As with most things, the Italian and American educational systems are very dissimilar. Temple ran a tour of La Sapienza (the University of Rome) on Friday where I learned just how unlike Italian and American student lives are.
Italian children go to elementary and junior school for eight years like their American counterparts. High school is where the system starts to get different. High schools in Italy more resemble American trade schools; fourteen-year-olds choose a specialty and go to high school for FIVE years to learn about that specialty (business, science, mechanics, etc.) Italians that do go to college don’t go until they’re nineteen years old.
Temple took us to La Sapienza, which is Italy’s ENORMOUS public university. It only costs from €1200 to €1800/year (no student loans!) to attend classes, which is one of the reasons why a lot of students here can take ten years to graduate. I’ve seen how laid back Italians are, but ten years?
Besides low costs, University of Rome students take their time in college because they typically don’t work immediately after graduation. Similar to contemporary America, Italian graduates simply don’t find jobs in their fields right away so there isn’t an incentive to rush through school. Another reason for the exaggerated degree delay is that Italian students are very much responsible for their own education at the University of Rome. What I mean by this is that students here don’t have professors or academic advisors pressuring them to take certain courses, do their reading, study for exams, and hand term papers in on time. Instead, Italians have to figure out what classes to take to fulfill their degree requirements, consult a list posted on campus to decide how to best fit these classes in their schedules, and then figure out whether it would be in their best interest to actually attend the class or teach the material to themselves.
The lecture halls at La Sapienza are huge and can hold hundreds of students. Attendance isn’t mandatory, but seats in lecture halls still fill up quickly. If an Italian wants to attend a class, he or she has to get to the classroom very early to get a seat. Some groups of friends take turns reserving seats for each other. La Sapienza has buildings spread across Rome so it’s not uncommon for students to not be able to make it to their classes on a certain campus. Therefore, sometimes students don’t go to the class at all and instead consult the reading list for the class and teach the material to themselves. Professors create lists of ten to twelve books and after an Italian student feels like they know the material on the list sufficiently well, they schedule an oral exam with the professor. The student pencils their name in next to an available date and time and the professor spends approximately twenty minutes orally assessing the student’s knowledge of the material on the day of the test. In case of failure, the student retakes the class the following semester.
A great deal of motivation is obviously necessary to graduate from the University of Rome. It’s a matter of survival and although it can take years to do, employers respect job candidates who are able to obtain degrees from this school. There are also some private colleges in Italy, which more resemble American schools. Many Italian professors work at both La Sapienza and these private institutions so educational quality between schools is basically consistent. Private universities cost more and class sizes are smaller so Italian students at these colleges tend to graduate sooner.
The dropout rate at La Sapienza is high and I couldn’t help comparing Italian and American students. If public universities in America were modeled like the University of Rome, I’m sure the results would be very similar: a lot of dropouts and more time spent in college. Spending the afternoon at the University Rome made me realize that students are students no matter what part of the world they’re studying in.