Written by Filippo Gaudio and Piero Guida
An introduction to the university, a couple of other instructions and then we find ourselves here, sitting in front of a computer at the LUISS Language Café, squeezing our brains to come up with a theme for the café blog. Maybe you are thinking why two 17 years old students are doing this…well here’s the answer! Why don’t we talk about the reason why we are here?
Our presence at LUISS University arises from the Italian political system’s attempt to find a way to prepare students for the working environment. The name of the project is School-Work Alternation. Basically every student must undertake 200 hours of work experience during the last 3 years of high school. An excellent idea you might say, but not everyone agrees. In fact, according to a survey we handed out to our mates, we students are the first to be confused about this project. We observe that the 28% of interviewed claims Alternation is a good and well developed idea. But nearly the same percentage considers it a waste of time!
In our opinion, based on personal experience, the Alternation School-Work is a valid idea, because not only does it allow you to understand the concept of work (completely different from school) but also provides an orientation for your future.
For example, we have attended a class at the university of Crema near Milan for an IT lesson. The experience was so boring and complex that we realised applied computer technology will never cross our path again!
Another example is a friend of ours, during Christmas holidays, who went to Nepal with a volunteer agency to rebuild houses and he had an absolute blast. During this period, he practiced English with local people and learned the basics of teamwork. A world apart from the usual experience of being told to make photocopies and go for coffee!
However, not everyone has been so lucky with the Alternation experience. In the last year, some of our friends have worked for a renowned fast food restaurant chain in the centre of Milan. The American company presented a project to develop the soft skills of students and to train interaction with clients, but what they actually experienced was a sort of child exploitation. Students gathered in front of the restaurant in Piazza Duomo to protest and the majority of Italian newspapers started to contest the Alternation project, ignoring all of the other good things that it can bring to a student’s educational path.
It’s important to see things from a 360 degree perspective. Let’s take the teachers for example. They have to finish a lengthy programme and if their students miss their lessons they are going to be mad! On the other hand, students don’t have enough time to satisfy the requirements at both school and work, especially during
the last year when you have the final exams. Almost everyone thus agrees with the 200 hours timeframe and only a small percentage would do more.
Despite the negative reports we have received, from the finals graphics it seems that people generally like the Alternation project, probably because at school there are subjects that you like and others you don’t, while if you find a “job” you are keen on it is only natural that you will be more enthusiastic about it.
All things considered, we personally had a very good experience as we got to spend a week in the heart of Rome at a prestigious University. We worked in one of the more innovative areas on campus, an international café, and were generally allowed a degree of freedom in choosing our work topic that we normally don’t enjoy at school. There are certainly pros and cons to all things, and while we fully understand the frustration of some students who are not handed a chance to test themselves and truly experience a hands-on working environment, this was not our case. If we could choose, we would like for school to be even more inclusive in terms of letting us experience a work environment at an even earlier age, spread out over more time. This would enable us to get a clearer understanding of what lies ahead. It would also help us in determining what we like and what is not our cup of tea! Given how tricky it is to select one’s specific path at the relatively tender age of 18, this might prove invaluable. Lastly, it would enable us to develop certain skills and best practices that are increasingly in demand in this post-industrial world.