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Education System


Education System of Italy


Education in Italy is compulsory from 6 to 16 years of age, and is divided into five stages: kindergarten (scuola dell'infanzia), primary school (scuola primaria or scuola elementare), lower secondary school (scuola secondaria di primo grado or scuola media inferiore), upper secondary school (scuola secondaria di secondo grado or scuola media superiore) and university (università). Education is free in Italy and free education is available to children of all nationalities who are residents in Italy. Italy has both a private and public education system.

The Programme for International Student Assessment coordinated by the OECD currently ranks the overall knowledge and skills of Italian 15-year-olds as 34th in the world in reading literacy, mathematics, and science, significantly below the OECD average of 493. The average performance OECD of Italian 15-year-olds in science has declined largely, with the share of low performers in science and reading developing a sharp upward trend. Italy's share of top performers in reading and science has also declined.

Italy has a long history of over 3000 years. Modern Italy or the Italian Republic came into being in the year 1946, soon after World War II. Italy practices parliamentary democracy and is one of the founding members of the European Union. Italy has about 150 cities and townships, out of which Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin, and Venice are the major cities. While Italian is the official language of Italy and is widely used, there are pockets where French, German and Greek are predominant. The current population of Italy is about 60 million and the per capita income is pegged at about US$ 33,000. Education is given high prominence in Italy. It has a high literacy rate; of 99% amongst both men and women. The Government spends about approximately 9% of its total budget on education and a large percentage of this goes to secondary education. About 18 % of the education budget is spent on higher / tertiary education.

The Italian Constitution under Article 34 establishes the principle of the right of individual citizens to education. All children between the ages of six to sixteen are offered free compulsory education. Education is offered by private as well as public bodies. The primary and secondary schools in Italy are of good repute. However, most primary education schools give priority to rote memorization and obedience rather than to creativity and innovation.

Compulsory Education

In Italy, 10 years of education is compulsory i.e. from 6 to 16 years. All children in this age group must enroll and attend a recognized school. However, in the last two years (from 14 to 16 years of age), students have a choice to complete their education in either state-run upper secondary school or through a three-year vocational education and training course.

Primary to Secondary Schooling

In primary and secondary schools, students are taught Italian, English, history, geography, social studies, natural sciences, mathematics, visual and musical arts, and physical education.

A typical higher secondary class will have about an average of 20 students. Some higher secondary schools charge for tuition, but eligible students who have lower family incomes get a waiver in fees.

At the end of higher secondary schooling, students must appear for a state examination. Only those students who have successfully cleared the state exam can take admission to a university or enroll for AFAM tertiary education.

Higher Education

Generally, higher education in Italy includes Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral courses which are provided by universities, technical universities, institutes, academies, and by a number of professional training institutions related to commerce, e-technologies, fashion, etc. Most of the existing universities and institutions were established by the Government. Degree programs are structured in credits (credit formativi Universitari-CFU at universities and crediti formativi accademici-CFA at AFAM institutions).

Vocational Education

The Vocational Education Training (VET) system is organized into three-year courses, leading to the award of professional operator certificate (Attestato di Qualifica di Operatore Professionale), and four-year). courses leading to a professional technician diploma (Diploma Professionale di Tecnico). The first two years in VET provide general guidance and awareness to the students about various vocational specializations. In the third and fourth years, students have to undergo practical training in their respective fields.

AFAM System

The Institutes of High Training in Art and Music (AFAM), which is a group of 132 institutes, cover teaching, production, and research activities in the field of visual arts, performing art, and design.

The AFAM training system comprises of three levels:

  • The first level academic diploma has three years of training in mastery of methods and art techniques.
  • The second level diploma has a duration of two years and covers higher artistic methods and techniques.
  • The third-level academic diploma has a minimum duration of three years with training in planning and carrying out research activities.


In the 2009/2010 school year, there were approximately 10,155 schools in Italy with 366476 classes up to secondary level.

