Childhood, School and Social Times: the case of Early School Enterers in Italy

TitleChildhood, School and Social Times: the case of Early School Enterers in Italy
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsColombo M
JournalInterdisciplinary Journal of Family Studies
Date Published12/2013
PublisherPadova University Press
Place PublishedPadova, IT
ISSN Number2282-2011
Keywordssociology of education; times of schooling; early school entrance; social control; children’s agency; school-family relation

In the application of the Italian Law 30/2003, since s.y. 2003/04, parents can opt to enroll their children in the first year of nursery and primary school in accordance with more flexible age requirements, accepting children whose third/sixth birthday falls on or before April the 30th of the given year (previously, the cut-off date was 31st December . In addition to this reform, since 2006 nursery schools have introduced so-called “spring classes” for children aged two. All these innovations augment the heterogeneity within the classroom, along with an increase in parental choice and freedom. Hence, if the number of early enterers is to increase, a new relationship between childhood, school, and social times will inevitably take place. With the intermediation of parental choice, traditional time-markers are losing their importance, and the children’s development process will be less standardized than in the past. The essay offers a picture of the “de-standardization” of schooling in Italy as it stands today, by assuming it to be the end result of a long-term transition (from a centralistic vision to a more autonomist conception), which has provoked a rupture in the principle of uniformity as applied to the educational system, and it still fosters a more personalized and privatized view of children’s education. The main effects of early school entrance on Italian schools are outlined (in terms of enrollment rates at a regional level using data from the Miur – Ministry of Education) and used to analyze how different stakeholders are carrying out the reform: the positions of those in favour of (parents and principals) are compared to the positions of those against the reform (teachers and education specialists) with the help of qualitative data (also by Miur). Going beyond the opposition between contrasting social interests, it is worth questioning which sort of cultural change is likely to occur if children can be considered ready to go to school independently of age; and who has the task/right to decide on their school readiness and to assess the consequences of an early school experience. In conclusion, the essay aims to sketch a child-centered point of view, over and beyond the defensiveness of adults’ fears and projections.