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Good provincial high schools outperform city schools and dialogue with businesses, with an eye to the future

Italian provinces are full of life, often anything but provincial. If anything, they’re driven by sparks of initiative, social sensitivity and cultural passions that testify, yet again, to the richness of community spirit and strength of desire for change, resistance and defiance in the face of the ever-present risk of deterioration. Confirmation arrives from two different worlds that are becomingly increasingly concerned with dialogue: businesses and schools. Businesses ”in the shadow of the bell towers”, that is, in the broad territory of cities and towns, are widespread, producing “beautiful objects that the world appreciates” (definition courtesy of the great economic historian Carlo Maria Cipolla). And through cultural commitment and high-quality teaching, provincial schools have grown to the extent of contesting the leadership of the most famous big-city high schools in educational excellence but also in opportunities for successfully entering the workplace.

Highly significant confirmation of this comes from the rankings drawn up by Eduscopio, in the tenth edition of the interactive map of Italian high schools compiled by Fondazione Agnelli (all data at www.eduscopio.it). The best school in Italy is the Nervi-Ferrari applied science high school in Morbegno, in the province of Sondrio (winner for the second year running). And even in the metropolitan areas, to give some examples, Milan’s most famous classical high schools have been overtaken by a high school in Cinisello Balsamo, Casiraghi, ahead of the prestigious Berchet and Parini, while in Turin, the Salesian Istituto Edoardo Agnelli comes ahead of the traditionally eminent Galileo Ferraris. “High school ranking. The province beats city schools,” headlines the Corriere della Sera (22 November). “This year too, the top high school is provincial,” writes la Repubblica.

The Eduscopio ranking (La Stampa, 22 November) is unusual and highly interesting: it is compiled by analysing data from 1,326,000 high-school graduates from 7,850 schools throughout Italy, in school years 2017–2020, calculating their university results (exams taken and average marks) and job positions (employment rate and consistency between studies and work) one year after graduation. In short, it investigates relationships between the quality of education and the labour market. This provides families with helpful information on choosing schools for their children, irrespective of the institutions’ reputations, the conventional wisdom, and the current opinions of friends and family.

This picture, drawn up according to scientific criteria, indicates that despite limitations and crisis, Italian education has its own quality, to be promoted and consolidated. It also indicates that many of the best educational institutions are those capable of making good use of the flexibility available to them to work on interdisciplinary training, innovation in teaching methods and content and cultural developments.

Confirmation comes from the judgements of the teachers at the Casiraghi high school in Cinisello, top school in Milan, 1,200 students on classical, scientific and linguistic curricula, within a large school cluster of 5,000 students in the northern Milan area, once the industrial outskirts of large manufacturing complexes: “Moving past the stereotypes of the outskirts as spaces of want, despite awareness of the problems that exist, I encountered humanity and dignity here. And the classical curriculum, for the people here, results from personal choice, without pressure from families or wanting to attend a school for the prestige alone,” says head of school Delio Pistolesi (Corriere della Sera, 23 November).

Its strengths? The modern physics laboratory, managed by teachers who trained at CERN in Geneva. And the school is always open in the afternoons for meetings, experiments, various types of courses (photography, theatre, literature, etc.).

In short, it’s polytechnic culture in dialogue with humanistic and scientific knowledge, the ideal scope for an age of thoroughly and rapidly evolving knowledge.

Rankings aside, these motifs recur also in the project of a newly created high school in Monza, the provincial capital of industrial Brianza, run by Assolombarda in collaboration with Collegio Villoresi: a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) high school, that is, founded on original syntheses of science subjects and art, literature, history and philosophy. It’s a four-year course, not five. A large part of the teaching is in English, with workshops organised according to educational criteria from the English-speaking world. There are hours dedicated to the performing arts (theatre, music and dance) and new digital cultures. “This is where the skills most in demand among companies in Lombardy are developed,” maintains head of school Laura Andreoni. And while it’s true that schools must first and foremost engender critical culture, ‘learning to learn’ and a responsible, inclusive community spirit, it is equally true that educational experimentation requires space, opportunities and resources. And it is precisely from this point of view that the dialogue between school, the world of business and enterprise, with its values of competitiveness and inclusiveness, can offer interesting opportunities, a more contemporary ‘eye to the future’.

