‘The first week back at school in Italy went well – then came the elections and strikes’

The first week after schools reopened in Italy passed without major incident for Verona-based writer Richard Hough and his family. But it wasn't quite the end of home-schooling.

'The first week back at school in Italy went well - then came the elections and strikes'
A parent consults notices outside a school in Rome. Photo. Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
The first week back at school in seven months passed in good health and free from major incident. That, I guess, is as good as we could have hoped for.
In truth, our rientro (re-entry), as the Italians like to call it, went exceedingly well, especially for our youngest, for whom we were most concerned. He seems to be settling in nicely and looks forward to going to school each morning.
His school, a small village elementare (primary), also seems to be coping, in what must be extraordinarily difficult circumstances for teachers, staff and administrators. For the moment, they have struck just the right balance between providing necessary updates and avoiding information overload; no easy feat considering the plethora of ever-evolving regulations, guidelines and forms in circulation.
Photo: AFP
The little fella has taken to sneaking (I hesitate to use the word stealing) leftover items from merenda (snack-time) into his school bag and bringing them home with him, generally a piece of hard bread, but also a banana or a tub of yoghurt. On reflection it seems to be an extension of his nursery school habit of bringing home assorted sticks and stones that he’d found in the playground. God knows what he’ll be pilfering by the time he goes to high school!
Of course, for our eldest the second year of scuola media (middle school) hasn’t proved quite so appealing, but that, I suppose, is to be expected. The prospect of ‘double maths’ on your first day back at school after seven months was surely someone’s idea of a bad joke. By midweek, his bag weighed in at 10kgs, which must be some kind of breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child!
More generally, my impression is that the situation in our corner of Italy has been handled as well as can be expected.
The instructions, when they finally came, were clear and practicable. Each child was issued with a packet of disposable masks and is required to wash their hands before they enter the school building. Entry and exit is staggered to avoid overcrowding inside and outside the gates, and parents have been asked to sign a ‘pact’ with the school, agreeing to comply with a list of Covid-related rules.
There have, of course, been some snags.
The local newspaper reported that one child fainted in class while wearing a mask. It was exceedingly hot in Verona last week and asking very small children to wear masks for prolonged periods of time is clearly not without its risks.
One little girl we know developed a fever the day before she was due to start primary one. She and her mother went through the isolation and testing procedure and, when the test came back negative, she was able to go to school, just four days behind schedule. There have been queues for testing at the local testing centre but so far, the system seems to be coping.
There were also predictable scenes of serious overcrowding on the city’s buses, as children travelled from their homes in the suburbs to schools in the city centre. Cycling has been touted as a solution to this problem, but few parents would allow their child to cycle on the busy city roads. As a keen cyclist myself, I know how dangerous they can be. So, it hasn’t been perfect, but I don’t think anyone was expecting it to be.
You’d think that with that tricky first week successfully navigated, we could press on, full steam ahead, and make up for some of that lost time.
If only.
On Sunday and Monday, regional elections and a constitutional referendum took place across Italy. The schools were used as polling stations, which meant they were closed to pupils Monday and Tuesday.
And late last Friday afternoon, we received notification that a strike was scheduled for Thursday and Friday this week.
With these, you never know what is going to happen happen until the very last moment, but we must assume that there will be no teaching.
So, for parents, teachers and pupils, this may well be a one-day week. We haven’t seen the back of home-schooling yet!
Richard Hough has lived in Verona since September 2011 and writes about the region’s history, football, wine and culture. His first book, Notes from Verona, a short collection of diary entries from inside locked down Italy, is available here. He is currently researching his next book about wartime Verona.


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How much does it cost to raise a child in Italy?

How big is the financial commitment parents have to make in Italy to pay for their offspring’s needs and expenses until they’re grown up and independent? Here's a look at the predicted costs.

How much does it cost to raise a child in Italy?

