The Italian early education and care is characterized be a three prong strategy (state,communal,private). Enactment of a law that entitled children between ages 3-6 to free education and another law in 1971 establishing infant/toddler centers that also receive parental financial contributions have land marked an early care program that has been strongly backed and approved by parents especially mothers.(Rebecca.S.New) Italy has been consistent in its efforts to combine concepts of social service with education thus helping young families enormously. 95% of children between ages 3-6 attend some kind of school-municipal,national or private.New legislation in 1998 requires for pre school teachers to hold a university level degree.Vast majority of cities with communal pre-schools also conduct workshops for teachers .In 1969,The Ministry introduced "Guidelines for Educational Activity" which advocated strong collaboration with parents, religious education and play. (OECD Country note,May2001)
As for children above age 6, education in Italy is state-controlled and all schools, both public and private, are subject to comply with the curricula and teaching methods laid down by the Ministry of Public Education .Education is compulsory and free of charge for all children between the ages of 6 and 14 and is segmented into 5 classes at elementary level and 3 classes at lower secondary level (middle school).(The Italian Education System, January 2,2001). The curriculum at the elementary level is centered on providing a solid foundation in reading, writing, and mathematics.
Two significant philosophies in early education founded in Italy that have captured the world's attention setting the pace for educational standards and influencing alternative ,educational concepts both inside Italy and around the world are:
The Montessori Concept
The Reggio Emilia approach
Dr Maria Montessori,the first woman in Italy to become a physician, founded the Montessori system of education in 1907 in Rome. Her major discovery was that children teach themselves.She believed in a prepared classroom designed to make children choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities leading to self-discovery in learning. ( Website of the Montessori Foundation and the International Montessori Council ).The Reggio Emilia was founded in the town of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy by professor Loris Malaguzzi. (Lella Gandini,1993) Children explore themes and learn through short and long projects inspired spontaneously by children's curiosity , social concerns of parents ,or a random chance event..With no established curriculum,the child learns in her own sense of time and personal rhythm. Other innovative pre-school education and care programs in Pastoia and Milan have focused on the integral relationship between the need of the children and the community as a whole. Some of their ground-breaking policies include enrichment programs for parents and grand parents and a high level of interaction between diverse families of young children with one another and with the professionals. The general goal seems to be to foster