the leader Mussolini conquered and developed this political powerhouse. Not only are there these recent political events visible in the cities nearby, but ancient history like the Colosseum or Pantheon are just a short train ride away.

Overall, these discussions with local Italian students were helpful and informative about the high school and college process. I am appreciative of our education system and how it is structured with a balance of extracurriculars and academics.