In a few years we have witnessed the dissipation and destruction of all the progress and successes achieved over decades of effort, experimentation, collaboration and social struggle that made the network of educational services the pride of the City of Venice, a “model” that was studied and imitated.
By Monica Sambo 22 April 2022
Education has never before been so fundamental for families and for children’s growth as it is today. Having access to a nursery school is a determining factor for early childhood development, and to provide care for citizens’ lives from the first steps. The initial phase of a child’s growth, exposed to the welcome of the nursery schools, positively influences children’s independence, their awareness and sociability, areas which would not develop as well in relations with only adults, if they spend their time exclusively with parents or grandparents.
It has been demonstrated how children who attend good schools are better integrated in society and achieve better scholastic results and higher degrees. As James Heckman, Nobel prize winner for Economy argues, it is necessary, and it’s also cost-effective to invest in early childhood. According to Heckman, to promote lasting economic development, creating good educational services and the conditions that make them widely accessible is, in fact, one of the best investments that a public administration can make. Over time the returns will be four-fold what was invested.
In addition, the investment in services for early childhood is also fundamental for gender policies. The employment disparity between men and women is closely linked to a culture that tends to place parenting responsibilities more on women than on men. To over come these disparities a change of paradigm is needed, which must necessarily start with significant investments in educational services for early childhood.
It is no accident that, many years ago, the City Venice decided to invest widely and consistently in the creation and development of public nursery schools, in an evolution of the Ex ONMI (National Maternity and Infancy Work). It was a courageous choice, motivated by the desire to promote social development and quality of life, and to act preventively on the causes of social and family decay. But, most of all the goal was to create spaces and structures that really knew how to respond to the growth and development needs of children. Equipped spaces and specially developed activities, managed by professionally trained and motivated staff. Spaces organized through experiments that accounted for the length of time, types of materials and actions appropriate for children, and where the boys and girls were meant to be at the center.
Nor was it a casual choice, on the part of the City, to relocate the nursery school service to the then superintendency of Public Instruction, moving it away from social politics and giving it a predominantly educational dignity.
In fact, the Nursery Schools of Venice then achieved exceptional levels, and became not only a national model but also international, exporting methodologies and experiences, performing research and developing projects and training courses. One could justifiably speak with pride of the “Venice model”, our service having become an object of study and a vehicle for experts and researchers from around the world.
Since 2015 that system has been gradually dismantled, making it today a mere shadow of its former self. In comparison with the past the Venice nursery schools of today risk becoming parking lots for early childhood, where there are not even the minimum staff necessary nor the space for activities, laboratories or other educational approaches. However, despite this, thanks to the perseverance and commitment of the now historic educators and auxiliary staff of AMES (a subsidiary company that manages the auxiliary and kitchen staff employed at the nursery and preschools), these nursery schools have managed and guaranteed continuity, keeping services open even during the drama of Covid, in conditions that are barely sustainable. With precious few protections and no recognition from the Administration, these workers have once again managed to protect and ensure children and families.
Over the course of this progressive erosion, we have had to witness inconceivable choices, such as making mothers who live in the community with their children pay tuition, or the first closings of structures such as the Nuvola and Conchiglia nursery schools and the Spazio Cuccioli Stefani.
On the other hand, bureaucratizing the services and limiting access has obtained the desired result: fewer registrations and underutilized nursery schools. The tacit underlying goal of this Administration seems to be to demonstrate that the public nursery schools aren’t needed, and that they are a superfluous expense. This is a political choice that runs against trends, aimed at denying the needs of families and the national policies that instead are incentivizing and strengthening the presence of these facilities and facilitating access.
As part of its continued dismantling of the service, last year the Administration decided, without warning or letting the families know, to drop management of the Millecolori municipal nursery school and outsource it. There were more or less admissible excuses offered, but all completely devoid of any preventive evaluation or pedagogical thought. It was argued that children in nursery schools required experiences of “digital immersion”, and that families urgently needed to leave their children at the nursery school for longer periods of time, even on Saturdays – and that outsourcing was the only way to meet these needs.
In fact, digital has been a huge flop, a smokescreen to legitimize the sale of public services that are now paying for the inability to be properly administered. No family ever requested an extension of hours, and even less so attendance on Saturdays.
A year later, however, and without any verification, the same Administration has now passed a resolution to extend the outsourcing of Millecolori for another two years, and for the outsourcing of two more nursery schools, the “Tiepolo” and San Piero in Volta. And, to complete the disaster, it has also decided to launch a plan for outsourcing all the nursery schools in the Municipality of Venice. It is an insane, deplorable scheme, after years of denying reality. Faced with the concerns of the citizens and of the opposition this Administration has only ever known how to react by hurling accusations of political propaganda and partisan criticism.
The reality, instead, is actually this: the administration’s desire to destroy a service that has only brought well-being, care and support to all the citizens of Venice, and only for doggedly ideological motives dictated by ignorance, arrogance and hypocrisy.
These are scandalous actions by those who believe they are capable of administering, making choices aimed at eliminating services that are part of the history of the city and which were a national flagship. At this point they are using female workers like sandbags to plug the leaks left by their mismanagement, and a policy that has openly chosen to neglect educational planning and the needs of early childhood in favor of purely economic aspects.
Monica Sambo is the Municipal Secretary of the Democratic Party and City Councilor for the Democratic Party in the City Council of Venice.