The Italianist

Things That Happen in Italy

A Cap on Multiculturalism

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Further performances of the Italian Government as regards immigration policy. Today it is about reforming the school system.

The Minister of Education, Mariastella Gelmini, has announced new policies regulating the number of foreigners which will be allowed in each class in primary and secondary italian schools from the next academic year (2010-11).

This is Gelmini:


I have to admit it is the first time I don’t manage to find a picture of a female minister who is not being portrayed naked (see previous posts on this blog).. Anyway, the elegant Mariastella has made public that the Italian Government has planned to introduce a cap on the number of foreign students who will be allowed to attend Italian schools next year: no more than 3 every 10 students, that is, no more than 30% per each italian class. A fuller account of the story can be found here.

Now, I don’t think this is a completely unreasonable thing, or at least I think it is below the average madness of this Government’s proposals. But still, there are lots of things that make little sense to me.

To begin with: Gelmini says that this policy has nothing to do with racism, rather it is a plan to favour multicultural integration. Her reasoning goes as follows:

some people exist in Italy which are not Italian; they don’t speak Italian nor do they know our culture; if we let them free to enrol in school, they will all go together and, therefore, will create fully foreign classes; this will cause “ghettoes”; this will stop an (already flourishing..) process of integration. The 30% cap is accompanied by a requirement that foreign students pass a test of Italian culture, by which they will have to demonstrate a not-clearly specified knowledge of Italian language and culture.

What will they have to do to pass this test, I wonder.. Will they have to sing the national anthem? Will they have to quote the Divine Comedy? Will they have to cook polenta taragna? Perhaps they will have to prove they know how to become a Minister in Italy; how the university system is structured; how to deal with different sexual orientations; how the role of the modern woman impacts on Italian society; or other peculiar elements of the Italian culture.

Gelmini was keen to specify that, where this requirement is fulfilled, schools have the autonomy to accept more than 30%; likewise, if less than 30% shows proper knowledge of Italian culture, that will be as much as it is ‘allowed’ per class.

But why putting a cap? Why not simply saying “those who don’t pass the test, don’t go to our schools!” It is not clear why, even if one qualifies as Italian connoisseur, s/he cannot have access to a class because s/he is out of the 30%. Faced with the idea of a ‘limit’, one can’t help thinking that the message is that “there is a limit to our tolerance! Fine, you three come in, you 7 bugger off… Oh, look, she’s handing me a blank cheque…. You come in too, my little would-be Italian. You 6 go back to your countries and be ashamed.” And why 30%? Why not 50%?

Not that I like the idea of the test either. True, to go to the US or UK as an exchange student, one of the main requirements is to pass the infamous TOEFL test. However, that is higher education, whereas in the case of Italy we are talking of primary and secondary schools.. Mah.

What happens to those who do not fall in that 30%? Mariastella promises that transports will be provided to take those disadvantage kids to a special school everyday, and back home. She does not mention where the money to afford these expenses will arrive from. Nor is it clear what these schools will look like. Like ghettos, maybe?.. Given the level of openmindedness of the average Northern League voter, it is not hard to imagine what will happen to the 70% of foreign kids.

The main problem with this Government’s approach is that it is dramatically one-way: it is the Italians who are taking the foreigners on, and the latter ones are simply a burden. Once again, the idea of a “cap” seems to convey exactly this message: integration is still equated with grudging acceptance. No one mentions that a foreign student is also a resource, not just someone to whom we have to teach how to be a good Italian. It is undoubtedly true that multiculturalism faces (especially) Western countries with new demands: however, this process also has its rewards. How enriched would “our” kids be by sharing their desk at school with someone from a completely different background culture (and viceversa)?

But then, maybe, the Northern League would risk losing part of its supporters in the future. That might be one real cost of multicultural integration: would they be willing to pay it?

I wonder what their leader would reply..



Written by TheItalianist

10/01/2010 at 12:39

One Response

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  1. I bet he would bring up some of his historical arguments, one for all the “we have it hard”. Horrible translation of a horrible speech, I know.

    Back to school and the interesting idea of the soon-to-be-a-wife-and-mother Gelmini on multicultural integration. (yes, she did it)

    First, the desire to help disadvantaged students to better their Italian skills has my entire support. However, if I want to know who need extra help I don’t ask for ID but I look at the marks of the previous year final examination. The point is: why do you use citizenship as criteria to determinate who has to prove his/her knowledge of Italian? I am teaching in first grade this year and I have several Moroccan citizens who are fully bilingual or Italian mother tongue.

    Second, the idea of having a “cap” for disadvantaged students in each class is very good, as long as every student becomes his/her seat into the ordinary school system. If the cap implies the “exclusion” of someone from the ordinary system, then we are going against the International Declaration of Children’ rights (one of which is the right to be educated in the best possible way).

    Last but not least, this is anything but a new topic. Mr Cota (Northern League) suggests a similar proposal last year with the typical gentle words of his party. Everyone understood it was a full idea. Lady Gelmini is using fake pedagogical words and her madness is harder to discover. But why do they raise this topic every once in awhile? Since Lady Gelmini took on, she has been cutting on public schools: last year the cut put our primary schools (the only working segment of our education system) into chaos and this year is the high school’s turn. This is a ton of teachers who are losing their jobs, students who have less time to spend in class (Only God knows how much more time we all need)… This cut is a bad publicity for the right. How can people ignore what she does? Only if she says something really unreasonable (the cup for foreign students), people will be too busy to talk about it and do not have time to think about the real problems looming head.

    I don’t even listen to what the Minister say about schooling, multiculturalism, etc anymore. Their bottom line is: they have to cut 150.000 teachers in 3 years and on this priority they are reforming our school system. The funny is.. it was all written in the list of expenses (Can I call it so the Finanziaria?) 2008.


    14/01/2010 at 17:52

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