The Italian school network, traces of which date back to as early as the sixteenth century, began to develop from the second half of the nineteenth century, around the same time that Italy was unified.
The origin of these institutions is closely linked to the Italian emigration flows. The first Italian schools outside of the country were opened in the Mediterranean basin and in Latin America. Other institutes were founded in the Horn of Africa in the 1930s, followed by others in the aftermath of the Second World War, when people once again began to migrate to Europe and the Americas; other schools were opened abroad in the 1970s and 1980s, following a technological emigration due to the presence of Italian companies as part of large projects in developing countries.
The first Italian schoold abroad were not founded by the state, but rather by religious associations or at the initiative of Società di Mutuo Soccorso (Mutual Aid Societies) created by the Italian emigrants themselves. Francesco Crispi was responsible for the first organic law, in 1889, which already distinguished between government and subsidised schools, corresponding to today’s state and state-authorised schools.
In the 1950s, the first European schools were founded, based on government agreements between European Union Member States, while bilingual sections in foreign schools began to spread in the 1980s, often as a result of bilateral agreements and allowing students to continue studying at universities in either of the two countries.
The 2017 Reform
In recent years, the Italian school network in the world has undergone regulatory and organisational change, with Italian Legislative Decree no. 64/2017 coming into force. The reform outlined a new reference framework for interventions abroad in both schools and universities, as well as dividing up responsibilities between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Ministry of Education.
This Legislative Decree identifies an Italian education system in the world, consisting of state schools, state-authorised and non-state authorised private schools, Italian departments within foreign schools, courses promoted by managing bodies abroad and language assistantships in universities.
This system is part of a broader framework of integrated cultural and economic promotion and innovation, combining culture, economy, science and technology – an approach that looks to the future. This is why we now refer to Italian education in the world rather than Italian education abroad, highlighting a horizon rather than a distance.