There are about 89 major universities / higher education institutions in Italy including:

  • 58 State universities
  • 17 state universities (legally recognized by the State)
  • 2 universities for foreigners
  • 6 higher schools specialized in postgraduate university studies
  • 6 telematic universities

Italy recognizes good education as requisite for healthy life and occupation; hence qualifications are given prime importance. Very few school pass-outs go directly for employment without acquiring a diploma, degree, or professional qualification. Italians are proud of having the highest ratio of university students in the world (64% attend tertiary education). Italy is definitely one of the learning centers of the world.


In Italy, a state school system or Education System has existed since 1859 when the Legge Casati (Casati Act) mandated educational responsibilities for the forthcoming Italian state (Italian unification took place in 1861). The Casati Act made primary education compulsory and had the goal of increasing literacy. This law gave control of primary education to the single towns, of secondary education to the provinces, and the universities were managed by the State. Even with the Casati Act and compulsory education, in rural (and southern) areas children often were not sent to school (the rate of children enrolled in primary education would reach 90% only after 70 years) and the illiteracy rate (which was nearly 80% in 1861) took more than 50 years to halve.

The next important law concerning the Italian education system was the Legge Gentile. This act was issued in 1923, thus when Benito Mussolini and his National Fascist Party were in power. In fact, Giovanni Gentile was appointed the task of creating an education system deemed fit for the fascist system. The compulsory age of education was raised to 14 years, and was somewhat based on a ladder system: after the first five years of primary education, one could choose the 'Scuola media', which would give further access to the "liceo" and other secondary education, or the 'avviamento al lavoro' (work training), which was intended to give a quick entry into the low strates of the workforce. The reform enhanced the role of the Liceo Classico, created by the Casati Act in 1859 (and intended during the Fascist era as the peak of secondary education, with the goal of forming the future upper classes), and created the Technical, Commercial and Industrial institutes, and the Liceo Scientifico. The Liceo Classico was the only secondary school that gave access to all types of higher education until 1968. The influence of Gentile's Idealism was great, and he considered the Catholic religion to be the "foundation and crowning" of education. In 1962 the 'avviamento al lavoro' was abolished, and all children up to 14 years had to follow a single program, encompassing primary education (scuola elementare) and middle school (scuola media).

From 1962 to the present day, the main structure of Italian primary (and secondary) education remained largely unchanged, even if some modifications were made: a narrowing of the gap between males and females (through the merging of the two distinct programs for technical education, and the optional introduction of mixed-gender gym classes), a change in the structure of secondary school (Legge Berlinguer) and the creation of new licei, 'istituti tecnici' and 'istituti professionali', giving the student more choices in their paths.

In 1999, in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the Bologna Process, the Italian university system switched from the old system (Vecchio ordinamento, which led to the traditional 5-year Laurea degree), to the new system (Nuovo ordinamento). The Nuovo ordinamento split the former Laurea into two tracks: the Laurea Triennale (a three-year degree akin to the Bachelor's Degree), followed by the 2-year Laurea specialistica (Master's Degree), the latter renamed Laurea Magistrale in 2007. A credit system was established to quantify the amount of work needed by each course and exam (25 work hours = 1 credit), as well as enhance the possibility to change the course of studies and facilitate the transfer of credits for further studies or go on exchange (e.g. Erasmus Programme) in another country. However, it is now established that there is just a five-year degree "Laurea Magistrale a Ciclo Unico" for programs such as Law and a six-year degree for Medicine.

In 2019, Education minister Lorenzo Fioramonti announced that in 2020 Italy would become the first country in the world where the study of climate change and sustainable development will be mandatory for students.

Education Stages

  • Education in Italy progresses in stages, and is currently structured in the following manner:

Pre‐Primary Education

Pre‐primary education is imparted in kindergarten schools to children between the ages of 3 and 6 years. In Italy, pre-primary school is known as Scuola materna. It is not compulsory for a child to attend preschool. Government-run pre-schools offer free facilities while some privately run schools charge fees.

