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Innovation and Standardization in School Building.
 
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A Proposal for the National Code in Italy.
By Giuseppe Ridolfi, D.d.R,A.N.A.member
October 2001

Acting upon the request of the Law n °23/1996 and after the issue of the Law n °30/2000 on the reform of the Italian Public Education, the department “Tecnologie dell ‘Architettura e Design “from the University of Florence was in charge of developing a research to define a proposal for the new national school building code. The following article reports an abstract of this experience and its inspiring concepts previewed by a brief reconstruction of the evolution of the Public Education Service in Italy.

I. THE PRESENT SCHOOL BUILDING CODE AND THE ITALIAN REFORM PROCESS IN EDUCATION.

1.1.The promulgation of the 1975 Building Code under the first reform period in Education.(1960-1975).

The current government Building Code in Italy, developed for planning and designing of public school facilities, dates from 1975 (D.M.18 December 1975).During the 70 ’s, the Italian government faced a critical issue; how to update the old codes defined under the Mussolini period and formulate a
new Code, which applied to current concerns, issues and practices. This Building Code, based on educational models developed by John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Jerome S. Bruner, arose from a grass roots movements, which explored pedagogic theories and practices during the 60 ’s and the first part of the 70 ’s. During this period, laboratory-schools, new curricula and open schools were broadly developed across the nation thanks
to the initiative of teachers and the support of some local authorities.

This movement, and the pressure for a democratic reconsideration of the school, produced the arrival of some important national rules in the education sector. The main ones of these are:

  • Law 820/1971 introduces full-time schooling;
  • Law 447/1973 establishes the “Distretto Scolastico,” a new bottom-up model for the administration of the school and where other public organizations of the communities entered as active and complementary partners of the school institution;
  • Law 416-9/1974 introduces the “Decreti Delegati,” in which teachers, non-teaching staff, parents and students are recognized as complementary and active subjects for the management of the school.

“For the first time, the idea of the school as a “learning continuum “linked to its territory and integrated with the physical resources of the communities became a consideration. The idea that the school building is not a conglomeration of boxes put in a line coupled with the consciousness that the building itself can also have a great effect on the development of a child ’s sense of democracy became important aspects that influenced the Code.”

These new educational reforms and government reforms were the basis for the 1975 Building Code and some of its more innovative concepts. For the first time, the idea of the school as a “learning continuum “linked to its territory and integrated with the physical resources of the communities became a consideration. The idea that the school building is not a conglomeration of boxes put in a line coupled with the consciousness that the building itself can also have a great effect on the development of a child ’s sense of democracy became important aspects that influenced the Code.

1.2.Problems with the 1975 Building Code and the Education
System revision (1975-1980).

The National Congress on Public Education, held in 1977, can be considered the beginning of a revision movement that developed a critical debate on the first reform experiences and a deep evaluation concerning their results.

Concepts like open-schools, permanent education, participatory education, and team-teaching underwent reconsideration and, as a result, were criticized. The main conclusion of this re-evaluation was a general recommendation to define an educational system more linked to the diverse conditions of the local and national contexts.

Because the 1975 Building Code reflected the past educational concepts, it underwent reconsideration. This reconsideration found that many aspects of it were difficult to realize in practice. High standard levels set by the code, found difficult application in many contexts where old buildings, for
the most part located in historical contexts, were the main resources for schools. In addition, the 1975 Code strongly reflected the aims of Industrialization and the related process of Standardization in construction.

Dimensional space and ambient environmental standards were conceived for new schools yet no specifications were included about restoring, retrofitting or renewing old buildings. The Code worked well for the new buildings, but
it remained an abstract idea in large part of the country where the urgency to achieve the basic requirements and the restraints of funds presented a difficult situation to manage.

Another problem for the implementation of the 1975 Code was that it had been born during a period which held an idealistic and centralist vision of the school. This vision maintained that the school ’s role was to solve and
respond to the diverse needs within the community. Gymnasiums, theatres, libraries, day care and social security centers, as well other public spaces were considered integral parts of school facilities programs. Italy developed a strong building program, between the second half of the 70 ’s and the first half of the 80s,to improve the school facility system. Presently, represents the last large addition of national real estate for educational purposes.

However, because planners did not foresee the amount of construction costs and the extra staff needed for the management, many of these programs failed in the following years.

Dating from this period, the construction activity has slowed down and no large-scale programs have developed. The construction of new school buildings has been isolated events during the second part of the 80 ’s and the whole of the 90 ’s. The main focus of this period has been maintenance and
retrofitting, which occupied the technical offices of the real estate school system without the support of fitted guidelines or coordinated plans.

1.3.Toward the autonomy of the School. Transfer of power from central to local authorities.

