Intercultural education made its official appearance in the Italian formal education system in 1994, with the then ground-breaking Ministerial Memorandum 73/1994 (“Intercultural dialogue and democratic coexistence: the planning engagement of the school”). The key principles outlined in the document were the following: intercultural education should be considered as the pedagogical answer to cultural pluralism, and as such should not be seen as a mere compensatory activity, but rather as the “integrating background” against which any education is possible in the contemporary world; it must concern all students; it has to do more with the development of relational skills and dialogic identities than with the teaching of specific topics; it implies a less Euro-centric approach to school subjects, as well as the safeguard of minority languages and cultures.
The implementation of these principles in the school curricula, however, has been inconsistent due to the uneven territorial distribution of migrant communities across Italy (and thus the “multicultural development” of schools taking place at different speeds) and the need for teachers and educators to deal with emergency issues such as welcoming the growing wave of foreign students and meeting Italian language teaching requirements. Although individual schools have been entrusted with the definition of their own training provision (Law 59/97, Article 21),relatively few of them have, in fact, met the challenge of revising the curriculum drawing inspiration from the Memorandum’s guidelines.
Furthermore, between 1994 and 2006 there has been a legislative gap regarding intercultural education, with only a few significant exceptions such as Law 40/1998 (which requires schools to develop a number of intercultural projects aimed at “acknowledging linguistic and cultural differences as the basis for mutual respect, intercultural exchange and tolerance”). Against a background of staggering growth of the foreign school population in the past five years (see chapter 2.6), the Ministry of Education created a Unit for the Integration of Foreign Students in 2004; at the same time, however, not only were crucial professional resources such as “learning facilitators”, “tutors” and cultural / linguistic mediators cut down due to financial constraints, but any explicit reference to the role of formal education in a multicultural society was overlooked
In the following years, some long-awaited steps were taken to fill this gap and make up for lost time: in 2006, the publication of “Guidelines for the first reception and integration of foreign students” (Ministerial Memorandum 24/2006) and of a “Policy framework document for the integration of foreign students and intercultural education”, as well as the establishment of an ad-hoc Observatory (by Ministerial Decree of 6 December 2006); in 2007 and 2014, the Ministerial guidelines “The Italian way for an intercultural school and the integration of foreign students”; and finally, in 2015, the new recommendations outlined in the Ministerial document “Different from whom?” (istruzioneer.it/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/MIUR.AOODGSIP.REGISTRO_UFFICIALEU.0005535.09-09-2015-indicazioni-stranieriOss1.pdf), including the valorisation of linguistic diversity (alongside increased efforts in teaching Italian as a second language), the adoption of preventive measures against school segregation, and the promotion of intercultural education as a vehicle to improve relational skills and to develop an open attitude towards diversity and “otherness”.
In the meantime, the pedagogic approach advocated by the 1994 Memorandum has been brought forward by individual schools through intercultural education programmes, often undertaken in partnership with other organisations and local authorities. These programmes widely differ with regard to their goals and objectives, methodologies, tools, and expected outcomes, ranging from formal school activities to informal actions aimed at developing inter-ethnic relations, based on principles of equality and cultural pluralism. As the presence of foreign students in Italian schools has evolved into a structural phenomenon, a growing body of evidence has been gathered to document and monitor local programmes and activities: see for example the database of intercultural education programmes in Lombardia’s schools set up by Fondazione ISMU in 2003, and run in partnership with the regional administration (http://www.orimregionelombardia.it/area.php?ID=9).