The first series of compulsory education, lasting 8 years, begins in primary and lower secondary schools.

Primary Schools

The duration of primary education is five years and it is for children between the ages of 6 and 11 years. Primary schooling is known as Scuola Primaria/elementary and is compulsory for children.

It is a primary school that children learn to read and write and study Italian, English, the basics of science and mathematics, computer studies, geography, social studies, and even religion (this is optional).

The five years of primary schooling help the formative preparation and each primary class in the Italian school has 10 to 25 pupils.

Lower Secondary Schools

Lower secondary schooling is known as Scuola media and like primary schooling, it is compulsory as well. The duration of lower secondary education is three years and it is for children aged between 11 to 14 years.

All lower secondary students must attend 30 hours of classes per week. Depending on the demand and interest of the students, some schools conduct additional classes which may go up to 40 hours per week. These additional classes include computer exercises, foreign language, sports education, music/art lessons, and chess clubs. In every term of the lower secondary schooling, students get a report from teachers indicating his/her aptitude, behavior, and achievement during the term.

Upper Secondary Schooling - the second series of compulsory education with two career paths

The duration of upper secondary school is five years and it is for students aged between 14 and 19 years. Upper secondary schooling is known as Scuola's superior. It is compulsory for students to undertake two years of general studies (biennio), followed by an optional and specialized course (triennio) which takes three years to complete. All students are exposed to a state-directed curriculum during the two years of general studies. The syllabus for this includes Italian language and literature, school science and mathematics, foreign languages, religion (optional), geography and history, social studies, and physical education. In the third year of upper secondary level i.e. during triennio, specialized courses (indirizzi) begin and this is only for those students who have opted for it. While the upper secondary course is in progress a 15‐year old student has the option to attend the last year of compulsory education through apprenticeship.

Depending on the career choice of the students at this time, they have to choose a suitable course. They have to decide whether they plan to enter a university or want to obtain a vocational qualification.

Upper secondary schools are classified into two categories: the Liceo, which has a general academic essence, and the Istituto, which emphasizes vocational practice. Every Italian district has at least one classic school, a science school, and a technical/vocational school.

Students who wish to obtain an upper secondary school diploma (diploma di maturita), must pass some written and oral exams. The nature of the exams is as follows:

  1. Examination 1 is writing an essay in Italian on any aspect of literature, history, society, or science
  2. Examination 2 is writing a research paper related to the chosen specialization
  3. Examination 3 is about contemporary and general issues and a test in a chosen foreign language
  4. Examination 4 is an oral examination that assesses the students about their learning in the final year course, their future plans, etc.

On passing the above examinations a diploma is awarded to the candidate. This upper secondary school diploma is generally considered a qualifier to enter university. Not all diplomas are qualifiers to university education; students must check whether a particular diploma is a qualifier before enrolling into upper secondary schools.

Specialized Upper Secondary Schools

There are various specialized upper secondary schools which students can choose as per their area of interest. Specialized courses are offered by liceoi, technical institutes, and vocational institutes.

