One of the latest political mantras in Italy has concerned the country’s recovery. Prime Minister Renzi has transformed it into his banner, showing the first positive results of the country’s growth after years of recession. In fact, weak but positive growth is an encouraging sign for everyone, although it is not structural, but due to a specific overlapping of very low commodity prices and a burst of interest rates. However, an area that is often overlooked when it comes to economic performance is culture.
It is no secret that a continuous growth trend descends not only from the technological and institutional situation, but also from human factors, hidden behind the term productivity. These factors comprise several fields, including education, which is the basis on which to build the skills of every single person, every single human resource, as business cold terminology would have it, and their professional future.
Already a couple of years ago the OECD denounced a high percentage of functional illiterates on the peninsula, which is well above the average level of the member countries, and this is a problem.
To begin with, what does functional illiteracy mean? It is the definition of an individual’s inability to efficiently use the skills of reading, writing, and reckoning in everyday life situations. It transcends the criticism of “everyday mathematics” which placed Nordic children in top position among the results of OECD-Pisa testing, but has also deprived them of the ability of abstract thinking, understanding of matter, and even the digital divide that still plagues the IT skills of the country. Growing functional illiteracy is a critical point for any attempt at recovery of an economic and social system, since it affects the basic skills people need not to be a manager or a good professional, but to be able to interact with the world around them.
The rate of functional illiteracy in Italy is estimated at 47% of the resident population. Basically, an Italian out of two is not able to read a text of medium difficulty, let alone an employment or telephone subscriber contract, for example. At the same time, written production rarely goes beyond signing something and the poor math skills rarely go beyond the calculation of food expenditure. This situation drastically reduces the ability of attention, which has also affected the life of the TTV shows episodes in past few years from 60 minutes to just over 45, which is not caused by the insertion of commercials (a predictable criticism), since they are mainly destined to pay television.
Perhaps, the root is not the model of society we live in, which has adapted to the needs and behavior patterns of the citizens. Maybe, it needs to be sought much more in depth, even in the educational model of our public schools. It is no secret that over the last fifty years the education system has changed a lot in Italy; after having abandoned the Gentile model through numerous reforms, both the content of the education program and the cultural stimuli have been reduced with a view to sterile egalitarianism, which has been leading these days to protests not only against Invalsi tests, but even against the evaluation system at school.
The ineffectiveness of compulsory education comes out of the recently published Save the Children report, which shows a dramatic slice of Italy, where 48% of kids between 6 to 17 years of age have not read a book besides school books, in the previous year. 69% have not visited an archaeological site; 55% have never set foot in a museum. These statistics are terrifying because a near majority share of Italian children, basically one in two, not only do not have cultural stimuli, but not reading and not learning about the wonders of the past, they lose ability to have the stimulus to grow, learn and, ultimately be successful.
Let aside economic poverty, which might be a cause of difficulty to access educational tools, the figures show a true emergency connected to an alarming educational poverty, which transforms into a difficulty, perhaps insurmountable, to build a future, perhaps even to imagine one.
Maybe, faced with these numbers it would be appropriate to stop the political machine for a second, stop squabbling piddling issues, as we see every day on talk shows, and begin a serious argument about how we want to build the future. Italy is not dying only of taxes and bureaucracy, but also due to an even more tragic cultural and cognitive gap, which leads, inevitably, to the neglect of everything that does not concern one’s own little world as in the times of serfdom. If this trend does not make a U-turn, the inexorable decline will be traced for the country.