Educational Development in Schools and Universities

In 1923 the Gentile Reform was introduced, which changed the educational system majorly. Giovanni Gentile was appointed Minister of Education, and he received some criticism from fascists for not being fascist enough. His reforms followed a very elitist and academic approach, introducing tough national examinations.

He also was a supporter of freedom for the universities – something which many other groups were not at all happy with. Extreme fascists, the Catholic Church and even middle-class fascists all felt this was not beneficial enough to them. In a bid to satisfy these groups, Mussolini removed Gentile from his position in 1924 and many of his reforms were changed or diluted, and until 1929 there was not any great effort to reorganise education along fascist lines.

The reasons for leaving the universities alone were also because it seemed more urgent to focus on the younger age groups, who would be more easily indoctrinated. From 1931 all professors had to swear allegiance to the state, many did, but it is likely that very few would have agreed with it. The only purge of universities came about in 1938 with Jewish university professors and students.

Universities were not, as you might expect, a hotbed of anti-fascist protest, in fact many of them openly supported fascism by joining the GIL (Gioventu Italiana del Littorio) which was set up in 1937 as the next step after the ONB. The GIL was a reformed version of the GUF (Gioventu Universitaria Fascisti) which was originally set up in 1929. There was large support and membership of the GUF and later the GIF from university students.

Primary and nursery education were, for the most part, left alone. Secondary schools were the main issue for Mussolini, and Italy at the time had 3 different types of schools; the Gymnasium or Liceo (Grammar schools) for the most able, The Normal schools for general education and The Technical schools for vocational subjects. The Gentile reforms neglected Normal and Technical schools so they could concentrate on the elite Grammar schools. After he left, the policy was changed, and there was a period of instability following 1924 where the system was radically changed on at least 3 separate occasions between 1926 and 1933.

Catholic religious education became compulsory in primary schools after 1923, and after the Lateran Pacts of 1929 this was extended to secondary schools. By 1935 religious teachers were the most authoritative and influential, and to move onto the next year students were required to pass an examination in religious instruction.

Rural primary schools were placed under the control of the ONB (the Balilla) and a national curriculum of textbooks was introduced in 1928. Textbooks would have blatant fascist themes, usually very militaristic, and head teachers were required almost universally to be Fascists.

The Fascistisation of the education system was not completed in a coherent manner until as late as 1939, when Guiseppe Bottai produced the school charter, and until then it had been, like with most of fascism, implemented piece by piece with no overall plan. Because of the outbreak out war, Bottai’s plans were never put into practice.


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