Sunday, December 7, 2014

Education, Fertility, and Citizenship: Italy’s Strange Bedfellows

By: Alex Rhue
Produced & Edited By: Megan Laird

© Courtesy of: Shutterstock
         Faced with a dwindling number of citizens and a future of economic instability, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has proposed some bold legislative initiatives. 

         They come at a time when Italy needs more residents to maintain its economic viability. The changes unite the seemingly unrelated issues of the Italian birth rate, immigration, and education in a mix of solutions that may prove strangely workable. Topping this list of changes is a faster track to citizenship for the children of immigrants. For children born in Italy to foreign parents, attending primary or secondary Italian schools and learning Italian would allow them to acquire citizenship as children.
Proponents of the initiative say that teaching Italian to immigrant children would help them stay in school and succeed. 

         Dr. Flavia Bruno, a psychoanalyst living in Milan and the mother of a 15-year-old daughter agrees with the initiative. She says, 

         “Immigrants speaking Italian are able to become integrated citizen(s). Kids deprived of the opportunity to learn the language of the hosting country will probably become adults ‘forced’ into a marginalized life.” 

         This represents a significant change from the current cumbersome application process, which cannot begin until they are 18. Dr. Emanuela Di Re, a gynecologist from Milan concurs with Bruno. Discussing the idea of teaching Italian to immigrant school children, she says, “It is a good idea.”
Immigrant children make up almost twelve percent of Italian students overall, and some regions report educating as many as 30% foreign students. 

         “Children, contrary to adults who require much longer, can absorb the culture of the host country…in a very short period of time,” says Matilde Bagnoli, the CEO of a small company that manages a tourist resort in Italy. Not only does it pave the way to citizenship, speaking Italian is seen as a way to foster a sense of belonging and create greater integration into Italian society. Bagnoli believes in this philosophy. 

         "If made citizens, they will integrate and feel respected and less inclined to feel marginalized and behave as such.”
© Courtesy of: Shutterstock
         
         Another change involves the issue of boosting the Italian birth rate.  At a time when Italy is experiencing one of the lowest birth rates among the European nations, Renzi is looking at ways to increase it. Although southern Italy fares far worse in comparison to birth rates in central and northern regions of the country where the economy is better, the entire country is facing a bleak population future. 

         With more than one-fifth of its population over 65, Italy currently has the highest percentage of people living on pensions of any European country. The aging population combined with the declining birth rate could spell economic disaster if nothing is done to increase the birth rate.

This is where Renzi’s plan comes in. With the current Italian birth rate at a low 1.6 births per family and a rate of 2.1 necessary for population stability, enticements to have babies seem to be the answer. Renzi is offering a payment of an extra 80 Euros per month for three years to families making less than 90,000 Euros per year if they have a new baby. With immigrant populations already having higher birth rates and lower incomes than many Italian citizens, they are likely to experience the greatest benefit from the “baby bonus.”

In responding to the issue of offering extra money to parents of newborns for three years, Bruno does not feel that it is a good idea. She says, “Its just a marketing operation. It would be more useful to invest money in kindergartens, schools, after-school activities, etc.” 
         Di Re says, “No, I don’t think so,” in responding to whether offering extra money to parents of newborns is a good idea. Taking a different position, Barbara Zucchi Frua suggests that offering extra money may help somewhat, but says, “I don’t think it is enough.”
The marriage of the population issues and the solutions offered by Renzi are not without controversy and dissension. The wave of immigration that Italy has experienced in recent years has produced resistance among some Italian citizens to the large number of immigrant students. 
         
         Last year, two Italian schools received media coverage when the parents of Italian students removed them from the schools because of the high number of foreign students in classrooms. Increasing the teaching of Italian in schools would cost money. It would mean hiring additional teachers and increasing educational costs for taxpayers.  Earlier this year, Italy’s cabinet agreed to reduce taxes for 2015 by increasing the country’s borrowing from other nations.
© Courtesy of: Flicker:Angelo Amboldi

         
         Nor is the idea of a “baby bonus” embraced by many in the Italian population. Davide Baroni from Tortoreto Lido in central Italy feels “it is not clear how this aid will work. Right now, (it) sounds like a political slogan.” The cost of sending monthly allowances for three years to new parents with lower incomes becomes an additional short-term economic burden. Di Re, in discussing Italy’s problems says, “…we are suffering a world-wide ‘failure’ situation at its highest levels, very high tax-pressure…”

It is clear that Italy needs to increase its number of citizens, particularly younger ones with the potential to work, pay taxes, and purchase good if it is to maintain economic stability. While helping immigrant children learn Italian to assimilate into society and more easily become citizens, this intervention alone is not adequate to solve Italy’s population concerns. The “baby bonus” may well increase birth rates, but this is likely be skewed by increasing births in immigrant families where fertility seems higher and more families meet the income criteria.

2 comments:

Angela Navejas said...

Nice Info! This is very nice blog and it helps many people so keep posting and thanks for sharing it.

Citizenship with Italy | Italian Records

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