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Apartheid in italian schools October 21, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, politics.
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That, in a nutshell, is the proposal of minister Mariastella Gelmini (Forza Italia), the young and energetic lawyer placed by Berlusconi at the helm of the Instruction. Gelmini is trying to pass a law which reduces personnel in public schools by 132,000 units, cutting in the flesh and blood of the schooling system, particularly in elementary and middle schools. High-school and university students are flooding all italian cities protesting against that plan, together with the plan of a reduction of funding to Universities (1.5 billion euros in five years) and the downsizing of research institutes.

The most outrageous proposal, however, is one that attempts to create “bridge classes” for children of immigrants. These separate classes, according to Gelmini, will ease the little rascals’ integration, addressing first their most urgent problems with the language. This will also improve the quality of teaching to italians by descent, who will not have to drag the ballast of children with understanding problems.

Gelmini and the right-wing government are defending the law against an uproar of disgust from the opposition, from the catholics, and from all civilized citizens who can still think without the help of a TV set. I think Gelmini and her crooks really overstepped the mark. They have a solid majority in both parliament chambers, but they will go down with this immoral, racist proposal. Or, at least, that is what I hope. Italians, unfortunately, still appear feel more threatened by the economy these days, and many do not feel they care a lot about such a degradation in the public school system. Berlusconi’s government is ranking very high in appreciation. I wonder what country Italy has become.

Berlusconi’s plan for universities and research October 2, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, politics, science.
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Just so you know what is going on in Italy as far as funding for research, fixing the precarious position of young researchers, and politics on instruction and universities are concerned, I paste below a quick-and-dirty summary of a piece by Rino Falcone, from the Osservatorio Ricerca (research observatory).

The politics of Berlusconi and his ministers Tremonti (economy), Brunetta (public affairs), and Gelmini (instruction) on University and Research are determining a future prospect for Italy which is outside of the Lisbon agreement, that is outside the european strategy which identified in knowledge the central pivot point of the new economic and social development.

We report below the list of disastrous actions of the italian government:

1) money to abrogate a tax (called ICI) on the ownership of one’s residency for families with high incomes is coming in part on a reduction by 467 million euros the national funding of Universities (6% of the total, which however can only reduce the compressible expenses like maintenance, metabolism, etc., which is 13% of the total);

2) a law (number 133/08) foresees a reduction to 20% of the turn-over for universities (among 5 retirees, only one new hire) in 2009-2013 with a reduction of funding increasing from 64 million euros in 2009 to 455 million euros in 2013. For research institutes there will be a 20% reduction in 2009.[…]

Adding the cuts to universities from ICI and turn-over, in 2009-2013 there will be a reduction of almost 4 billion euros (5.6 billion dollars).

3) In 133/08 the possibility is given to universities to become private foundations. The risks to the autonomy of teaching, besides to those research fields not palatable on economic grounds, are clear. […]

4) Law 133/08 foresees, even for research institutes, a reduction of personnel by more than 10%. […]

5) finally, and most serious, since it attacks the weakest as well as the most valuable part for an investment in the future, is a combination of articles of the various laws which limits to three years the non-permanent contracts with researchers, in institutions where hiring of permanent personnel is almost non-existent these years.

The picture emerging from the above is quite clear:

– economical cuts which cannot be withstood by the research institutes and universities;

– waste of the most valuable resources for a country: young, talented researchers in science. It is not by chance that everywhere in the world young italians get quickly hired in qualified positions.[…]

I am reminded of a funny cartoon by Gary Larson I saw attached on a wall in the office of my friend Francesco Vianello in Bruxelles:  a symposium with dinosaurs of all kinds, the speaker saying “The picture’s pretty bleak, gentlemen: climates are changing, mammals are taking over, and we all have a brain the size of a walnut”.