Family is the bedrock of Italian society, but it’s also an unbalanced economic crutch, propping up children who leave home much later than most of their European counterparts.

Various factors are at play, from a declining birth rate, youth unemployment, being unable to get on the property ladder to young Italians moving abroad in search of better financial opportunities.

It probably comes as little shock, then, that parents in Italy end up forking out huge sums of cash to support their offspring through childhood and early adulthood (and beyond).

Even just up to the age of 18, raising a child in Italy can cost upwards of €320,000, according to data from Italian consumer research body ONF (Osservatorio Nazionale Federconsumatori).

The average spend of raising a child from 0-18 years is €175,642, but it rises in families with high incomes, classed as over €70,000 per year.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

Researchers noted that the cost of bringing up children has jumped up following the effects of the pandemic too: compared to 2018, child-rearing expenses increased by 1.2 percent by 2020.

The decrease in expenditure related to transport due to spending more time at home, as well as those incurred for sports and leisure activities, was not enough to mitigate the increase in costs for housing and utilities, which increased by 12 percent compared to 2018.

Photo by Suzanne Emily O’Connor on Unsplash

Food prices rose by 8 percent compared to 2018 and education and care jumped by 6 percent for the same timeframe.

In fact, Italy ranks as the third most expensive country in the world for raising children, only coming behind South Korea and China, according to data from investment bank JEF.

The pandemic has contributed to extending an already growing phenomenon: the decrease in annual income of Italian households.

Household income dropped by 2.8 percent from 2019 to 2020, the report found, citing data from national statistics agency Istat. It marks a further squeeze for families, especially low-income and single-parent families.

Depending on earnings, the amount needed to bring up a child until the age of 18 varies considerably.

READ ALSO: ‘Kids are adored here’: What being a parent in Italy is really like

A two-parent family with an annual income of €22,500 spends an average of €118,234.15 to bring up a child until the age of 18; for the same type of family but with an average income of €34,000 per year, the total expenditure to bring up a child increases to €175,642.72.

For high-income families, stated as over €70,000 annually, raising a child costs €321,617.36 on average.

The figures mark an increase of around €5,000 for low- and middle-income families, and a much sharper rise of €50,000 for high-income families, compared to ten years ago.

The money gets spent on housing, food, clothing, health, education and ‘other’ categories. The report revealed that the average spend on a child aged 16 years old is almost €11,500 annually, amounting to €955.78 per month.

Almost €2,000 per year gets spent on food, €1,615 goes on transport and communication, €782 goes on clothing and €1,600 goes on education annually, the report found.

They begin small, yet the costs are anything but. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

For the ONF, “these data highlight how, today more than ever, having a child is becoming a luxury reserved for the few, which fewer and fewer Italians are able to afford.”


The numbers on supporting children after their 18th birthday are a little hazier, as when children eventually fly the nest varies – but figures from Eurostat show that Italy ranks third in Europe for the average oldest age at which children move out of the parental home, at 30.2 years old.

Only young people from Croatia and Slovakia wait longer to live independently, while the EU average for flying the nest is 26.4 years old.

Even then after eventually leaving home at over 30 years old, it’s not entirely clear how many Italians are fully independent once they get their own address, or whether their parents continue to bankroll their living costs.

Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella sent a message to Italy’s Birth Foundation (Fondazione per la Natalità) in May stating, “The demographic structure of the country suffers from serious imbalances that significantly affect the development of our society.”

In response to worsening economic circumstances, the Italian government has recently pledged to do more to help people have families and reverse Italy’s continuing declining birth rate.

It has introduced the Single Universal Allowance (L’assegno unico e universale), but along with it has dropped various so-called ‘baby bonuses’ that provided lump sums to new parents.

The new allowance is a monthly means-tested benefit for those who have children, or are about to have a child. It is payable from the seventh month of pregnancy until the child reaches the age of 18 or in some cases, 21. For more information on what it is and how to claim it, see here.