By Guido Romeo
Lacking investments and with no reliable evaluation system, Italian schools' education capacity seem bound to shrink ever more rapidly.
With no reliable evaluation system and a persistent lacking of funds, the educational capacity of Italian schools seem bound to shrink even more rapidly. In its eagerness to contain Italy's enormous debt, the government has compounded the problem with its latest budget cuts to schools and support for student families.
One of the most worrisome consequences is likely to be a further decreased emphasis on tracking the school dropout rate, a widely underreported and very complex issue now at the core of one of Ahref Foundation's collaborative inquiries: «La scuola abbandonata»..
The project is aimed at uncovering the many aspects of school dropout, both through traditional journalistic reporting and participatory storytelling of those directly involved in the school system, as well as an array of data retrieval. The combination of these elements will be able to more accurately describe what is happening to one of Italy's most vital resources in remaining competitive and fair in the future.
Data on school dropout from Italian provinces provided by Istat; OECD and Bank of Italy's research center, highlight a high ratio of dropout, with many students failing to graduate from secondary school and often loosing access to any kind of higher education forever.
The many reasons behind this dramatic educational bleeding are carefully addressed in this project, but one consequence is already very clear: only 1 out of 5 young Italians between the age of 18 to 24 years hold a secondary educational diploma. This ratio is bound to have dire and profound consequences on Italy's future capacity for innovation and performance in that knowledge economy at the center of Lisbon strategy for Europe.
Finding useful data to describe this situation in detail is the task of the project in the coming weeks. It is not an easy task, as there is no comprehensive database and figures often have to be pooled and linked in order to draw a consistent picture at National level.
In this perspective, a useful and greatly inspiring piece of work is provided by ProPublica's recent investigation on investments and the quality of schools.
ProPublica's Jenny La Fleur and her team scoured a rich government database to produce an impressive series of reports pinpointing which institutions across the United States offer better courses and have the best performing students.
ProPublica's work is very valuable, as their reporters are good at explaining the methods and rationale behind the database construction. Moreover, exploiting the current positive trends toward data journalism and citizen involvement, they have developed an interactive app ("The Opportunity Gap”) which enables citizens to compare the performance of schools (and their districts) across the country. This simple tool provides a greater awareness and an accurate information about specific school districts, including which schools offer the best courses and which schools need improvement.
This is another good example of how an original inquiry, combined with today’s digital technologies, might turn journalism's first rough draft of history into a longer lasting tool of progress and development.
(By Elisabetta Tola)