Context Education

Education in Italy

Access to education is a universal human right, regardless of economic or legal status.



Article 34 of the Italian Constitution states that “schools are open to all”, recognising education as a fundamental right and in a condition of equal treatment to nationals for foreigners: education must be guaranteed and protected for all foreigners present in the territory of the State, both in terms of training, access to services and participation in the life of the school community, in accordance with the provisions of Article 38 of the Consolidated Act on Immigration (TUI).   

Over the last years, the Italian education system has been characterised by a constant rise of non-Italian students. At the end of the 2018 year, according to MIUR data, 9.7% of all students have migratory background. In terms of national origin, Romanians, Albanians, Moroccans and Chinese continue to represent the largest minority groups in primary and secondary education, data re-confirmed over the past decade. Alternating trends have been emerging recently and are connected with new arrivals and the recent increase of unaccompanied migrant minors.    

As for the education system, the general regulations on the right-duty to education include compulsory education for ten years and the obligation to receive education until 18 years of age, therefore obtaining a secondary school title or a professional qualification after at least three years.
Foreign minors in the Italian territory are subject to free-of-charge compulsory education, and all the provisions in force in the area of right to education, access to educational services and participation in the school community apply to them independently from their or their parents’ regular presence in Italy: indeed, the non-compliance with the right-duty to education of minors by their parents or by the persons in charge of them entails a criminal sanction.

The framework on the right to education for foreign minors also devotes particular attention to intercultural education by the school community, which welcomes language and cultural differences as a value at the basis of mutual respect and exchanges between cultures, therefore promoting initiatives aimed to the acceptance, the protection of the culture and the language of origin, and the implementation of common intercultural activities. In order to ensure a positive development of the learning process as well as social inclusion, the distribution of foreign students in the classes is limited to 30% of the total number of students enrolled in that class.

As from the moment in which foreign minors turn 16, those among them who did not fulfil their education obligations may attend the Provincial Education Centres for Adults (CPIA), which provide various courses including Italian, but also cultural activities and training for adults, as well as basic notions in civics and on the rights and duties of citizens. CPIAs support social cohesion and creation of occasion of development also through the collaboration with Employment Centres and other employment agencies, vocational training institutions and the Regions. The private sector also play a fundamental role in the education process and in job placement, by offering stages and apprenticeships. Concerning this latter form of training-on-the-job, TCN youths could participate if they are already in the country or still abroad by applying for a visa for training reasons.   

TCNs could also access to higher education, with different procedures depending on whether the student resides in Italy or abroad; although equal treatment is guaranteed also in this case, bureaucracy and long procedures are a huge burden to access Italian universities, especially when it comes to the recognition of qualifications obtained outside the EU.
In order to facilitate the inclusion in higher education of International Protection Holders, moreover, specific “educational corridors” for students and researchers are in place promoted by the UNHCR; in addition, the MoI, in collaboration with CRUI (Conference of Rectors of Italian Universities) and ANDISU (National Association of Organizations Promoting the Right to Education at the University Level), has been offering scholarships for them from 2016. 

For what concerns competences of the education system in Italy, the Ministry of Education (MIUR) establishes a general framework for school autonomy in order to ensure the uniformity of the Italian education system, then specific functions are assigned to provinces only for higher secondary education (15-19 years) and Municipalities, which carry out their specific educational functions through dedicated educational offices (Assessorati); finally, as regards the admission of foreigners and refugees at local level, the role played by individual educational institutions is very important.   

In this complex system, barriers hindering TCNs accessing education are various unfortunately, and vary according to the specific pathway of the student, being born or not born in Italy, the age, and so on. The first barriers to be considered are linguistics and cause delays in catching up with the requirements established by the system and early drop-out of students.
Linguistic barriers are also connected to the poor level of involvement and engagement of TCN students’ families: complex administrative bureaucratic procedures concerning documents to produce and provide increase if also Italian is not known. This obstacle relates to all school grades and sometimes prevents TCN students attending the educational system. 

According to the latest Report on foreign students in Italy (MIUR, 2018) more than 40% of fourteen-year-old students with non-Italian citizenship are behind in terms of education. Moreover, the learning delay of foreign students can also be attributed to non-admission and repetition.
An alarming consequence of late education is undoubtedly drop-out, phenomenon analysed through the European indicator of Early Leaving from Education and Training (ELET), which shows that foreign students are those at higher risk of dropping out, with a number equal to 32.8% compared to a national average of 13.8% (higher than the 2020 European target equal to 10%)(MIUR, 2018). 

Finally, also economic barriers need to be taken into consideration, especially when higher education is concerned: the costs of university (direct costs like university fees, accommodation, transport; and indirect costs like the fact that students do not normally work during their studies) charge to the households, especially for the most vulnerable immigrant families.

Apart from these “hard” barriers, academics have also identified several “soft” barriers to education: among these, the lack of family and friends support; a lower level of social capital; a personal but also a family gap between immigrants and Italian students; several language related issues and their symbolic implications. Nonetheless, despite the existence of these barriers, the presence of young immigrant students in Italian universities is increasing significantly.

To conclude, access to education is a universal human right, regardless of economic or legal status. However, access alone is not sufficient if it is not combined with quality education and training and supported by educational and social pathways which meet students’ learning needs and aspirations.
Whilst integration is a challenge for most migrants, obstacles are likely to be more pronounced amongst migrant youth population: facilitate and enhance the inclusion of students with migratory background is fundamental to guarantee them equal opportunities for their future as well as enable them to be a resource for the country they live in; moreover, this also promotes the development of the other students who are enriched by the diversity, as well as the integration pathways of their families too.      


In Italy, as in several other countries, the lockdown caused the closure of the whole school system and its re-organization in a virtual modality (the so-called DAD). The shutdown of educational institutions disrupted students’ learning process at all levels, with disproportionate impacts on poor children in general and migrant children in particular.

Online learning reinforces the role of families in supporting students’ learning. Students with immigrant parents tend have parents with, on average, lower education and poorer socio-economic resources, and who may have a lower understanding of the education system. Also language barriers are more challenging when instruction is online.
The government promoted some measures to support families in coping with the new arrangements, however, the measures were limited in time and availability.

Together with consequences on the educational system, the pandemic had also an impact on the International students who were in Italy: many diaspora organizations reported the struggle of graduates/post-graduates who had lost their side jobs, were unable to leave the country because of mobility restrictions and were therefore supported by the associations to afford basic needs.

The pandemic had consequences on the remote learning for adults as well. Although innovative tools and methodologies were put in place, such online learning has proved difficult for low-educated immigrants, especially at early stages of language learning, leading to delays in both language learning and broader social integration.

Social isolation, moreover, had adverse emotional effects such as an increase in feelings or fear, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and trauma. Furthermore, the substantial economic impact of the crisis has resulted in reduced job security.
These groups have a larger chance to encounter emotional or practical problems that interfere with their study or work.

While the potential learning loss may be largely temporary, other elements associated with the absence of traditional schooling, such as lower educational aspirations or the disengagement from the school system, can have a long-term impact on students’ outcomes.
Social isolation from host country natives who could help with informal learning is also a concern.
The short- and long-term effects will vary significantly according to students’ age and socioeconomic condition with the risk of further widening inequalities in access, opportunity, permanence and overall performance.

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