Letter from… Rome
By Maurizio Maione
This week five and a half million students have returned to their classrooms for the first time since early March. A milestone for our country as it struggles with the uncertainties of the coronavirus.
It seemed that every spokesperson for every organisation felt the urge to declare their good wishes… and to protest.
Political confrontation – even if not literally quarrelling – appears to be the essence of this long stage two of the pandemic in Italy. Almost anything provides the opportunity to start endless discussions and accusations of doing, or not doing, this or that. And so it has been all summer: Discos and seaside locations accused (with some justification, to be fair) of being incubators for a second wave. Famous citizens, including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (who tested positive for the virus), being singled out and condemned for the toll their summer vacations were claiming.
The re-opening of the schools has provided a new opportunity for this theme. We spend six weeks discussing how to switch from shared desks to single-study stations. Mayors and Local Authorities, who are responsible for school education in Italy, supported by the national association of teachers argued it would be impossible to re-open school on September 14th due to the late arrival of rules and funds from the central Government.
Then there was the rush to have all teachers and other school staff tested for the virus on the same day. A titanic effort accomplished without providing much reassurance to those deeply concerned about re-opening schools ahead of the next wave of the pandemic.
And then the day arrived. As so often in Italy, the storm – widely anticipated – was smaller than the teacup in which it was brought. The efforts of staff, the unrealised concerns mixed with fatalistic optimism from the citizens resulted in another Italian miracle.
To me, and this has largely gone unnoticed, it seems we have an opportunity to transform the accident of covid into an opportunity to run and manage the largest school reforms in decades. This could be a “good fruit” to pick up at the end of this long social winter when we were stuck in our homes. With access to EU funds to add some technology and the good sense to wipe away the dust covering our education system we can transform the situation. However, what seems to be lacking, unfortunately, is the vision. And this brings me back to politics, so another round of polemics is just waiting around the corner.