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Education in Sicily: an Interview

Posted by on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 in 2017 Blog post.

Audio link (56:30)

For my interview, I spoke with Giulia, a 23 year old philosophy student at Palermo University. We talked about how the Sicilian education system works and how it differs from the American system.

Sicilian children start in a sort of daycare-kindergarten similar to American children, and also have a similar elementary school (scuola elementare) that goes through the ages of about the fifth grade (six years old to ten). From there, they have a middle school (scuola media, ages eleven to thirteen), and at fourteen they choose a high school to go to: a liceo or a professional school. The licei generally focus on more theoretical pursuits, while the professional schools are generally more about practical skills (tourism, working in hotels, working in restaurants etc.). Both high schools do cover a fairly wide range of subjects, including math, science, history, Italian, English, etc., and they both provide thorough educations, but they do focus on a subject area. There are licei for science, classical studies (which is more just general humanities), languages, arts, or teaching. The first two are generally a bit more respected than the others, and people who are unsure of what they want to do will often go to one of them since they teach a broader range of subjects and you can pretty much do whatever you want after having gone through one.

After completing high school, students can either enter the workforce or go to university; however, since jobs are scarce in Italy, many students are choosing to continue in university to make them more competitive in job applications (they also have started to look for jobs outside of the country, especially in London and, for Sicilians, in the more industrial north Italy). University for most students consists of two major parts. For the first three years, students will learn a more broad range of topics, though still focusing on their major, then in the last two years the student will specialize in a more specific area of their subject area, focusing on it a lot more than before.

What surprised me most about the interview, though, is that applying for university is quite different from how it exists in America, and I think that this reveals a really fundamental difference between the two cultures. In America, the SAT and ACT act as major foci for applications, and the tests seem to almost consume students—there’s so much pressure put on the students to do well on these exams that many students seem to just learn for the exam in order to get into a better university. In Sicily, tests are given out by the universities themselves instead of having a massive, national, standardized one, and there is much more a culture of learning for learning’s sake instead of just learning to get into a better school like in America. I think that this is a much healthier attitude toward learning and fosters a much deeper understanding of the subject matter, something that could help many students in America who grow to resent school because of the strong push to just do well on the tests instead of actually learning in a fun way.

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