February 5, 2023

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Silvio Garatini: “More space for science in schools for the future of young people”

There are heterogeneous attitudes about the characteristics of our school, often indifferent. There are those who praise it as the best in the world and those who consider it completely unsuitable for the needs of our time. There is no doubt that not everything has to be thrown away, but important changes are also needed which I will try to comment on.

1. The Italian school lacks teaching that would help young people, starting from elementary school, to think about their health. Not all diseases rain from the sky. Many diseases from chronic diseases to cancer are largely preventable. It depends on us, through the application of good lifestyle habits, to improve our health, but that requires having science in school. Our school lacks the idea that science is the source of knowledge, through specific methodologies, which makes it different from knowledge of other forms of knowledge such as literary, philosophical or artistic knowledge.

If I want to know whether medicine is good or bad, if exercise is good, I cannot ask philosophy or literature, and must ask science. This requires teachers who do not exist today, with exceptions, but who must be prepared for this type of activity. This necessary change in our school in the future will have the advantage of reducing gullibility, improving the health of citizens, reducing absenteeism from preventable diseases and allowing the sustainability of the National Health Service, as well as a better view of reality for politicians.

2. Our school is a school from the past. Everything that is studied belongs to what actually happened: from history to philosophy, from art to biology. This is good because it allows us to see where we are coming from, but it is also a limitation because it does not allow us to understand where we are going. We lack perspective because we are not dealing with the present or the future. This determines the relative inability of our commercial and political world to carry out research projects and strategic plans. Moreover, our documents that relate precisely to strategic plans are very long because in our school, for example, compared to the French school, there is little tendency to give abstracts, and to prefer subjects instead. Writing summaries exercises you to understand the important points of what you are reading or planning.

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3. The Italian school is passive, especially in universities, and is subject only to frontal lessons. Young Italians ask some questions and interact a little with the teachers. It sounds paradoxical, but some of the lessons have to be done by the students. The vast availability of information should allow you to prepare a lesson with the guidance and assistance of teachers. It will be an important way to remember and process information, to know what to keep and what to forget.

Another way to make young people’s behavior more active is to have discussions about the interpretation of historical events or about problems related to the future of our society. It’s a way to have less harsh and more understanding discussions in the future.

These changes require courage because they are about breaking taboos and asking teachers for more training for an activity different from the current routine. The Minister of Education has a great opportunity to be remembered with gratitude in the future.

Silvio Garatini is the founder and president of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmaceutical Research (IRRCCS).