THE ITALIAN SCHOOL SYSTEM: how does education work in Italy?

A question that is often asked on our pages is about how the school system is organized in Italy! In fact, every school system is different depending on the country you live in and for many foreigners it’s difficult to understand the subdivision and the functioning of the Italian system. Therefore, in the following lesson we’re going to clear up any confusion about this topic!

The structure of the Italian school system

Before we begin, you need to know that Italian schools can be:

– public: State-funded

– private: funded through school fees, namely the sums of money paid by the students

The academic programs of both of these types of school follow the regulations from the MIUR (Ministry of Education, University and Research)

Now let’s see the various steps:

1) Infant school

The attending of this school is not obligatory (parents can decide to register their children in accordance with the needs), and it’s divided into:

asilo nido (kindergarten): attended by 0-to-3 years old children

scuola materna (preschool): attended by 3-to-6 years old children

From 6 to 16 years of age, attending school becomes obligatory, as established by the law, and we enter the so-called scuola dell’obbligo (compulsory education), that starts with:

2) primary or elementary school

This school is attended by 6 to 11 years old students: thus the attending lasts 5 years. During those years, boys and girls learn to write and read and they apprehend the first notions of History, Geography, Mathematics, Italian Grammar, Science, Music and Physical Education and, for a few years now, also English and Computer Science while Religion classes are optional.

3) 1st grade secondary or middle school 

This step lasts 3 years and involves students from 11 to 13 years of age. During this period, the students deepen the various subjects studied in elementary school, and at the end of it, they must take the esame di terza media (middle school exam), composed by:

  • Italian written test
  • written Math test
  • written language test
  • oral which consists in the presentation of a work on a specific topic including all the studied subjects.

4) upper secondary school or high school

This step lasts 5 years and involves 14 to 19 years old students, but from the age of 16 boys and girls have the possibility to abandon their studies.

The students can choose among 3 types of di high schools, depending on their goals:

Liceo: it offers a more theoretical education and more oriented to further education at the University and, depending on the subjects studied, they can be of different types:

classico (grammar) (Latin, Greek and Italian)

scientifico (scientific) (Mathematics, Physics and Science)

linguistico (language) (English and foreign languages)

tecnologico (technology) (Computer Science)

artistico (artistic) (art),

musicale (music).

Professional Technical High School: in this type of school in addition to common subjects, students can acquire practical-technical skills, suited to the entry into employment, in sectors like:





healthcare professions

ITF (Vocational education and training): in this type of school, students acquire practical and professional skills. The studies in these schools focus on jobs like:





At the end of high school student must take another exam, the feared esame di maturità (graduation exam) which is composed by 3 written tests and 1 oral examination, and if you pass it, you’ll receive a degree of maturity, that will allow you to have access to University.

5) University

It’s divided into:

First cycle: also known as “laurea triennale” and, as its name suggest, it lasts 3 years. There’s a wide and diverse selection of Italian universities like:

scientific departments (Mathematics, Physics, Astrophysics, Chemistry…),

humanities faculty (Literatures, Philosophy, Foreign Languages, Cultural Heritage…)

technical faculties (Architecture, Engineering, Economy…).

Second cycle: also known as “laurea magistrale” or “specialistica” (second level degree), it usually lasts 2 years and it’s the continuation of the first cycle to ensure the students a higher level of specialization. However, there are some courses (Faculty of law, Faculty of Pharmacy, Construction Engineering, Architecture etc) that last 5 years (6 years as regards Med School) and take the name of “Corsi di Laurea a ciclo unico” (Single Cycle Degree Course)

Third cycle: it’s devoted to the most ambitious students and it includes:

master: they’re usually short courses of study that offer the opportunity (to those who are interested) to deepen some specific aspects of the subject studied during the first two cycles.

doctoral degrees: they’re theoretical courses, that are perfect for those who desire a career in the academic field or in the field of research.

Well, this is the Italian school system. Let us know how the school systems in your countries work! If you want to speak Italian like a true native speaker, don’t miss the promo 2×1 that includes our course Italiano in Contesto and a digital copy of our book Italiano Colloquiale, at the price of 69 euros.

One thought to “THE ITALIAN SCHOOL SYSTEM: how does education work in Italy?”

  1. Just a clarification:
    It’s not specified really well in the text, but Lyceum students do not ONLY study the subjects that are specific to their learning goal. Scientific Lyceum, Classical Lyceum, and so on, we have up to 10-11 subjects for five consecutive years. All of these subjects are usually done as rigorously as the others, and (I’m a Liceo Scientifico student) we often have the same amount of class hours for things such as Mathematics and Literature, or English Lit. and Physics.
    The objective of this school is to have a very broad and quite detailed program for the main subjects.

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