Open letter sparks debate about education system in Italy.
A Finnish family who moved to Sicily last summer left the southern Italian island after two months over claims that the school system was inadequate, as outlined in a long open letter to local paper Siracusa News.
Elin Mattsson, a 42-year-old painter, is a mother of four children aged 15, 14, six and three. Together with her husband, a 46-year-old IT manager who works remotely, the family moved to Syracuse in August.
"We wanted to experience your amazing climate and culture but sadly our stay did not go as planned" - Mattsson wrote in her letter which was republished widely in Italy - "We've lived in both Spain and the UK before and (naively?) thought the education system would be similar across the Mediterranean, but boy, were we wrong."
Mattsson said it "took us just a couple of months" of school in Syracuse to "realise that it wasn't worth it".
'“Mom they are yelling and banging the table” says my six year old. “Yes, it's crazy that they use the whistle and shout,” says the 14-year-old, “and I know English better than the English teacher himself!”.'
The problem, according to Mattsson, is that “the school system is so poor. My doubts started from the first day I set foot in school to register: the noise of the classes was so loud that I wondered how the hell it was possible to concentrate with that noise. That day I also caught a glimpse of a classroom where a boy of about seven was doing an exercise in front of an angry teacher who looked down scornfully not only on the boy at the blackboard but on all the pupils. It was shocking."
"The school day is spent in the same chair from morning until you go home. What? “Are there no breaks where movement is allowed?” I ask. “Just little breaks in the same classroom” was the answer I got."
Stressing the importance of fresh air and breaks for concentration, Mattsson wrote: "If only the government understood the benefits! In Finland, students have a 15-minute break between lessons, and leave the classroom to play together in the garden/patio. A teacher or two keeps an eye on them while they are out. Finland realises the benefits of children moving, playing, shouting and running freely outdoors to get rid of excess energy and get fresh air, thus achieving better results in school."
"I also have a three year old and was able to see the kindergarten activity as well. I was worried when I saw the kindergarten garden (patio). Nothing to play with? Where was all the climbing stuff? Nothing? I mean, I've seen equipment for kids to play in city parks, so they certainly know how to get it. Shouldn't children also play in kindergarten? No, an empty garden around the perimeter of the building. It wasn't good…."
"Are the kindergarten kids mostly sitting inside, sitting still around a table doing little things with just their hands? For real? Completely crazy. Having outdoor experiences is essential for every learner. Kindergarten teaching should come from play. Free play! Children should be children as long as possible, if you do, you will do well in school. Trying to force them to learn different things too soon can be fatal. The brain must be sufficiently developed before teaching can begin."
"In Finnish kindergartens the children go out every morning between 09.00 and 11.00, they can play freely (they have toy cars, climbing objects, sandboxes to play with, all kinds of toys similar to those found here in the parks). Once lunch time arrives, you go inside. Subsequently, indoor activities take place and then outdoor games again in the afternoon from 13.00 to 16.00 (dressed according to the weather)."
Mattsson also called into question the "pedagogy of teachers", asking: "Do they study it in their training? The methods I've experimented with were nothing like that (yelling at the top of my lungs probably doesn't work that well, does it?) but I can understand the energy level of kids when they don't have time to physically release it (like in breaks). Let them play outside! Let them get the air they need so much!"
Another issue she addressed in her letter to Siracusa News was urban travel and traffic management: "How is it possible to think that the countless adults who rush to school every morning and every afternoon can be functional? Is total traffic chaos (and the environment here?) practical for families?"
"In Finland, children (seven-12 years) go to school alone; they use a bicycle or walk and if they live more than 5 km from the school they can go by taxi/school bus. They have lunch at school, then go home alone when the school day is over. If desired, the child can go to another place (such as an afternoon club) until the parents leave work."
Mattsson concluded with a series of open questions to the authorities in charge of the school:
"Why shouldn't all children have the best conditions for learning? Why don't you realise the benefits of fresh air? Play and learn! Realise the benefits of outdoor breaks and turn schoolyards into fun places to play."
"Avoid stuffing kids like sausages (aka too much learning for undeveloped brains). Why don't you offer lunch at school? (This is perhaps the only nutritional meal for some families). Why don't you see the benefits of children going to school and home on their own? I'm sure you could do it in different ways, so that the traffic gets used to the pedestrians."
"In Spain they had older children who stood at intersections with neon lights and stopped traffic in the morning and afternoon when the younger ones crossed. In Finland you teach your children how to behave in traffic so they can go by themselves. Bye bye Syracuse and hola Espana”.
Photo Siracusa News
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