Elementary education from the constitution of the Kingdom of Italy to 1911 was a task attributed by law to the municipalities, which fulfilled it with the means of their budget – except in the exceptional and very rare cases in which other moral bodies were required to do so by statutory provisions – and under the supervision of the state school authorities: royal school supervisor (one per province assisted by a school council) and royal school inspectors, also located in the province. Two laws of this previous system deserve to be remembered as more important: the Coppino law of 1877 which established the obligation of elementary education – a statement of principle that had only a partial application – and the Orlando law of 1904 which, by granting subsidies to municipalities and the splitting of classes, significantly improved the conditions of elementary education and facilitated the establishment of the 4th class in many localities that had only the first 3. each province to the dependence of the royal administrator of the studies (provincial school administration) the elementary schools of all the municipalities that were not capital or provincial or administrative district or which, due to the low percentage of illiterate people, had obtained to keep the administration of the schools . The administered municipalities owed an annual contribution to this new body and the ministry granted a subsidy. The municipalities that kept the administration of the elementary schools were obliged to satisfy future needs with their own means. This law of 1911 created the new provincial school offices with an abundance of personnel, expanded the role of inspectors and established that of vice-inspectors, increased the number of members of the school council which placed alongside a new collegial body, the school deputation, and in the same time – major merit – promoted and facilitated the establishment of a large number of new classes, and took the elementary course from 5 to 6 years by creating a 6th class which together with the 5th constituted the so-called popular course. It should be added that the law of 1911 organized assistance by making the institution of school sponsorships mandatory.
This system is mainly due to the Gentile reform of 1923, to the law of 1929 on textbooks and to the 14 September 1931 on local finance as a result of which the school administrations – which from provincial had become regional – were also devolved the elementary schools of the municipalities that had preserved school autonomy and any expenditure for elementary education (except for building and furnishing) was assumed exclusively by the state. With r. decr. 1 July 1933, n. 786, the rules for the transition to the state of these schools were dictated. Furthermore, the number of school supervisors was reduced (due to the transformation of the school districts from provincial to regional) from 69 to 19, school deputations were suppressed, the number of members of the school council was reduced to 7, the salaries of the teachers were considerably increased, the number of schools adjusted to the needs of the population, the rural schools with less than 40 pupils were declassified, entrusting to cultural institutions, under the guide of the school authority, the task of educating these small and scattered nuclei of the population. In addition, subsidies were granted to schools created by free local initiative where the obliged did not exceed the number of 15. And finally organized ex novo the education of the blind and then (in 1925) that of the deaf and dumb .
But the Gentile reform has, above all, renewed the soul of the school. It has relocated the teaching of the Catholic religion there, it has re-established the cult of the homeland, it has made it compulsory and exclusive to teach in Italian even in the few municipalities where the French or German languages were used, it has raised the tone and the culture of the teacher (with the reform of the teaching institute), established a seventh and eighth class which together with the 6th went to form the supplementary courses, has made the fulfillment of compulsory education more effective; finally he took away from the programs what they had of mechanics, he favored the artistic aptitudes of the child, he allowed, in a word, a freer development of his faculties. As for the school book (textbook), the drawbacks of the previous systems (decree place June 17, 1915, n. 897 and r. Decree March 11, 1923, n. 737) and also the consideration of the greater economic convenience for the pupil, they advised Minister Fedele to adopt the single state book in accordance with the Gentile programs; book to be reviewed and updated every 3 years (law 7 January 1929, no. 5).
Today the elementary school is so orderly. The obligation of education begins for the child at the 6th year of age, and ends when the child has attended the last elementary class existing in the place (normally the 5th, but in the smaller centers also the 4th or only 3rd grade) and passed the final exam. However, if there are vocational training schools in the place (which consist of 3 classes) and the child has not enrolled in a middle school or other vocational school, the compulsory education ends at the age of 14. As a rule, the male classes are entrusted to teachers, the female to teachers, the mixed indifferently to teachers or teachers, appointed following a competition for qualifications and for examination.
Blind children are subjected to the obligation of education which is fulfilled in 10 institutes which, in their different order, allow the blind to devote himself to the work that best suits his aptitudes (see blind, X, p. 225). The obligation of education for the deaf and dumb ends not in the 14th year but in the 16th year, and is fulfilled in about 40 pious works (see deaf-mutes).
Alongside the state or public schools, I have numerous private schools, especially in the major centers, held in large part by religious orders and congregations and in small numbers by other moral bodies. Even in these private schools subject to government supervision, the state book is mandatory. For the kindergartens see asylum, IV, p. 942.