Cristina is a wonderful person indeed. She studies and achieves the highest marks. Her average grade is among 9 and 9.5/10. Furthermore, this year, with her Italian teacher’s help, she has placed first — ex-aequo with other three young — at a national writing competition in which more than 1400 students from all over Italy took part. It looks like Mother Nature has been really focused on her person, giving her a bunch of personal resources. Anyway, Cristina is still a teenager. She’s living her teens life with the typical uneasiness of the youth. The world of the adults is always overwhelmed by her positivity.
Her high-school teachers are really demanding on her, maybe even too much. Her human relationships happen to be sometimes sacrificed in favour of a deep, accurate, even obsessive learning. Study is everything: this is what Cristina perceives from her teachers. She is always troubled because of the high-level performance expected from her. Sometimes, she cannot really stand these expectations. She lives constantly stressed by the idea that failing a school test may undermine the trust her teachers gave her. She comes to the idea that she needs a year abroad to improve her English. She decides for England as the country and London as the city for her grade-11 school year. The school is good — an average Anglo-Saxon school.
There’s one thing, though, that she acknowledges as completely different from the Italian school system: learning is not characterised by anxiousness or struggle, but rather by joy and relief.
You go to school to learn; and in London it seems that people go to school to feel good too. It’s completely different from the daily Italian hell that teachers obliged her to live because of tests, homework, grades, end-of-term grading meetings, risk of failure or conditional advancement to the next grade based on failed classes. There, the school system is focused on the student’s well-being. All the teachers are interested in the student’s school-life quality, as well as in the continuous monitoring of learning and developing of school programmes.
At the end of the school, Cristina questions herself on a very important topic: why should I go back to Italy if here in England I could finish school one year earlier and live more peacefully?
I meet her again in October, a couple of months after the beginning of the school year, at her Italian high school, to let her tell me her London experience.
She lets off steam for her current school situation, telling me she is suffering a lot for the school change. She’s almost regretting her decision of coming back to Italy. Then, I ask what convinced her to come back to a stressful school system. She naively but also firmly replies that she believes the Anglo-Saxon school she attended (A-level) is more engaging for sure, but probably the school subjects are not as deeply studied as in Italy. In Italy, then, you study more. For her, coming back to Italy meant improving her general level of knowledge. Risking a stressful situation didn’t discourage her.
It’s been several years since the Anglo-Saxon system got rid of school failures. When failing, the student is guided in the most suitable direction. Everybody passes the school year, but they are guided towards schools and subjects that are more appropriate to their learning profiles. To some degree, the student creates their own study plan based on their personality, their predisposition and also their school success or failure. The schoolaims at favouring the student’s future working field and always offers the opportunity to switch from a high school to a vocational school, whether it is the student who changes their mind, or whether it’s due to a change in the school performance of the student.
In a school that works for the student’s well-being, moving from focusing on the evaluation of the student’s performance, to the evaluation of the most suitable school path according to the student’s own skills, is a Copernican revolution. Moving from a system focused on the school organisation — and especially on the organisation of the staff — to a system focused on the student’s choices, means reconsidering the majority of priorities onto which the school should work.
School of the future, school of tomorrow, or dream school?
I strongly hope that the International School of Talents rising from this book will be able to create new horizons of strategic choices, starting from a National-political level. Yes, I believe this is the level from where to start while the State, Regions and Local Institutions come to a collaborative decision on their institutional duties.
To sum up, we may say that Cristina’s experience teaches us that the Italian school can stand for the cultural preparation it gives to students, on an international scene. It only needs to acknowledge its own means, supporting learning in an environment focused on choices rather than evaluation. Montessori docet.
Peaceful environment, balanced personal growth, educational community caring for the individual, knowledgeable school directors are the perfect match for creating a truly people-oriented school.
Head of GSO School