In March, when schools in the South Campania region were closed as part of another coronavirus lockdown, Giamo’s mother was working from home while listening to her nine-year-old son’s online class in the next room.
On the screen the teacher was reading a story about a Chinese girl from an Italian primary school from a textbook edited by the Italian publication Del Borgo.
“I feel uncomfortable for myself and my child as the teacher continues to read,” the mother told Al Jazeera.
“The story was full of simpler stereotypes on Asians that could limit the understanding of children and adults, or the acceptance of a whole culture.”
The Chinese child in the text mocked her for her presence and accent and praised her for “not paying attention to or responding to insults”.
The mother, who is teaching Chinese at Oriental University in Naples and has been in Italy for 15 years, went on social media to share her experience.
There he found solidarity.
Members of other expatriate communities were also concerned about the messages in many primary school textbooks.
Recently, another publisher was criticized for an example in a book in which a group of children thoughtfully expressed their goals for the new year, when the only black child spoke in broken Italian: “I want to learn Italian better.”
Over the years, educators and rights groups have insisted on updating Italian school textbooks to reflect the changing demographics and diversity of the country.
“Italians have a handful of unresolved cultural and gender stereotypes, and the classroom is often the first place where it is built,” Giulia Selmi, vice-president of Educare Al Differnes, told Al Jazeera. Selmi.
“Primary education is an important stage of human development. The depiction of a non-white child in the textbook as illiterate or unable to speak Italian correctly sends a specific message that, if learned at this young age, can translate into adulthood and discrimination. “
In Italy, primary school textbooks are not monitored by any government agency.
Publishing houses have been self-regulating through a code designed to ensure equal opportunities.
“However, self-control doesn’t seem to be enough to judge the fact that textbooks spread racist and sexual errors from time to time,” said Jenluca Gabreli, an elementary school teacher and expert on the history of racism in Italian school books.
“If Italian textbooks still present a number of achronological situations, it is largely due to a lack of historical-historical inclusion,” he added, noting how Italian colonialism and its flaws are not taught in schools.
Although the country’s curriculum has dealt with Italian fascism and anti-Semitism, the school system avoids other racist episodes throughout history against racist people.
Meanwhile, according to 2019 data from the Italian Ministry of Education, there are about 320,000 children in primary schools without Italian citizenship.
Current Italian citizenship laws make it harder for immigrant children to acquire Italian nationality, despite being born and raised in the country.
This has contributed to the lack of diversity in various fields including publishing.
“However, we must note that this type of racism is often born out of the intention of inspiration rather than discouraging an inclusive mentality,” Selimi said, adding that the books refer to characters who are slow or depicted. Different
A 2015 text from Ardia Publishing asks an Italian, white boy with “funny Afro-pigtails” to a black girl: “Are you black or are you dirty?”
He later announced that he was indeed black.
The homework section asks children to write the name of a classmate who looks like a black class and describe his or her appearance.
After significant feedback, the book was removed from the market.
“Our main objective was to increase children’s integration skills and teach them to accept their physical differences through this lesson,” Ardia editor Antonio Rixio told Al Jazeera.
“But we realized, thanks to our readers, that it was an inexperienced endeavor and since then we have been carefully reviewing our text. We had the opportunity to improve our approach to diversity and inclusion. ”
Stefano Casanelli, editor of the Del Borgo Edigioni publishing house behind the book depicting a Chinese girl, told the Italian daily Il Fatto Cotidiano: It is not our intention. “
But looking ahead, many see reason for hope.
Parliament is currently reviewing a draft bill aimed at supporting the fair representation of women and minorities in school textbooks.
“There is still a long way to go, but I am beginning to witness the desperate desire of Italian publishers to expose themselves to writers from a variety of backgrounds,” said Igiba Sekgo, a prominent Italian writer with a Somali background. “Perhaps, in a few years, we will be able to identify these positive signals in youth literature.”