NAPLES, ITALY - 14 APRIL 2021: A mother and her two daughters walk in Ponticelli. a district in the outskirts of Naples, Italy, on April 14th 2021.
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.” Between September and January, high school students in Naples only physically went to school for 27 days, according to the humanitarian organization Save the Children, a national low. In Naples, the dropout rate is about 20 percent, twice the European average and in the city’s outskirts it is even higher. Teachers there have struggled to keep students interested in school, and worry that months of closed classrooms would shut students out for good.