I am looking from my window directly across at a poorly maintained three- storey school building offering little charm to the local streetscape or passerby. Alongside it, taking up the rest of the block in this attractive, historic town on the Adriatic coast, sits a centuries old catholic church, confident in its historic place and its continuing role in contemporary life.
The physical juxtaposition of these two buildings represents one of the great conundrums facing any educator bringing a professional eye to contemporary Italy; and reminds me of the importance of “the school” as a physically constructed entity, regardless of the geographical locale, which shapes the lives of those who work and learn within it.
How is it, then, that a country celebrated for the quality, number and historical significance of so many of its buildings; a people enraptured by beauty in all of its forms, and a culture besotted by public spectacle has so obviously disregarded the institutions and places so essential to the crucial development of its youngest citizens – its schools? My encounters with schools in this country stand as my most most disappointing experience throughout my current stay and all of my previous travels in Italy.
It is the “public face” of “the school” which concerns me here, not the condition of the classrooms and other internal facilities, the quality of the curriculum or the efforts of those educators trying to foster a more progressive pedagogy.
What does it say to a community, the parents of the children, to the students and to the staff when a school’s humble, disintegrating facade is unchanging and seemingly of little concern to the authorities? Where is the appeal in a building so worn, so unloved? Where is the attraction, the whimsy…..dare I say “the beauty”? Why would any young person wish to enter such a place? What state of mind do students bring with them when they pass through the front door each day, stepping from the appeal and abundance of the digital world into a physical place of such neglect?
How can such facilities encourage and enable the youth of Italy to dream, to excel, to reach beyond the immediate limitations of their historic and social circumstances in order to shape a vibrant and sustainable future for themselves and their country. The contradictory state of schools versus buildings such as elaborate and well maintained churches is beyond my comprehension!
In our own country we too need to ask these very same questions about the schools which suffer from similar neglect and inadequate funding!