Italy is known as the cradle of western civilization for its high culture, history and art. Despite its glorious past, nowadays Italy is facing problems within the educational system. Recently it ranked second to last in Europe and fourth from last in the World in the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), a survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Why? Because of its high rate of functional illiterates.
Functional illiterates have low information-processing skills so it is not a matter of literacy itself. They have problems understanding simple texts, such as newspaper articles or instruction booklets, they can’t fill in forms or contracts and are computer-illiterate too. They also proliferate in social networks, where they help fake news to circulate simply because they have comprehension issues and believe everything they read online without thinking about it.
Who are they? Over 50, unemployed manual workers and pensioners but also young people who quit school to work or those who quit school but didn’t find a job and still live with their parents. Functional illiteracy can affect the economic growth of a country since low skilled people are often denied jobs, but the main problem is that it affects lifestyle and ideology too.
Think about election campaigns, during which ignorance reigns supreme. American journalist David Harsanyi once said “If you have no clue what the hell is going on, you also have a civic duty to avoid subjecting the rest of us to your ignorance”. It is obviously a provocative sentence, but it is typical of functional illiterates not to get informed and assume what others say as true (in this case, what candidates promise), which should be avoided when it comes to voting.
People may blame Italy’s educational system for functional illiteracy, which is partly true if we consider cuts in public investments in education, but the heart of the problem is our society too. Culture is not promoted in our country and youngsters are not interested in learning anymore. No love for culture goes hand in hand with Italian media which leads its audience up the garden path by giving biased news and entertaining it with low quality reality shows.
However, there could be light at the end of the tunnel. The best solution is to work out the mind. If we don’t exercise our brain, we will lose our comprehension skills, even the most basic. What can a functional illiterate do? Read books, newspapers, go to the cinema and theatre, visit museums and do anything that can challenge his or her mind. Another solution to the problem is to promote evening classes for adult employees who want to improve their competencies or for young people who left school early and long to recover lost time. In my personal experience, I have noticed that these night schools are mostly attended by immigrants and youngsters because adults can’t manage to work and study at the same time so I think that these kinds of institutions must meet their needs (for example, a more flexible arrangement of school hours) if we really want to help them. Italy could also follow the example of the US, where famous companies have developed reading classes for their workers in order to improve their low skills.
To conclude, I think that the problem can be solved slowly but only if functional illiterates roll up their sleeves. The need for a better school system, which focuses on students’ literacy and cultural education, is still very strong.