NAPLES, ITALY - 14 APRIL 2021: Domenico Mazzella Di Bosco (57), principal of the "Melissa Bassi" high school, walks up the stairs of the school in Scampia, a district in the outskirts of Naples, Italy, on April 14th 2021. Teachers at the Melissa Bassi high school had made significant progress in getting local children into school through art projects, workshops and personal tutoring. The challenge is enormous as there is no phone reception in some of the neighborhood’s most neglected housing projects, children are often crammed with multiple family members into a few rooms, and are easily discouraged, teachers said.
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, he mocked the notion that children in his region were “crying to go to school.” Betwe