  • Classical High School (Liceo Classico): This five-year upper secondary program prepares a student for university education. An important part of the curriculum of this program is a course in  Latin, Greek, and Italian literature. In the last three years of this course, philosophy and the history of art are also taught.
  • Scientific High School (Liceo Scientifico): Physics, chemistry, and natural sciences are the major subjects of this course and it takes five years to complete this. A student needs to study Latin and one modern language.
  • Fine Arts High School (Liceo Artistico): This course prepares a student for university studies in painting, sculpture, or architecture and it takes three to five years to complete.
  • Teacher Training School (Istituto Magistrale): This course takes three to five years. Preparation for primary school teachers takes five years, while training courses to become nursery school teachers takes only three years. Teacher training diploma holders have to seek employment after completion of this course since they cannot enroll in university education.
  • Artistic Schools (Istituto d'Arte): This is a three-year course that trains a student to work in the art field of art and leads to an arts diploma (diploma di Maestro d'Arte).
  • Technical Institutes (Istituti Tecnici): This five-year course prepares a student for both university studies and for a vocation. A majority of students in technical schools get trained to work in a technical faculty with application in agriculture, industry, or commerce.
  • Professional Institutes (Istituti Professionali): These three or five-year courses help a student to achieve a vocational qualification in a particular profession.
Higher Education in Italy
University is open to all students who have qualified to enter. Generally, the required qualifications are five years of secondary school education and a diploma from upper secondary school. Students who have attended vocational schools also can attend a university, Students who have attended a four-year secondary school program need to complete an additional year of schooling to qualify for university.

The style and process of education at the university level are very different from that of secondary education. Currently, higher education in Italy follows the Bologna structure, a specific set of higher education practices followed by 43 countries.

Bologna's structure came into being from a series of reforms intended to make higher education in Europe more competitive, attractive, and more effective. The three principal objectives of the Bologna process are:
  •  the introduction of the three-cycle system (bachelor/master/doctorate)
  •  quality assurance in education, and
  •  recognition of qualifications and duration of the study.

Based on the Bologna structure, higher education in Italy is divided into three distinct categories:

  • University education,
  • Higher-level artistic and musical training,
  • Higher-level technical training and
  • Other higher education opportunities.

Italian university education has three main cycles of coursework. They are as follows:

First Cycle is known as Primo Ciclo
There are two programs in the first cycle
  • Bachelor’s program known as Corso di Laurea with three years’ duration
  • Single-cycle degree known as Corso di Laurea Magistrale a Ciclo Unico with five to six years’ duration

The Second Cycle is known as Secondo Ciclo

The second cycle has two programs as well

  • Master’s program known as Corso di Laurea Magistrale with two years’ duration
  • First Llevel vocational master Master Universitario di Primo Livello

The third Cycle is known as Terzo Ciclo

There are three programs in this cycle

  • Doctorate  known as Dottorato di Ricerca
  • Specialisation school known as Scuola di Specializzazione
  • Second level vocational master known as  Master Universitario di Secondo Livello

Teaching in Italian universities usually takes place in large lecture halls and students are expected to take initiative for self-study outside the classroom to prepare for exams. Recently, courses over the web named telematic education have started gaining momentum in Italy.

Some of the oldest universities in the world are in Italy. The oldest is the University of Bologna which started in the year 1088., The word “university” was coined at its foundation. The University of Padua was established in the year 1222.

Non-University Higher Education

The non-university higher education sector can be categorized under four heads associated with specific institutions:

  • First is higher schools of design which includes polytechnics for the arts, academies of fine arts, higher institutes for applied arts, music conservatories and recognized music institutes, higher institutes for musical and choreographic studies, national academies.
  • Second, being higher schools for language mediators.
  • Third is higher integrated education (FIS) i.e.: programs of higher technical education and training (IFTS)
  • The fourth category includes various fields and institutions under the supervision of ministries other than that of Education such as archiving, diplomatics, restoration, military studies, etc.

Educational Policy and Regulation of Education

The Ministry of Education, Universities, and Research (MIUR) regulates educational policies. It implements its policies through subordinate institutions at the national and local levels.  For the Primary and Secondary stages of education, there is a national curriculum directed by the Ministry of Public Education.

At the national level, there are three departments that direct and implement educational policy based on the guidelines of the Ministry. These are:

  • Department of Education
  • Department for ministerial planning and for ministerial management of the education budget, human resources, and information
  • Department for the universities, higher education establishments in art, music, and dance

At the regional level, the Regional Education “Uffici”, which are autonomous administrative centers, support and aid the schools by disseminating and implementing the policies received formulated by the departments.

