In general, national policies developed in the last two decades in the education field can be considered as part of the wider frame of lifelong learning. However, the implementation of EU lifelong learning strategies, which have the person in his/her learning activity as a reference, is transversal to the educational, labour and continuing professional development sectors.
Law no. 53/2003, which reformed the whole education system, introduced several changes that can be considered as general lifelong learning strategies. For example, law 53 established the right/duty (diritto/dovere) of all to education and training, either in the State education system or in the regional vocational training system, for 12 years or at least up to the acquisition of a qualification within 18 years of age.
In 2007, the length of compulsory education was extended to 10 years, to include the first two years of upper secondary education. Dispositions on compulsory education also established both key competences of citizenship, in analogy with the EU key competences, and competences and skills that students must have acquired at the end of compulsory education.
Moreover, starting from school year 2010/2011 the reform of the second cycle of education has involved both the general and the technical and vocational pathways. According to the reform, all types of upper secondary school last 5 years and can lead directly to university studies.
More recently, law no. 92/2012, which reformed the labour market, has provided a formal definition of lifelong learning: 'lifelong learning encompasses learning activity, whether formal, non-formal or informal, undertaken throughout life with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence within a personal, civic, social and/or employment related perspective'.
According to the law, formal learning takes place at school level and at tertiary level. Formal learning leads to a qualification or to a recognised certification.
Non-formal learning corresponds to an intentional choice of the learner carried out outside the formal system, in organisations with educational and training purposes, in voluntary settings, national civil service or private social services as well as in enterprises.
Informal learning not necessarily corresponds to an intentional choice of the learner; it refers to activities and interactions in everyday life situations, at work, at home and in the leisure time.
Law 92/2012 and Decree 13/2013 have laid down the general dispositions on the national system of certification of competences. The aim of these dispositions is to make arise and develop professional competences non-formally and informally acquired, and to promote professional and geographical mobility, to facilitate the contact between labour supply and demand, to increase the transparency of learning and the recognition of certifications at national and European level.
At regional level, the vocational education and training system (Sistema di istruzione e formazione professionale – IFP) leads to qualifications and competences that are spendable in the labour market. In this view, they can be considered, as the other education and training pathways available in the Italian education system, as means to realize the lifelong learning strategies. Moreover, the recognition, in 2007, of regional IFP courses as means to fulfil compulsory education goes in the same direction.
As for higher education, measures have been taken to encourage the participation of non-representative groups of students and for the recognition of prior learning. First of all, the possibility to apply for part-time courses has been introduced; it implies a reduction in the annual study load – equal to 60 university credits – and an extension of the duration of the course of study. Moreover, the accreditation of online universities facilitates the access to university studies for disadvantaged groups of students, such as working students, students with disabilities, adults, etc. In the same way, traditional universities can offer online programmes of study.
Adults aged more than 25 years and without an upper secondary education certification, are admitted to the upper secondary education final exam without attending school courses.
Finally, universities can also start continuing professional development courses, focusing on scientific in-depth studies in specific areas. Courses usually last a few months corresponding to a workload of less than one year (less than 60 credits). At the end of courses, universities issue an attendance certificate or a diploma which denomination can vary. Higher education institutes can establish their own criteria for the recognition of prior learning within the limits (a maximum of 12 credits) specified for each course of study.
As for the adult education sector, the Presidential Decree no. 263/2012 replaced the former Permanent territorial centres and ‘evening courses’ with the new Provincial Adult education Centres (Centri provinciali per l’istruzione degli adulti – CPIA). The Centres provide an educative offer organised in levels of learning aimed at the obtainment of the qualifications released within the mainstream education system, as well as at the acquisition of basic competences for foreigners. CPIAs operate nationwide.