A Participatory Reworking of the Locus of Italian Public Education

Thesis Project

Bachelor of Architecture – Rhode Island School of Design

[In Progress]

Public education is a cornerstone of our society. The decisions we make about what and how we teach reflect and form the basis of democratic society.

The closure of Italian schools at the end of February 2020 due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced teachers and students to drastically reimagine the world of education in order to preserve the integrity of learning. This unexpected upheaval of public education should have generated a serious and profound discussion about the future of Italy’s educational future, but no systemic reflections on the future of schooling were produced: this is a critically important act that for several years has been perceived as a need and that is no longer postponable. The act of physically occupying school buildings day and night has now become a symbol for this battle to reopen classroom doors, almost paying tribute to the student protests from the late 1960s that granted some degree of authority and power to student voices in Italian education. The need for the aforementioned urgent, systemic pedagogical reform became evident through these protests.

Students, educators and administrators have shown resilience by using the loudest language of protest available to them: continuing to learn, and demanding the resources and support to do so. Students, as young as first grade, demanded that they be accompanied to school to sit outside of closed gates, physically distanced, ready to learn, and demanding that a government that, in the words of a Florentine student “will have me and my future on its conscience forever,” listen to them. These students eloquently and maturely expressed their own vision of Italy: a country that has seldom considered them as active citizens, but rather dependents of adults, and most importantly unable to express needs, wants and desires for the future.

It is therefore critical, in the light of the loaded history of the Italian public education system and the recent issues exacerbated by COVID-19, that we rethink the meaning of “school” and “education.”

Throughout this thesis project, I intend to propose a new vision of “school” which is articulated around the constructivist model of education, which stipulates that schools should:

  • Be promoters of sociological and technological equity;

  • Be student-centered;

  • Be centered around pedagogical needs and a shared educational vision;

  • Be designed to be resilient and flexible to change;

  • Be designed to allow students to learn how to learn;

  • Be designed to guarantee moments of self-management and decision-making capacity;

  • Be designed to guarantee moments of creativity and initiative.

We all understand the fundamental role that the design of the environment plays in human experiences. Pedagogically, this concept finds its manifestation in Loris Malaguzzi’s “third teacher.” Part of the Reggio Emilia method of primary education is the recognition that the environment in which children learn is fundamental to their development, alongside relationships forged with adults and their peers in educational environments. What we teach, how we teach and where we teach are fundamental questions that ought to guide the design of spaces and modalities for learning.

Authentic, relevant, and complex learning utilizes inquiry-based and project-based methodologies to build critical thinking, reasoning, and collaboration skills. I am choosing to use this thesis project to investigate what the 21st Century spatial manifestations of this idea could be within an education system that has seldom focused on the true pedagogical implications of its structure. Educational fluidity, a large shortcoming of the Italian curriculum, is vitally important if we are to reimagine an educational future where every student’s needs are met. Fluid school design ensures that interactions and relationships take center stage to inject greater excitement, challenge, and joy while fostering the independent process and reflection time needed for sense-making in children today. This is the link between environment and social and emotional wellness.