NAPLES, ITALY - 14 APRIL 2021: Francesco Saturno, a 13 years old third grade student, posese for a portrait at his home in Ponticelli, a district in the outskirts of Naples, Italy, on April 14th 2021. Francesco spent his mornings helping in his grandfather’s fruit shop, sleeping in or glued to his Playstation. He only twice logged on to his online class. His mother, Angela Esposito, 33, who herself dropped out of high school, worried that he might leave school and follow in the footsteps of his father, who earns tips of loose change for babysitting parked cars in Naples. “I am scared that if he doesn’t go to school he is going to get lost,” she said. “And getting lost in Naples is dangerous.”
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Italy had among the highest dropout rates in the European Union. But over the last year it has kept its schools at least in part closed about three times longer than France, and more than Spain or Germany and just about all other member states, severing a lifeline for some of the most challenged children and fueling fears of an education crisis.
Experts argued that by at least partially closing its schools for 35 weeks, Italy, already lagging behind the rest of Europe in key educational indicators and hoping for a strong post-pandemic recovery, had threatened its long term prospects. The country with Europe’s oldest population has risked leaving behind its youth, which is its greatest and rarest resource.
While it is too early for reliable statistics, teachers, principals, advocates and social workers say they have seen a sharp increase in the number of students falling out of the system. Even those who stayed in are clearly falling behind.
The problem is especially acute around the southern city of Naples. Schools here have remained closed longer than the rest of the country, in part because the president of the wider Campania region, Vincenzo De Luca, insisted they were a potential source of infection. At one point, h