During the mid-70 ’s, Italy began the process to transfer the public administration of different strategic areas like health, transportation, and construction from central to local authorities. In the Education sector the DPR 616/1977 was the first Public Act that transferred designing professional curricula into the hands of the Regional Authority (Regioni) and socio-educational assistance services to sustain education rights to the Community Authority (Comuni). Precise roles for the different levels of government in education were established.

These roles are:

  • the Central Authority is in charge of institutional education and curricula;
  • the Regional Authority is in charge of professional education;
  • the Community Authority is in charge of social support for education.

Although this new system reflected the goal for a more democratic education policy, in its early application it was limited by bureaucratic interpretations not able to establish an effective link between schools and local communities. This separation between different roles was also going to create obstacles for a full integration between institutional education, professional education and social support for education.

1.4.Toward the autonomy of the School. Polycentric education and elements for autonomy (1980-1990).

The decentralization process of the public administration and the debate for a more realistic vision of schools created the foundations for the introduction of new subjects to play an active role in education. Starting from the second half of the 80 ’s professional educators, private schools and the entertainment market entered the education system breaking down
the central authority of the public school. These phenomena created an idea of the student as a ‘client ‘and education as a service valuable under efficiency/effectiveness parameters. Private corporate management techniques entered the Public Administration and concepts such as project management, total quality and user requirements satisfaction became a critical topic in the public education reform.

The first step of the decentralization process was the Law 142/1990 established in 1990.This dates the beginning of a long process that assigns full administrative authority to local communities and single schools. This law articulates exactly where the main principles of autonomy were to be designated. The model, articulated by the law, was conceived as a gradual decision-making process with different levels of authority and responsibility.

At the first level is the State; its functions are to coordinate and to promote equal education in the nation. At the second level are the Regions; their functions are to manage specific educational programs according to the national directives and to evaluate their results. At the third level are the single schools and the local districts; their functions are to promote specific educational programs and different forms of experimentation including partnerships with other public or private subjects.

The model supported many experiences involving a wide number of schools, subjects and communities. At the end of the 1990 ’s, according to the 33 °statistical research developed in 1999 by Censis,88%of the schools had been involved in different kinds of educational project experiments. A large part of the educational experimentation concerned the introduction of information technology. Since 1985 special financing programs were passed by the national government to support:

  • introducing computer classes in education curricula, (PN1/1985);
  • using media technology for teaching (PN2/1991);
  • computer buying (C.M.282/97);
  • computer trainings for teachers (C.M.425/97);
  • Internet access (C.M.196/98);
  • digital satellite antenna access (C.M.430/98).

However, the most important national program to support school experimentation was the “Programma Di Sviluppo delle Tecnologie Didattiche “passed for the realization of alternative and innovative curricula based on new media technologies. Funded by this program, many schools were involved in different pilot education projects. These projects are shown in the following table.

Programma di
Sviluppo delle Tecnologie Didattiche
Pilot Projects

MULTILAB

Networks among schools and research
centers
RETE  Network tutoring to support the study of
Italian as a second language
POLARIS Remote training on media education for
teachers
TELECOMUNICANDO Experimentation of teleconferences and wide band communications
ITALIA E LE SUE ISOLE Development of World Wide Web and
e-mail among students
MUSE Introduction of media tools and computers
for music education
PROGETTO SCUOLA
MEDIA
Permanent education on new technologies
for primary school teachers
TELEDIDATTICA PER
LUNGODEGENTI
Remote education for hospitalized students
MILIA Remote training focused on Italian language teaching in South America
DEURE Information Data Base to promote the
participation of teachers in UE programs
GLOBE Participation of some schools in international programs on world sustainability

1.5.School autonomy in action.

The results of these experiments led to the Law 59/1997,well known as the “Legge sulla Autonomia.” Subsequent and related laws were Law 440/1997,the D. Lgs 112/1998 and the D.P.R. 275/1999.These public Acts formalize the autonomy of every single school by the establishment of the “Piano dell ‘Offerta Formativa” (The Educational Proposal Plan) where a single school, according to the national guidelines, can define its own specific curricula.

“Article 21 of the Law 59/1997 allows individual school to integrate the national curricula with their own resources or with the support of local communities … schools can realize partnerships, joint ventures, agreements with public organizations or other schools, with private business corporations or non-profit organizations as well. For the first time Universities, research centers and banks are also included as partners to improve the educational mission of the school.”

In detail, the article 21 of the Law 59/1997 allows individual school to integrate the national curricula with their own resources or with the support of local communities, Provincie and Regioni. The integration can concern specific goals like:

  • adult education;
  • prevention for premature interruption of obligatory schooling;
  • education technology;
  • intensive use of the school facilities;
  • links with professional world.

In order to fulfill these goals, specific instruments and modalities were arranged. The law establishes that schools can realize partnerships, joint ventures, agreements with public organizations or other schools, with private business corporations or non-profit organizations as well. For the first time Universities, research centers and banks are also included as partners to improve the educational mission of the school.

