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Teachers left behind as Italians head overseas

Italy Nicu Buculei

Italian secondary schools are becoming more international. In 2013 there was a surge in students going abroad to study – 55 per cent more than in 2012 – and 68 per cent of schools were participating in international activities, Claudia Civinini writes. The process, however, seems to have left some teachers behind.

This is what emerged from the National Observatory on School Internationalisation and Student Mobility’s 2015 annual report. The organisation was created by the Italian non-for-profit student exchange association Intercultura, with its surveys conducted by market researchers Ipsos.

The report gauged the internationalisation of Italian secondary schools by canvassing 480 teachers and 63 head teachers on their involvement in international projects such as student exchanges and international work experience for teachers. On the whole, it seems head teachers are satisfied with the internationalisation process. But while students and parents are enthusiastic, some teachers are still hesitant.

These ambivalent teachers are ‘local’ – they’ve never been abroad for professional reasons except school trips – and represent 60 per cent of the total. Just 22 per cent are classified as ‘open’, with no experience but still interested in international activities. Only 18 per cent of teachers were defined ‘international’ – they’ve had least one year abroad for study, work or professional development reasons, with 42 per cent of these going to the UK.

The profile of this last category tends to the stereotypical ‘young female language teacher’, even though more than half of all language teachers have never had long-term experiences abroad. More than 57 per cent of English teachers rated their English proficiency as medium to low. Most teachers felt their contribution to international activities at school was insufficient. Only one in three teachers would accept an offer of international experience, such as language courses abroad or professional development.

On the bright side, 58 per cent of teachers supported their students’ international experiences, especially an academic year abroad – although some consider it ‘a waste of time’ as students often need to catch up with the curriculum on their return home. Just under half of teachers and head teachers would advise their students to choose a European destination. Head teachers are more likely to choose an anglophone country (42 per cent) compared to only 10 per cent indicating ‘any country’.

There was broad agreement that there’s not enough funding for international activities. This could change with the extension of Pon EU funds to all Italian regions. Meanwhile, head teachers cite the dispiriting bureaucracy surrounding funded projects such as Erasmus+. They report that these projects – especially those aimed at teacher development – are seldom well advertised. Only 18 per cent of all international projects were aimed at teachers – 11 per cent for teacher mobility and the rest for e-twinning and partnership programmes.

Pic courtesy: Nicu Buculei