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Teaching and learning in general lower secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.2Teaching and learning in general lower secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Curriculum, subjects, number of hours

At lower secondary level, the curriculum is defined through National Guidelines for the curriculum (Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo) issued with the Ministerial Decree 254/2012.

According to the guidelines, the general aim of school is the harmonious and comprehensive development of the individual. The guidelines refer to the principles of the Italian Constitution as well as to the European cultural tradition and recommendations.

In particular, the purpose of lower secondary education is to enable pupils to acquire the fundamental knowledge and skills in order to develop their basic cultural competences. At this level, this is achieved by using school subjects and disciplines as a means to know, interpret and represent reality and the world.

The compulsory subjects taught for the 3 years of lower secondary school are: Italian, English, a second foreign language, history, geography, mathematics, sciences, technology, music, arts, sports education and civic education. Catholic religion is optional for pupils, although it is compulsory for schools.

From school year 2020/2021, the compulsory and cross-curricular subject 'civic education' has replaced the former 'Citizenship and Constitution', that was introduced in 2009 (law 92/2019). The contents of civic education refer to three main areas:

  • the Italian Constitution (national and international law, the organisation of the State and of regional and local authorities, etc.);
  • sustainable development (protection of the environment and of heritage, health education, respect for animals, etc.);
  • digital citizenship (responsible use of technologies, awareness of risks, approaches to the use of technologies).

Civic education has a timetable of at least 33 hours/year and its teaching must involve the other curricular subjects without increasing the overall weekly and annual timetable. The Ministry has provided schools with specific Guidelines (Ministerial Decree 35/2020, Annex A).

Each subject has goals for the development of skills, which are mandatory for teachers, as well as learning objectives for the level of knowledge and skills needed to reach the development goals. The specific learning objectives for Catholic religion are defined separately by Presidential Decree in agreement with the Italian Episcopal Conference (Conferenza Episcopale Italiana - CEI).

The tables below show the weekly teaching times for the two different school-time models (DPR 89/2009):

  • compulsory timetable of 30 hours/week;
  • extended timetable of 36 hours/week

One hour corresponds to 60 minutes. These tables apply to each of the three years of lower secondary education.

Table 1 - Mainstream compulsory timetable (30 hours per week)

Subjects Hours per week Hours per year
Italian, history, geography 9 297
In-depth studies in literary subjects 1 33
Mathematics and Science 6 198
Technology 2 66
English 3 99
2nd foreign language 2 66
Art and design 2 66
Sports education 2 66
Music 2 66
Catholic religion 1 33
  30 990


Table 2 - Extended timetable (from 36 to 40 hours per week)

Subjects Hours per week Hours per year
Italian, history, geography 15 495
Mathematics and sciences 9 297
Technology 2 66
English 3 99
2nd foreign language 2 66
Art and design 2 66
Sports education 2 66
Music 2 66
Catholic religion 1 33
In-depth studies in one of the subjects above 1/2 33/66
  39/40* 1287/1320
  • The table shows the maximum number of hours for the 'extended timetable'. The Teachers’ Assembly can autonomously decide on a lower weekly limit of hours, which must be no less than 36 hours. The timetable always includes lunchtime, by reducing the weekly timetable of subjects with a greater number of hours.

The second foreign language can be either French, or German or Spanish. The decision of which second foreign language to offer is taken at school level. A school can theoretically offer one, two or all the three foreign languages; however, one class is taught only one language.

At the request of parents and depending on the availability of school staff, the teaching of English language can be increased to 5 hours per week, using the two hours allocated per week to the teaching of a second foreign language. These can also be used for teaching Italian to foreign students.

Teaching methods and materials

The Constitution of the Italian Republic establishes the principle of freedom of teaching. The choice and use of teaching methods and materials must be consistent with each school's ‘three-year educational offer plan’ (Piano triennale dell’offerta formativa – PTOF), which, in turn, must be consistent with the general and educational objectives of the different branches and levels of study established at national level.

While safeguarding the freedom in teaching, the National Guidelines for the curriculum suggest some basic methodological approaches, such as, taking advantage of pupils' experiences and knowledge, promoting exploration and discovery activities, encouraging cooperative learning, developing awareness of one's own learning method, carrying out in-lab learning, etc.

The most common teaching methods used are frontal teaching, exercises and individual/group work. Generally, schools have a gymnasium, a library and ICT, science and multimedia laboratories. Increasing numbers of classrooms are equipped with interactive whiteboards (IWB).

Teachers choose textbooks and teaching tools. Teachers may confirm the textbooks adopted the previous year, or they can adopt new textbooks. In the latter case, textbooks can be in digital or mixed format (mixed format means paper, paper plus digital or digital, all with integrated digital content). In all events, textbooks and teaching tools must be consistent with the curriculum and school’s ‘three-year educational offer plan’ and should comply with total cost rules. Teachers can submit their choices to the Teachers’ assembly that formally approves the choice. However, the formal approval is not mandatory for teachers and schools (Law 221/2012).

Textbooks are not free for parents. Subsidised textbooks can be provided according to specific regional rules and certain income limitations. Every year, the Ministry sets the total maximum cost of textbooks. Teachers should choose the textbooks within this total price limit. Measures introduced to help parents deal with the cost of textbooks also include rental and the free loan of textbooks, as well as the partial reimbursement of costs.

Schools can also create their own digital teaching tools for specific subjects, which students will use as textbooks. Teachers can develop such tools in class during teaching hours and in collaboration with other class teachers and students. They will work under the supervision of a teacher who will ensure the scientific and didactic quality of the product. Schools can share and distribute their textbooks free of charge to other State schools, upon registration of the product and after sending the product to the Ministry within the end of the school year.