Curriculum, subjects, number of hours
In the Italian education system, the curriculum is based on guidelines that provide schools with a framework they must comply with when defining their own curriculum. To this end the guidelines describe the general and specific learning objectives, the compulsory subjects, and timetables.
Guidelines are drawn up by teams made up of experts of the Ministry and external experts, with the involvement of stakeholder. Schools adapt the guidelines to their educational and teaching needs and create their own curriculum that reflects the specific context where they operate. The school curriculum is included in the Three-year education offer plan (Piano triennale dell’offerta formativa – PTOF), which is the document each school adopts to describe its cultural and planning identity as well as its curricular, extra-curricular, educational, and organisational projects.
At primary level the reference documents for the curriculum are:
- the National guidelines for the curriculum of preprimary school and the first cycle of education (Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo della scuola dell'infanzia e del primo ciclo di istruzione), issued in 2012, from now on referred to as 'National guidelines'
- the National guidelines and new scenarios of 2018 (Indicazioni nazionali e nuovi scenari).
According to the National guidelines, the general aim of school education is the harmonious and comprehensive development of the individual, according to the principles of the Italian Constitution and the European cultural tradition, to be achieved through the promotion of knowledge, respect for individual diversity and the active involvement of students and their families.
Specifically, the purpose of primary education is to enable pupils to acquire the fundamental knowledge and skills to develop basic cultural competence.
For each subject, the National guidelines set the goals for the development of skills pupils are expected to reach at the end of primary education. Such goals are prescriptive, meaning that schools must comply with these goals when they create their own curriculum. In addition, the National guidelines set the learning objectives, which identify fields of knowledge, knowledge and skills considered indispensable to achieve the goals.
In 2018, the scientific committee established by the Ministry to monitor the application of the National guidelines, drew up a new document called 'National guidelines and new scenarios'. This new document focuses on aspects already existing in the National guidelines of 2012 giving them a renewed reading in the light of the competences of citizenship and sustainability that involve all the teaching areas.
Subjects and number of hours
The compulsory subjects taught during the 5 years of primary school are: Italian, history, geography, mathematics, sciences, technology, music, arts, English, civic education, physical education, Catholic religion/alternative activities.
English is a compulsory subject in all grades of primary school (legge 169/2008). At the end of primary school, pupils are expected to have reached the level A1 of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). Teachers of English are class teachers who have acquired specific language competences up to at least level B2 of the CEFR (DPR 81/2009). Such competences can be acquired during ITE programmes, or through certified periods abroad, or verified during the competitive examination.
In the areas of the twelve minority languages, schools autonomously establish how to teach the relevant language and culture, according to families' request. Schools can also use the minority language as a teaching language together with Italian (legge 482/1999).
- 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).
The Ministry has provided schools with specific Guidelines for civic education (Ministerial Decree 35/2020, Annex A). Civic education has a specific timetable of at least 33 hours/year and its teaching must involve all the other curricular subjects without increasing the overall weekly and annual timetable.
Physical education is compulsory and is taught by generalist class teachers. From the 2022/2023 school year, motor education teaching by specialist teachers is introduced for the fifth class, replacing the physical education teaching by class teachers. From the 2023/2024 school year, the teaching of physical education is extended to pupils in the fourth grade. Motor education, in the fifth and fourth grades, is taught for two weekly hours, that increase the weekly timetables, except the 40-hour timetable, which remains unchanged (law 234/2021).
Catholic religion is mandatory for schools but optional for pupils. Families make their choice the first year of primary school for the whole first cycle of education but are allowed to modify their choice at any time before starting a new school year. The specific learning objectives for Catholic religion are established by State regulations (DPR 11 February 2010) in agreement with the Italian Catholic Church. Teachers are specialists and need to pass a specific training according to both the State and the Church legislation. Pupils not attending Catholic religion either carry out extra-curricular activities linked to the values of citizenship with the support of teachers, or do not attend school. Schools include the alternative activities in their own curriculum. The teaching of Catholic religion/alternative activities has a specific weekly timetable of two hours, corresponding to an annual timetable of 66 hours (DPR 175/2012).
The minimum timetable varies according to the organisation of time chosen by families and available at school: 24 hours, 27 hours up to 30 hours and 40 hours. The school year is considered of 33 weeks. As an example, in the 27-hour organisation the total annual timetable is 891 hours (plus the 66 hours for motor education in the fifth and fourth grades). At primary level, the timetable has a horizontal flexibility and schools are free to establish the breakdown of teaching hours for the different subjects with the exceptions described above of civic education, Catholic religion/alternative activities, and motor education in the forth and fifth grades.
Teaching methods and materials
Freedom of teaching is a principle set out in the Italian Constitution (art. 33). The choice and use of teaching methods and materials must be consistent with the school curriculum included in the 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 National guidelines for the curriculum (Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo).
Without prejudice to the freedom of teaching, the National guidelines for the curriculum identify some basic methodological approaches, such as, for example, the enhancement of the experience and knowledge of pupils, the promotion of exploration and discovery activities, the encouragement of cooperative learning, the development of awareness of one's method of learning, in-lab learning, etc.
Teachers choose the textbooks and other teaching materials for their classes and submit their choice to the teachers’ assembly that formally approves it. This formal procedure is not mandatory for schools and teachers. Textbooks can be in digital or mixed version (mixed version is meant as either paper version or paper and digital version), all with integrative digital contents. The Ministry has also described the technical and technological characteristics for all the different versions of textbooks (DM 781/2013). In any case, textbooks and other teaching tools must be consistent with the curriculum and with the three-year educational offer plan of the school (PTOF).
In addition, for specific subjects, schools can create their own digital teaching tools which students will use as textbooks. Teachers develop such tools in class during the teaching hours and in collaboration with the other class teachers and students. Schools can register their products and share them with other State schools (legge 128/2013).
Textbooks are free for families and costs are met by municipalities, in accordance with the regional legislation on the right to study. Every year, the Ministry establishes the retail price of textbooks (law 133/2008 and subsequent modifications, DM 781/2013).
As for school year 2023/2024, the cover price of textbooks is the following (in EUR):
Source: Annex to the DM 52/2023
Primary schools are usually provided with many teaching materials and tools. Schools are encouraged to arrange labs or rooms destined to libraries, gyms, scientific or music labs. In general, primary schools have ICT labs for supporting teaching activities, whereas several classes are also equipped with interactive whiteboards (IWB).
Each school pays for didactic materials and equipment within the limits of its financial resources. Local authorities can share in the expenses in accordance with the regional legislations on the right to study.
Contents revised: February 2024