The national curriculum guidelines in Italy don’t recommend any handwriting style, but fully-joined, traditional Italian upright cursive writing is the most prevalent in classroom instruction.
In Italy, the education system is primarily public and state-funded. The Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca (MIUR), or Ministry of Education, University and Research, is responsible for the organisation of the school system, and allocation of financial resources. It publishes national curriculum guidelines that regional authorities determine how to implement. Both public and private schools have pedagogic autonomy.
The system includes early childhood education and care for children up to six years old, primary for children between ages 6 to 10, and lower secondary for 11 to 14 year old, followed by upper secondary, post-secondary, tertiary and adult education. Education is compulsory for children aged 6–16 years.
Through various government programmes between 1923 and 1945, the corsiva Inglese diritta, or vertical English cursive, was recommended as the preferred handwriting style to be taught in schools. However, the Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo della scuola dell’infanzia e del primo ciclo d’istruzione, or the National guidelines for the curriculum for pre-primary school and the first cycle of education, published by MIUR in 2012 do not provide any recommendations for handwriting styles, and schools can create their own teaching programmes. Despite the absence of a current national-level specification, traditional Italian upright cursive writing, with a with few key changes, remains widespread even today.
Usually, handwriting instruction starts with uppercase print letters, followed by their lowercase counterparts, then cursive lowercase writing, and finally traditional ornate cursive uppercase letters. This process can vary depending on the school and teacher. In some cases it happens entirely in the first grade (6 to 7 years old), while in others it is continued in second grade (7 to 8 years old).
Italy holds an important place in the historical development of handwriting styles. Handwriting produced in the Latin script finds its roots in the models produced during the Italian Renaissance, when the first manuals for handwriting instruction were also produced at scale. Italian chancery models became the standard for beautiful cursive handwriting, and after successive transformations, also formed the basis of English roundhand, which was the predominant style used for handwriting instruction globally until the mid-20th century.
Sample pages of Scrivere in corsivo. Erickson, 2012.
Dominance of traditional upright cursive writing
The most prevalent form of handwriting taught in Italy is an upright cursive style developed in the early to mid 20th century, which, according to handwriting expert Francesco Ascoli, was prescribed in the country’s national guidelines in 1945.
In the following years, cursive writing lost its importance in school curricula, and print script began to compete for space in teaching programmes. Further, government documents started to refer to writing only in the sense of textual production in the late 1980s. Even though today there are no guidelines regarding preferred handwriting models, instruction continues in the traditional manner as a multi-stage process, aided by resources chosen by teachers and schools. Publications by Giunti Scuola and Erickson are some of the most commonly used.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the decline in the quality of handwriting in Italy caught the attention of the educational community. It was attributed to three main reasons: absence of government guidelines; lack of training for teachers; and increased adoption of digital tools of writing by children.
To rectify this situation, educators and handwriting experts started to explore different ways to improve instruction in primary schools by revamping approaches and resources for traditional handwriting education, or introducing new teaching schemes. Among the latter, the Scrittura Corsiva project has gained significant recognition. This approach was proposed by Monica Dengo and improved by the Scrivere a Mano nell’Era Digitale, or Handwriting in the Digital Age (SMED), a group founded by Dengo herself, along with Laura Bravar, Daniele Capo, Barbara Deimichei, Caterina Giannotti, Massimo Gonzato, Maria Pia Montagna, Daniela Moretto, Claudio Peressin, and Kit Sutherland.
Scrittura Corsiva proposes a progressive method of teaching handwriting. Students are taught only one handwriting style, italic writing in upper and lowercase; instead of two styles, print and cursive. The letterforms used in this method are inspired by Renaissance italic chancery styles, and contemporary approaches to them, such as those by Gunnlaugur SE Briem. Lowercase letters are simplified and taught in two progressive stages: pre-cursive (unjoined) and cursive (joined). Instead of ornate uppercase letters, those in the simplified print script style are used.
Sample pages of Scriviamo in Italica: il corsivo. SMED – Scrivere a mano nell’era digitale, 2020.