Adult education in Italy

Teresa la Marca, Bruno Schettini

What is meant in the country when you talk about Adult Education?
“A set of formal and non-formal educational opportunities aimed at adults, both Italians and migrants” with the goal of acquiring skills connected to work and social life, and to assist entry into the formal professional education and training system. Training is offered to young people as early as sixteen (they must currently stay in full-time education until sixteen), but it is known as ‘adult education’ from the age of 25.
There are two different fields in terms of adult education; adult instruction (IdA) entrusted to the Ministry of Education and Professional Training (FP), run by regional and provincial authorities.
Main obstacles in increasing adult educational levels:
A return to illiteracy: through obsolescence of knowledge or skills, adults with diplomas no longer possess competitive and up-to-date abilities;
Illiteracy: even adults with degrees are not able to express certain concepts such as symbolism and other abstract mental functions linked to scientific disciplines, due to a lack of practice and/or lack of basic training.
Lack of practice using one’s memory: lack of practice and inability to link phenomena and facts in past and recent history, which nevertheless make up the framework within which we can intelligently express a critical opinion of social and civil life. This lack of practice is certainly linked to the uncontrolled and pervasive use of the media.

What is typical for Adult Education in the country?
The current adult education system in Italy does not seem interested in a genuine lifelong learning strategy. It is totally absent from the Italian national legislative context, which is centred mainly around instruction (formal education) and is managed by the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research through Permanent Territorial Centres (CTP), which are currently transforming into Provincial Adult Education Centres (CPIA). CTPs award the Primary School and I level Secondary School Diploma (these constitute what was once defined as obligatory schooling); the so-called non-formal field, (non-formal education) is run by Associations (non-profit), by Unions and by the Church: Catholic and Protestant (the latter has a minor presence in Italy).
Women and immigrants are the key target group as, combined, they represent the majority of participants.

Legal basis
From 2000, thanks to European stimuli, the system was reorganised as a network structure with various centres: schools, the regional professional training system, employment services, the associations, universities and cultural institutions (libraries, museums, etc.).
The implementation of EdA (for formal training) has been entrusted since 1997 to the Permanent Territorial Centres for adult education (CTP) with premises throughout the Italian national territory – mainly related to the public school system. In 2008, these centres were transformed into Provincial Adult Education Centres (CPIA). The system is still undergoing reorganisation and should reach its optimum operating level by school year 2011/12.

Responsible public bodies / ministries
National Agency for School Autonomy Development: Aims to support school autonomy and innovation at educational institutions (; the ANSAS is a research institute of the Ministry of Education;
Institute for Workers’ Professional Training Development (ISFOL): Carries out and promotes study activity, research, assessment, information, consultancy and technical assistance for developing professional training, social policies and work (; Isfol is a research Institute of the Ministry of Labour;
National Institute for Assessing the Educational System of Instruction and Training (INVALSI): Carries out research and assessment of the overall quality of training offered by educational institutions and professional training courses, even in the context of continuing education. In particular, it manages the National Assessment System (; the INVALSI is a research institute of the Ministry of Education;
Italian Adult Education Union (UNIEDA): The sector’s promotional body made up of associations, foundations, Public and Third Age Universities, and other bodies involved in lifelong learning;
National Anti-Illiteracy Union: The UNLA has a long history. It was founded by Francesco Saverio Nitti, who was its President from 1947 to 1952. Via its Culture Centres spread mainly across the regions of southern Italy (Campania, Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia) and thanks to an agreement with the Ministry of Education, it is in charge of continuing education and functional literacy

Providers of Adult Education
Formal Education:
Provincial Centres for Adult Education (CPIA): Offer courses to obtain the elementary diploma and mid-level diploma, short and modular functional literacy courses (IT, literature, foreign languages, etc.) and courses for linguistic and social integration for foreigners.
Regional Professional Training Bodies: Offer professional training courses for workers, courses for functional literacy (IT, foreign languages), courses for linguistic and social integration for foreigners and non-formal education courses.
University: Apart from degree courses, they offer various types of adult training courses.
Public Technical and Professional Institutions: Apart from curricular courses, they offer professional training courses, functional literacy courses (IT, foreign languages) and courses for linguistic and social integration for foreigners.
Companies: Training and refresher courses for workers (Continuing education – FC).

