Christmas has come early for Italian children after the minister of education told teachers not to overload them with homework during the festive season.
Italian children are among the most dedicated in the world when it comes to homework, with teenagers knuckling down to more than eight hours a week, compared to five hours in Britain and just three hours in Finland, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“I’d like teachers to consider the need for children and their families to rest, limiting the burden of homework during the holidays," said education minister Marco Bussetti, from Italy’s populist coalition.
Homework had a negative impact on family time, he said.
“I believe the Christmas holiday should be a time in which children should be allowed to spend time with their loved ones and friends and to dedicate time to reading, to hobbies, to visiting exhibitions and to physical activities.”
His remarks revived a long-standing debate about how much homework children should be saddled with during the holidays and whether it was appropriate for the government to intervene on the matter.
“The minister should concern himself with giving schools the resources they need. Competency for homework should be left to teachers,” said Antonello Giannelli, the president of an association of head teachers. “You can’t impose this sort of thing from central government.”
Benedetto Vertecchi, an education expert, said it was wishful thinking to believe that once relieved of homework, children would sit down to books, hobbies and family conversations.
“As soon as kids get home they turn on the television,” he told La Repubblica newspaper.
“Look around in restaurants – parents and children are all glued to their phones and tablets and don’t say a word to each other.”
But some teachers backed the minister. Ludovico Silvestri, a head -master from Piacenza in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, instructed his teachers last year not to give their students homework for the holidays.
“A few parents objected, thinking that their kids would forget everything they had learnt. But if a child has studied well during the term, he or she will lose nothing during a two-week holiday.”
The long summer holidays, which in Italy last three months, were a different matter.
“A bit of homework should be given for the summer but even then, it should not be excessive,” he said.