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Foreign student cap sparks polemics

Education minister says 30% limit to take effect next fall

08 January, 21:56
Foreign student cap sparks polemics

(ANSA) - Rome, January 8 - Polemics flared on Friday after Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini announced a long-rumored 30% cap on the number of foreign students per classroom would take effect next fall.

Unveiling the new guidelines for the 2010-211 school year, Gelmini said the limit was essential to the integration of foreign students and to avoid the creation of ''ghetto'' classes.

''We're ready to welcome children of different cultures from all over the world,'' she said.

''But they've got to learn about Italian language and culture and the best place for them to do that is in an Italian classroom environment''.

The education minister added that schools had discretionary power to adjust the limit depending on how well their immigrant students spoke Italian.

Foreign pupils raised in Italy wouldn't necessarily be affected by the limit whereas children with limited exposure to Italian might prosper from an even larger proportion of native schoolmates, she explained. The idea was first raised in March in response to growing concern among parents over the growing number of predominately foreign classrooms.

Gelmini noted that classes composed entirely of children born abroad or to immigrant parents were becoming increasingly common to the detriment of Italian and foreign students alike.

But opposition Democratic party pointwoman on the parliamentary social affairs committee, Liva Turco, said the cap was a simplistic solution to a complex problem.

''It's obviously a good idea to keep foreign pupils from being segregated into separate classes, but what's really needed are special orientation programs to help immigrant children and their families,'' she said.

Turco argued that a simple classroom cap was ''insufficient'' to foster integration, a difficult task she accused the government of dumping on unassisted teachers.

The announcement also met with a tepid response from an Italian Bishops' Council spokesman on immigration who said the plan was ''ambivalent''.

''It purports to help people by discriminating against them,'' said Msgr. Bruno Schettino.

But the education minister insisted that a cap would prevent the segregation of the Italian school system into native and non-native classes and ensure the classroom's role as a cultural melting pot for future generations.

According to the Italian Association of Italian Municipal Councils (ANCI), there are currently 690,000 foreign students from 190 different countries in Italian schools.

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