My project has been finished for a while but I am also done with my final paper now! I’m so happy that I got to have this experience this summer. Although it was a research project, I think the biggest benefit I got from my project was all of the experience I gained from volunteering in schools. I recently started the 5 year masters program in the School of Education and it is so interesting to be able to compare my experiences in public schools in Italy to what I am learning about in my classes. I also think this classroom experience will help me during student teaching next year. I got to experience first hand different classroom management styles and how experienced teachers handle a classroom, which is something I could have only learned in a classroom.
In terms of research, I studied the differences between Italian and American schools, although since I only volunteered in Siena, Italy, and Fairfax County, I was really comparing those two school systems. I went into this project with knowledge of Fairfax County schools on a student level because I went to school in that county, but I had no knowledge of Italian school systems. I knew that in general, U.S. education is a very competitive environment. Once I started volunteering in Italy, I found this to be especially true in comparison to Italian schools. Italian culture is so relaxed, and their culture translates to their schools. For the most part, U.S. schools focus more attention on academic achievement of their students than do Italian schools, which is exemplified by the PISA test scores for each country. In every subject, the United States is above Italy in test scores and ranking in world education, although neither country is at the top nor bottom of the list. Therefore, both countries could stand to improve their educational systems.
Although there is room for improvement in both school systems, I cannot take good policies from Siena and apply them to Fairfax County, or vice versa, as I had originally hoped. For example, Siena schools require all students to learn English starting in elementary school, as well as another language in high school. I personally really like this policy because it is much easier for students to learn languages when they are younger. Fairfax County has language programs but they do not uniformly require a language, which in my opinion puts their students at a disadvantage. However, when further examining this difference in policy, I came to the conclusion that Siena requires English because it is a necessity. First, Italy is part of the European Union, which wants its members to speak multiple languages and foster communication between countries. Second, Italians who speak English are at an advantage because tourism is such a major industry and English is spoken by many tourists. I wish there was an easy answer and I could come up with concrete ways to improve our educational system, but I realized from this research project that looking to other school systems is not the answer. Education is determined by culture, so we cannot apply policies created by another culture to our own.