Italy plans for micro-nurseries, lessons in woods

Rome (AFP) –


Virus-hit Italy has closed its schools until September, but is drawing up plans to re-open nurseries and hold mini summer schools for children desperate to play after two months of lockdown.

Kindergartens and day nurseries may be used from June for small groups of children aged zero to six years, according to plans being drawn up by the education ministry and published Saturday by the Corriere della Sera daily.

The proposals, based on strict systems used in Denmark and Norway to reopen nurseries, will need the go-ahead from a scientific committee.

The closure of schools until the end of the academic year has been one of the more controversial anti-coronavirus measures imposed in Italy, with many saying it overly penalises working women and children.

The country has been one of the hardest hit by the virus, which has claimed over 28,000 lives so far.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has insisted that children carry a very high risk of contagion. Part of the reason for keeping schools closed is the risk of infecting vulnerable teachers.

Italy has the oldest teachers across OECD countries, with nearly 60 percent of them aged over 50.

But as the country prepares to ease lockdown measures, Conte said reopening nurseries may be possible on a trial, experimental basis.

The proposal is for micro-groups of between three and six children to attend in shifts. Their temperatures would be checked on entry and they would only be allowed to play with pre-sterilised toys, nothing brought from home.

The same children would attend each group each time. They would not wear masks, but the teachers would.

Education minister Lucia Azzolina has said the playgrounds and gyms of primary and secondary schools could be used. The idea is for them to spend as much time outdoors as possible, the daily said.

- 'Woods, museums, parks' -

Patrizio Bianchi, who heads the committee of experts studying how to reopen schools in September, told the Repubblica daily the system would need to be revolutionised.

Over 8.5 million children and teens have been missing classes, and efforts to offer online schooling have been patchy and have skipped completely those in families without computers or Internet access.

Bianchi called for three billion euros to be spent each year for the next five years to restructure Italy's crumbling school buildings and boost Internet connectivity to allow home study.

"Parents and students have told us they want a school for the times we live in," he said in an interview.

"One big national digital platform, dedicated entirely to schooling. It will be the basis of a new style of teaching."

Under his plan, many lessons would move outdoors.

"Trentino (in northern Italy) will have to exploit its woods, Milan its museums, Rome its parks," he said.

Classrooms would also be restyled so far fewer pupils -- 10 at most -- sit in a semi-circle rather than twice that number staring at the back of their fellow students' heads.

Entry times to school would be staggered. And teachers, he suggested, should be paid more.