By Cristina Cabrejas
Rome, Jun 17 (efe-epa).- Around half a million Italian students are set to take their university entrance exams more than three and a half months after schools were closed to contain the spread of Covid-19.
A nerve-wracking moment at the best of times, this year the maturitá, as it is known in Italian, has been altered to reflect the extraordinary circumstances, given that students this year will take the test without having sat in a classroom since before 4 March.
The night before the first exams, prime minister Giuseppe Conte offered his encouragement in a video message.
“You have already passed the big test,” he said, in reference to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
Education minister Lucia Azzolina also wished the students good luck during a visit to a school in Bergamo, the city worst-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Today the school will begin to receive students. It’s the first sign of a return to normality,” she added.
A change in the norms that came into effect when schools boarded up several days before the lockdown in mid-March means that all students are eligible to sit the exams, which will run into early July.
Normally the exam consists of several written tests on a variety of subjects but this year it will consist of a 60-minute oral exam, which will represent 40 credits rather than the usual 60.
To avoid gatherings in the school, examiners will admit five students at a time, who must arrive no earlier than 15 minutes before the test is due to begin.
Markers set out in the corridors will serve to ensure social distancing inside the building and while students are not required to wear gloves or take a temperature check, they will be able to use hand gel made available by the school.
They must also present a health report to prove they are not currently required to self-quarantine.
Inside the building, students must observe a social distance of two meters and while examiners will be obliged to wear a face mask at all times, the students can remove theirs during the test.
The examinees can bring one person along with them, a parent or sibling.
But the days of hugging fellow classmates after the exam, or the final handshake from the teacher, are, for now, gone.
The university entrance exams bring a close to an unusual school term. Yet, the beginning of the next university year is still up in the air.
The education minister said during her visit to Bergamo that she had proposed to regional authorities that schools could reopen on 14 September.
But some regional leaders have thrown cold water on that plan, saying that the regional elections slated for 20 September, could interrupt proceedings as university and school buildings will have to be closed down and disinfected again.
The fate of the next school year is also to be decided. The scientific committee advising the government on coronavirus has suggested the use of masks for children aged six and over and for desks to be spaced out with a meter between them.
But the question of how to do that when some classrooms host more than 40 students remains unanswered as of now. To separate classmates, there would need to be more classrooms and an additional 200,000 teachers, unions have said.EFE-EPA