(photo Getty Images)

Italian provinces are full of life, often anything but provincial. If anything, they’re driven by sparks of initiative, social sensitivity and cultural passions that testify, yet again, to the richness of community spirit and strength of desire for change, resistance and defiance in the face of the ever-present risk of deterioration. Confirmation arrives from two different worlds that are becomingly increasingly concerned with dialogue: businesses and schools. Businesses ”in the shadow of the bell towers”, that is, in the broad territory of cities and towns, are widespread, producing “beautiful objects that the world appreciates” (definition courtesy of the great economic historian Carlo Maria Cipolla). And through cultural commitment and high-quality teaching, provincial schools have grown to the extent of contesting the leadership of the most famous big-city high schools in educational excellence but also in opportunities for successfully entering the workplace.

Highly significant confirmation of this comes from the rankings drawn up by Eduscopio, in the tenth edition of the interactive map of Italian high schools compiled by Fondazione Agnelli (all data at www.eduscopio.it). The best school in Italy is the Nervi-Ferrari applied science high school in Morbegno, in the province of Sondrio (winner for the second year running). And even in the metropolitan areas, to give some examples, Milan’s most famous classical high schools have been overtaken by a high school in Cinisello Balsamo, Casiraghi, ahead of the prestigious Berchet and Parini, while in Turin, the Salesian Istituto Edoardo Agnelli comes ahead of the traditionally eminent Galileo Ferraris. “High school ranking. The province beats city schools,” headlines the Corriere della Sera (22 November). “This year too, the top high school is provincial,” writes la Repubblica.

The Eduscopio ranking (La Stampa, 22 November) is unusual and highly interesting: it is compiled by analysing data from 1,326,000 high-school graduates from 7,850 schools throughout Italy, in school years 2017–2020, calculating their university results (exams taken and average marks) and job positions (employment rate and consistency between studies and work) one year after graduation. In short, it investigates relationships between the quality of education and the labour market. This provides families with helpful information on choosing schools for their children, irrespective of the institutions’ reputations, the conventional wisdom, and the current opinions of friends and family.

This picture, drawn up according to scientific criteria, indicates that despite limitations and crisis, Italian education has its own quality, to be promoted and consolidated. It also indicates that many of the best educational institutions are those capable of making good use of the flexibility available to them to work on interdisciplinary training, innovation in teaching methods and content and cultural developments.

Confirmation comes from the judgements of the teachers at the Casiraghi high school in Cinisello, top school in Milan, 1,200 students on classical, scientific and linguistic curricula, within a large school cluster of 5,000 students in the northern Milan area, once the industrial outskirts of large manufacturing complexes: “Moving past the stereotypes of the outskirts as spaces of want, despite awareness of the problems that exist, I encountered humanity and dignity here. And the classical curriculum, for the people here, results from personal choice, without pressure from families or wanting to attend a school for the prestige alone,” says head of school Delio Pistolesi (Corriere della Sera, 23 November).

Its strengths? The modern physics laboratory, managed by teachers who trained at CERN in Geneva. And the school is always open in the afternoons for meetings, experiments, various types of courses (photography, theatre, literature, etc.).

In short, it’s polytechnic culture in dialogue with humanistic and scientific knowledge, the ideal scope for an age of thoroughly and rapidly evolving knowledge.

Rankings aside, these motifs recur also in the project of a newly created high school in Monza, the provincial capital of industrial Brianza, run by Assolombarda in collaboration with Collegio Villoresi: a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) high school, that is, founded on original syntheses of science subjects and art, literature, history and philosophy. It’s a four-year course, not five. A large part of the teaching is in English, with workshops organised according to educational criteria from the English-speaking world. There are hours dedicated to the performing arts (theatre, music and dance) and new digital cultures. “This is where the skills most in demand among companies in Lombardy are developed,” maintains head of school Laura Andreoni. And while it’s true that schools must first and foremost engender critical culture, ‘learning to learn’ and a responsible, inclusive community spirit, it is equally true that educational experimentation requires space, opportunities and resources. And it is precisely from this point of view that the dialogue between school, the world of business and enterprise, with its values of competitiveness and inclusiveness, can offer interesting opportunities, a more contemporary ‘eye to the future’.

(photo Getty Images)