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Gisella Langé, Ministry of Education, Italy

Gisella Langé, Foreign Languages Inspector at the Italian Ministry of Education, talks to The PIE about how Italy is internationalising its education system, as well as the driving forces behind student mobility and barriers to study abroad.

The PIE: So what do you do within the Ministry of Education?

"In my opinion, long stays abroad are much, much, much better. If we could organise long stays for our students, that would be the best choice"

GL: My role is to advice on language policy at the Ministry of Education, to advise and also prepare bills of law, degrees, that will orient our Minister and our administrators in developing language policies.

The PIE: What do you think is the biggest driver of change in internationalisation in Italian education?

GL: The biggest driver for change is teachers’ mind set as for their own competencies, and the fast that they understand that what they are doing is no longer proving to be efficient is the first driver to make them change, and also the opportunity of developing new teacher training programmes and activities and focus on new methodologies. At first we focussed on language teachers and communicative language methodology, developing not only grammar and translation as it was used in the past but developing speaking, listening – interacting in the foreign language.

“All final years will have a subject taught in a foreign language. We are not yet ready for that!”

And the second step has been the introduction of CLIL [Content and Language Integrated Learning] methodology of integrated language learning, involving teachers of other subjects who are improving their own language knowledge, but improving their own methodology as well.

The PIE: So under that methodology, all final year students will have to take a subject in a foreign language, is that right?

GL: All final years will have a subject taught in a foreign language. We are not yet ready for that!

The PIE: So in practical terms, how is that being implemented?

GL: For implementation we have introduced transitory norms. Teacher training plans have been postponed for different reasons but about 5,000 teachers are now attending language courses. One thousand teachers have already ended up their methodological learning path, and more, about 2,000 teachers, will be involved in a new methodological learning path. We separate language from methodology because if you are not at B2 [CEFR] level minimum you cannot possibly convey a subject in a foreign language because you do not have the competence. So we are trying to make them understand they can start in their classes, they have a minimum B2 ability, and also the support of the foreign language teachers and foreign language assistants. There will be teams that develop modules or language learning together, and then the person with the best language competencies offer these modules to the class.

“5,000 teachers are now attending language courses”

The PIE: Will students be able to choose which subject they take?

GL: Unfortunately there is no choice in our schools. You have fixed curricula, fixed subjects, so the school chooses the subject according to the teachers who have the competencies. And, for example, in a scientific upper secondary school it can be Physics, it ca be Mathematics, it can be Philosophy, it can be Physical Education. They just happen to have a teacher of a subject that will develop that subject in that language – because it may not be only English, 99% is English but there are also other possibilities for other languages as well.

The PIE: What languages would they be?

GL: We’re not actually offering all the European languages, I must be sincere. We can only think of German, French, Spanish and that’s it. Eventually they could use Chinese, Japanese, but that’s a mission impossible.

The PIE: Of course! Tell me about some of the bilateral agreements you have.

GL: It is typical in our country to write Memoranda of Understanding between two countries; in some cases involving a third partner. These bilateral agreements are a set of decisions that must be implemented. We do have bilateral agreements with France and this is the strongest one because it is a double diploma choice. Whereas we have a bilateral agreement with some counties or some regions and in that case it won’t be the national Italian government but the region of Lombardy, for example, developing special programmes or projects mainly meant for the exchange of students, the exchange of teachers, staying in a school for a year. So these are the bilateral activities that can be done according to what each partner offers.

The PIE: Research shows the number of Italian students embarking on long-term study abroad has increased has increased by 55% in three years. What’s driving that?

“We are also trying our best to focus not only on language stays, language courses, but work experience”

GL: We have been lucky for some Italian regions to have some special funding for students, so the PON team has emphasised the number of pupils going abroad, and the PON activities will be developed not only for the four regions that have been using this funding up to now. This money will be used also for all the other Italian regions, so we will have 20 regions. We are just right now defining the new way of organising PON. That will definitely increase the number of students going abroad, and I personally suggest of course these short stays but in my opinion, long stays are much, much, much better. If we could organise long stays for our students, that would be the best choice.

We are also trying our best to focus not only on language stays, language courses, but work experience, so the next step will be of course study languages, but also work experiences in different countries, which is in the general idea of the Erasmus+ programme as well, so if we are able to work well with the Erasmus programme we will definitely move forward. A big leap will be done.

The PIE: Do you have a target number of students to send abroad?

“If we are able to work well with the Erasmus programme we will definitely move forward”

GL: We do not have a target number of students because we don’t know exactly how many go abroad. There are many private organisations that have students going abroad and parents pay for them. That is something I would like to do, but that means that you really need to make very detailed surveys that are not so easy to be financed and to find the right people to do them. But that is definitely something very important we should focus on.

The PIE: Other than money, what would you say is the main barrier to study abroad for Italian students?

GL: The main barrier is cultural, in my opinion. I’ve been trying my best to activate different links between schools. I’ve started in the ‘80s with primary school children going to France for some short stays, and in order to implement that project we had to work hard, because parents didn’t want to leave their children and children would go away and say ‘Mama, Mama, I’m missing you!’ so it’s really a problem because it’s difficult to cut ties and any experience abroad, short or long, is something that gives an intercultural shock.

Things have changed now; we’re having more and more students developing their own personal mobility plan, and also parents are more and more aware of having them attend courses or a school year in another country. Yet it is slowly opening, in my opinion; it should change at a faster pace, because for example a project I was mentioning is no longer happening because you need people to keep on and on and one. It’s not so easy.

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