Since the most disappointing results are those of high school mathematics, let’s stop and analyze them. Today, on average, more than half of Italian students do not achieve acceptable results in mathematics at the end of their schooling. Negative situations have increased by ten percentage points over the past year.
An emblematic case, reported by Invalsi, is that of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. Before Covid19 the “Acceptability Level” in mathematics was reached by 75% of students in our region, now it reaches less than 63%, with a decrease of 12.4%. One in three of our kids leaves high school without sufficient skills. The Northeast as a whole has seen a similar decline in preparation, but lighter and the whole of Italy sees 51% of insufficient, starting from about 42% pre-Covid19. The only levels to remain good are those of Trentino. The Northwest is more resilient than the Northeast. On the other hand, certain areas of the South are a complete disaster. It is also a class selection: students from lower income families are on average those who are penalized.
The logic of “getting by with the broken headphones” does not pay off, said the president of Invalsi. It took just a moment and we were overwhelmed by an avalanche of negativity. Obviously, “getting by” is not the goal, we need to reach a safety zone: that of acquiring skills.
Technology can do a lot, if there is one
We are in a region where sometimes a professional, to charge a fee with an ATM, has to go out the door of the studio, because there is no field and there is no network. In some Friulian countries this is the situation. There is a connection in Lombardy and Piedmont; above Ivrea, in the depressed valleys of the Canavese, distance learning was carried out with videoconferences more than twenty years ago. The spread of the high-speed network is a promise of the Region. In the meantime, do we know the real conditions of the students’ remote connection? In the world of work – why not in the School – we think of well-equipped “coworking” environments on a technological level. The different countries – even in networks with each other – can offer students safe and well-equipped environments, alternatives to their own homes. Certainly safer than couriers. In Friuli there are many commuter students, and technology can help them: attendance at school must be accompanied by the power of technological tools, for review, for recovery, for in-depth study, for the control of acquired skills. All this even from a distance. Do you know that publishing houses have been forced to put teaching materials, exercises, diagrams, if not the books themselves, online? Teachers who use books (they are not obliged to do so) can guide students in the use of these materials. Even so we work on skills. Even in this way, recovery is allowed before the “educational debt” starts. Distance, but with one agreement: five consecutive hours of videos that mimic the frontal lesson are prohibited. The frontal lesson is good, but it is only one of the many teaching tools. Twenty minutes takes full attention in a frontal lesson, then something is lost and must be recovered. Imagine what happens at a distance, with connection problems, with small screens, with unsuitable environments. If a frontal lesson is done in DaD then it must be possible to record it, to be able to review it and recover what is necessarily lost. Certainly the best solution would be to transform Dad into “e-Learning”, a set of methodologies and technologies centered on the learner, created to make most students reach a sufficient level of skills. The experiences and tools have existed for twenty years but have been used at school in a voluntary and piecemeal way.
Friuli Venezia Giulia: having the courage to change
We have wonderful schools in the region. Many didactic objectives are fully achieved, yet this didactic energy is dissipated by constraints that can be overcome if desired. With the help of school administrators – who have to make choices – certain bureaucracies can be overcome. Stefano Stefanel, head teacher of the Marinelli high school, also says this in his recent article in the “Messaggero Veneto”. We have to believe more in “skills”, make them explicit, give the student the ability to know if he has managed to “bring them home”, to know if he has not been to school just to warm up the desk but to build a part of his future life .
We must move from “getting by” to obtaining adequate skills. To do this, it is necessary to leave the scheme that makes the School a “votificio”. Enough with the obsession with the number of votes on the register to then “make an average”. The arithmetic average of the marks must be abolished. In competency work, an indistinct grade is not enough, you need “clear and distinct” formative judgments on what has been acquired or not and advice on how to improve. A grade in an assignment without a “recipe” for improvement? Even the reviled “cross” tests can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses.
I would go towards the gradual abolition of the “educational debt”, an anti-didactic term that only Italic Byzantinism could invent. The regional school suffered a trauma. Today, more than one in three students leaves the school with inadequate skills in mathematics. The “educational debt”, with its “remedial courses” that do not recover, has proved its ineffectiveness. You have to work both during the school year and afterwards to recover insecure skills. A new strategy must be found, even using technology extensively.
Furio Petrossi is a researcher at Rilanciafriuli