The principles of subsidiary and autonomy determine the institution of education in Italy. The Ministry charts out its policies to ensure uniform and minimum standards of education throughout the country. The regional offices have the liberty to lay down programs suited to their respective regions but within the overall guidelines of the Ministry. Schools have an autonomous status for determining didactic methodologies, organizing educational events/procedures, and taking up research and development activities.

Grading System

Credit and grading systems are linked. A student is awarded credits for a course/module only if he or she receives clear examinations associated with the course. The examinations may be by way of a written test, oral exam, or continuous assessment.

Credit System

The reforms in higher education, especially the Bologna process, have initiated a common system of university credits (European Credit Transfer System or ECTS) in Italy. ECTS was initially set up for the seamless transfer of credits and is used across Europe.

In general, university education is measured in terms of credits. The credit system was established to quantify the amount of work needed for each course and exam. Credits represent a typical student's total workload such as class time, individual work, preparation for tests, practicals at the lab, field research, etc. 1 credit is considered equivalent to 25 hours of work. 
The average full-time workload for one academic year per student is 60 credits, which is equivalent to 1500 hours of work. A University has the liberty to increase or decrease the credits for a course with the overall range of 1200 to 1800 hours.

The Italian universities adhere to certain principles in administering the credit system.

  • At least 50% percent of the course time is assigned to individual learning and training, except for the courses that include practical or laboratory work.
  • Credits are earned by the student only when he or she passes a particular assessment for the respective course of the study.
  • Universities also recognize credits for professional skills and experience, according to the regulations set up constantly by the education committees.

Grading System

Grades make measuring varying levels of academics easy. Over the years, academic institutions have been successful in bringing uniformity in grading students.

Primary and Secondary School Grading

In Italy’s educational culture, significant weightage is given to oral expression. The principal means of assessing a student's progress is an oral exam (interrogazione) and this method of assessment begins right at elementary schools. This practice of early oral assessment prepares a student to perform in the university system.

Secondary school grading varies from 10 (excellent) to 1 (impossible to assess), with the sufficiency being 6.

ScaleGrade Description
9.00 - 10.00
Ottimo (Excellent)
8.00 - 8.99
Distinto (With Distinction)
7.00 - 7.99
Buono (Good)
6.00 - 6.99
Sufficiente (Sufficient)
0.00 - 5.99
Respinto (Fail)
University Grading
 In Italy, universities mostly administer oral exams. For regular exams, universities use a 30-point scale, with 18 being the pass mark and the highest marks achievable  (i.e. 30) is termed as “cum laude".

University course grading scale
ScaleGrade Description
29.00 - 30.00
Ottimo - Cum Laude (With honors and commendations)
27.00 - 28.99
Molto Buono (Very Good)
24.00 - 26.99
Buono (Good)
19.00 - 23.99
Soddisfacente (Satisfactory)
18.00 - 18.99
Sufficiente (Sufficient)
0.00 - 17.99
Respinto (Fail)
100-point scale
The final university result is based on all the exams attended by the student plus the assessment of the presentation of a project or dissertation in front of a panel of examiners. When student graduates, a final numerical grade for the entire degree program is given. For the final score, a 110-point scale is used, with 66 as the grade for passing. The 110-point scale takes into consideration the exam scores and the final thesis. The Lode "praise" is added to the maximum grade in case of outstanding performance.


The adult literacy rate is the percentage of people ages 15 and above who can both read and write with understanding a short simple statement about their everyday life.

  • Italy's literacy rate for 2018 was 99.16%, a 0.31% increase from 2011.
  • Italy's literacy rate for 2011 was 98.85%, a 0.43% increase from 2001.
  • Italy's literacy rate for 2001 was 98.42%, a 1.96% increase from 1981.
  • Italy's literacy rate for 1981 was 96.46%, a 96.46% increase from.

System types

  • Public
  • Private