Teenagers revamp classrooms themselves

Rebel pupils occupy Italian schools in anti-cuts protest

GMT 16:08 2012 Friday ,23 November

Arab Today, arab today Rebel pupils occupy Italian schools in anti-cuts protest

Students of the Tasso high school listen to a lesson by one of their teachers on Piazza del Popolo
Rome - AFP

Students of the Tasso high school listen to a lesson by one of their teachers on Piazza del Popolo Barricades blocked the entrances to dozens of occupied schools in Rome this week where teens armed with paintbrushes and mops have been protesting over budget cuts by cleaning up the classrooms themselves.
At the Tasso high school, sleeping bags and last night's supper were cleared away at dawn as a group of pupils in hoodies scrubbed mould and graffiti off the bathroom walls, while at the nearby Righi school others replastered a room.
"We can't put up with the situation any longer," said 18-year-old Alessandro Spaggiari, as his friends whipped up fresh batches of plaster in the bathrooms.
"We don't have the funds to clean up the classrooms and keep the school in a secure state, so we've taken on the challenge of doing the job ourselves."
Over 70 schools have been seized by pupils across the region in protest over cuts on education as Italy struggles to extricate itself from a recession.
Dozens more have been occupied in other parts of the country in solidarity.
Youth unemployment levels three times the national average have propelled students to the front of street demonstrations which can spiral out of control, with violent clashes between teenagers and riot police firing tear gas.
"This generation has been so badly treated by the political class that they tend only to see the negative parts of the government's approach to education," said education expert Mario Morcellini from Rome's Sapienza University.
"No one in this country trusts politicians anymore, especially the young, who have seen their chances drop away over the last 15 to 20 years," he said.
In occupied classrooms across the city, students have set up operation nerve centres to help coordinate yet another demonstration in the Italian capital this weekend, though many insist that they want the march to be peaceful.
Parents who try and enter the schools are stopped at the doors. Only those bearing food or other essential items can enter, though they must provide I.D.
"We make sure everyone gets a good breakfast, lunch and dinner," said Spaggiari, though many slink off at lunchtime for a plate of home-cooked pasta.
At Righi, those not cleaning attend events arranged by the students, from lectures by guest speakers on education rights to martial arts classes.
Tasso students have taken their lessons to the public squares in Rome's city centre, camping out each morning among the tourists in the historic Piazza del Popolo while experts with megaphones lecture on their constitutional rights.
"There's a whole generation at risk here. The problem is cultural, the political class appears not to understand the importance of public education. They need to invest in our future. Now," said 17-year-old Cecilia.
A controversial education reform bill going through parliament, which would allow schools to apply for private rather than state funding and give them greater flexibility over the curriculum but reduce teacher power, has fuelled anger.
Giovanni, 17, said Tasso occupiers were drawing up their own proposal for changes to the bill, which many insist will lead to creeping privatisation, turn teachers into managers and have a detrimental effect on education.
"We're not just protesting, we're coming up with some answers," he said.
In a gesture of support, Sapienza university said it was delaying a ceremony to mark the start of the academic year this week in light of "the serious economic and financial problems in Italy (and) the suffering of state schools".
Pulling a roll-up cigarette from his ink-stained pocket, Luigi Betta said: "We cannot allow the private sector to be brought into state schools, because this is the first step of a privatisation that will become ever greater."
But Morcellini said teens were getting worked up about the wrong issue.
"We need outside investment in times of austerity. But the chances of such privatisation are marginal anyway, because Italian companies are woefully ignorant of the benefits of investing in schools," he said.
"Without a change in cultural attitudes, I doubt any could be found who would want to invest in any case.

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