The CPIA substituted the CTP as of school year 2011/12. The CPIA awards I level secondary school diplomas. The training agreement will have to be negotiated with upper secondary schools between the adult student and the schools.
The agreement between the Social Parties (Unions) and companies allows continuing education (FC) to be offered to adult workers, with the aim of supplementing the skills required by companies and by the Labour Market. Continuing education should not be confused with professional training (FP). Continuing education is paid for by company funds (Equal Interprofessional Funds), 0.3% per employee.

Non-Formal Education:
Associations and non-profit organisations
Training bodies
Third Age Universities

Currently, if we exclude EU financing, there are no institutional channels for financing non-formal adult education. The Ministry of Education does, however, economically support adult education through night school for the acquisition of II level Secondary School diplomas and functional literacy courses for the acquisition of Primary and I level Secondary study diplomas (CTP now CPIA).
For the CPIA, there is no inscription or attendance fee (generally, there are no fees for formal courses, i.e. for courses awarding diplomas; while for short courses an inscription fee is required).
In particular, the finance system supports courses aimed at unemployed adults and disadvantaged target groups (people with disabilities, under-18s without diplomas, etc.).
There is a wide range of self-financed adult training courses (formal and non-formal); these participation fees are decided upon by promoting bodies.

In the framework of formal training, we are noticing the widespread nature of courses awarding the basic and mid-level diploma, short and modular courses for functional literacy (in particular IT and foreign languages) and a notable increase in courses for linguistic and social integration for foreigners.
In the framework of non-formal training, the offer is extremely varied: empowerment, cultural courses, art and literature, art and crafts, etc.

Formal AE:
Primary and high school teachers
Professional trainers

Non-Formal AE:
Teachers and professional trainers
University professors
Educators and sector experts

The training profession in Italy is not regulated, even though there is a Masters Degree in Educational Science – non-school related training curriculum; diplomas and specific qualifications are not required to work as a trainer (often trainers are graduates with specific experience).

Quality system / insurance
Formal AE:
All the bodies mentioned above offering adult courses must respect national and regional regulations. Even private training companies must follow a regional accreditation procedure.
A national technical committee has been created at the Ministry of Education to direct, monitor, assist and verify adult instruction and training.

Non-Formal AE:
For non-formal education, there are no specific regulations. However, many courses are offered by accredited training bodies, according to national and regional regulations.

Latest developments / upcoming topics
In Italy, there is no real national consideration of adult education, which is absent from both the government’s programme and that of the regions and local authorities (Provinces and Municipalities). European funds are used for lifelong learning but in the absence of a unifying framework. These funds are used in particular for non-formal adult education courses; these courses are short and do not award diplomas but simply attendance certificates. In general, courses on PC use, foreign languages, art, hobbies, etc., are attended by adults already boasting II level secondary school diplomas or even a degree.
In order of priority, non-formal adult education could be a strategy for:
a) the democratic exercising of citizenship;
b) exercising lawfulness and learning behavioural methods required to combat and oppose usury, rackets and lack of security on work sites and at other places of work;
c) raising awareness of the Italian Constitution and Justice system;
d) raising awareness of workplace rights, sanctioned by law and labour contracts.
These priorities appear inescapable in the current situation, within which dogmatic support for globalisation and that of migration has lead the labour market and social relationships to become excessively fluid, without clear lines for understanding the very phenomena that results in prejudice, intolerance, company relocation, objection to collective labour contracts and new forms of illegal hiring of farm workers.

Relevant links 

Euridyce: Structures of Education and Training Systems in Europe – Italy
EAEA Country presentation: Italy
General country information: Wikipedia: Italy