After a year, the government passed the related D.Lgs 112/1998 that defined roles for the integration of national curricula. In detail, the article 138 transfers to the Regioni the following roles:

  • to design the integration between the institutional curricula and professional opportunities;
  • to program the regional school facilities;
  • to plan the territory as different educational areas.

The article 139 assigns the Provincie the following functions:

  • to reorganize and to plan their school facilities, in accordance with the regional program and plans (new buildings, restoring or closing schools);
  • to support schooling for disadvantaged students;
  • to program the use of school facilities;
  • to control the activities of the Public Education administration.

The same article assigns to the Comuni the following functions:

  • to define adult education programs;
  • to integrate schooling and business;
  • to support schooling for disadvantaged students.

Other important proposals that arise from the new laws are opportunities to expand education out of the school and to reinforce the concept of ‘learning environment ‘. These opportunities are provided by the Programma di Sviluppo di Comunità and the Piano Integrato d ‘Area .

“It offers the opportunity to utilize school facility projects to improve quarters and urban environments. … This project allowed children to work with planners and architects in school designing and programming.”

The former is a program opportunity very closely related to the experiences developed in Chicago during the 1920 ’s and to other later European initiatives like the Educational Priority Area from the UK, and the Zones d ‘Education Prioritaries developed in France. It offers the opportunity to utilize school facility projects to improve quarters and urban environments. One of the experiences that utilized the Programma di Sviluppo di Comunità is the “Città dei Bambini.” The “Città dei Bambini” is a project connected to Eurocities, to the UNICEF program “Bambino Urbano “and the national project “Città Sostenibili” promoted by the Public Environment Department. This project allowed children to work with planners and architects in school designing and programming.

The Piano Integrato d ‘Area is an instrument to allow a coordinated programming action in wider areas like districts or regions. This instrument defines the procedures to establish partnerships between different subjects that operate in different fields related to education. Presently, this instrument is used to realize some information services for school orientation, job orientation and professional training. From 1994 to1998,the city of Florence inside the project “Leva Giovanile,” used this opportunity to employ students as tutors for younger children.

1.5.The new education system and new requirements for school facilities.

At the end of the year 2000,the Government passed the Law 30/2000 that arranges all these reforms, experiences and experimentations to define the new asset for the Public Education. The main changes, that are also developed to conform the system to the European system, are:

  • the introduction of the credits to allow the designing of personal curricula;
  • the obligatory achievement of credits from the professional world as a part of curricula;
  • the reorganization of the educational cycles.

The reorganization of the educational cycles is the most relevant modification that will to produce a great impact on the whole educational system. According to this change the new cycles are:

  1. Pre-school, for children up until 5 years old;
  2. Primary School in 7 years, for children 6-13 years old;
  3. Secondary School in 5 years, also divided in two parts:
    the first one (ages 13-15)provides two obligatory years
    and the second one (ages 15-18)three facultative years.

However, the education system requires children have to attend schooling until the age of 18 years introducing a compulsory professional training for students that decide to stop institutional studies after the first three years of Secondary School. In addition, the training frequency certificate will give
the students credits to reenter school.

The new cycles will impact the school system since the Middle School, included in the old educational system, is cancelled. The Middle School, that involving children between ages 11-13 years old will be integrated with the old Elementary School (ages 6-11)to create the new Primary School.
One of the main problems of this reform is related to the real estate. In fact, with this integration the old building can ‘t accommodate seven classes: the Elementary nor the Middle School buildings can fit these requirements.

The integration, also, introduces new problems in school designing that architects and planners should take in high consideration. One of the main concerns is related to the wider age range that the new system introduces into the primary school. More flexibility in designing spaces, furniture and environment should be evaluated, as well as all the features that reduce the potential for conflict between children of different age ranges.

Another issue generated by the new system concerns the responsibility of the real estate administration and its reorganization. Presently, Pre-Schools and Elementary Schools are under the local community administration; instead, the old Middle Schools are a real estate property of the Provincie. How the transfer of the real estate will be acted and who will be in charge of this reorganization is still a difficult question that the local and central governments are trying to solve.

Autonomy and the opportunity for each school to act as juridical entity able to sell/buy services and to cooperate with other subjects is another repercussion of the reform. It will create a great impact on the administrative area of the schools and, a s a consequence, more functions and more spaces will need to fit these equirements. Different hypothesis about the concentrations of the administrative functions or about the realization of shared resources are presently under discussion.

Other new aspects, that planners and designers have to consider, are some requirements that educators, public authorities and citizens are now recognizing as strategic goals to achieve in planning and designing new schools. These goals concern the citizens ‘participation in realizing school as a center of the community; the access of the community members to the school facilities and resources, the incorporation of spaces, furniture and new technologies with multiple uses and, above all, the design of “learning environments “able to fit future changes and other needs we do not yet know.

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July 16th, 2006
 

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