After a year-long hiatus, the Italian government has announced it will be resuming its Programma Operativo Nazionale (PON) scheme, which allows high school students head abroad for language courses, to the delight of language schools in the country.
The PON is an investment programme that aims to boost the Italian education system and to promote equitable access to high-quality education throughout the country. It is funded through a €3 billion commitment by the European Union.
Although the returning scheme for 2014-2020 comes with major changes, schools such as those in the Marketing English in Ireland group, are happy to resume hosting PON candidates who had previously been an important revenue source to these institutions.
— The PIE News (@ThePIENews) April 12, 2017
“We are excited about this,” the association’s CEO David O’Grady said. “Some of our member schools hope to be able to welcome students as early as June 2017.”
Back in 2014, the previous PON scheme had hosted an estimated 30,000 Italian students to study abroad, with the majority (eight out of ten) choosing English, followed by French (14 percent) and Spanish (five percent).
According to The PIE News, the difference between the old scheme and the new one is that funding has been extended to schools nationwide, instead of just four regions. In addition to that, the Italian schools that are sending students abroad for two years are allowed to spend the money they receive.
Students must show they have reached the B1 level within the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) in their chosen European language course in order to qualify for the three-week language course in an EU country that is part of the Erasmus+ mobility programme.
At the end of their overseas placement, they must attain the B2 level at one of the government-approved language exam providers.
Schools that want to be selected must submit their proposals for this programme to the Education, Universities and Research Ministry by May 26.
An advice from Henry Tolley, head of business development at Trinity College London, one of the approved exam centres:
“We’d encourage centres to start taking action on this now if they’re keen to take part,”
“One reason to get involved early is that participating high schools must specify where they want their pupils to study when they register for the scheme, and this cannot be changed.”
Schools that have previously hosted students under this scheme caution although the scheme is “good news” and “does an awful lot of good”, history has shown the many problems the scheme is prone to, including late payments and over-promising in selling the courses by the local agents that organise and provide logistics support.
In the past, certain high schools have also placed demands beyond the capability of the foreign language schools to fulfil, such as choosing to use a big part of their budget on hotels, leaving little for teaching or extra students, according to Andrew Hjort, principal of Melton College in York.
“What would be really good news is if from the outset the government said: ‘This is the amount of money and this is what you are allowed to spend it on’.”