Service-Learning in Italy
The first research mapping S-L experiences in Italy was carried out in 2015 by Bruna Zani, Professor of Community Psychology at the University of Bologna within the Europe Engage project (https://europeengage.org). The research highlighted a situation with few initiatives at the university level. LUMSA (Roma) and Siena Italian Studies SIS were the only two reported experiences mentioning explicitly S-L.
However, the research (Zani, Guarino 2019) showed also that more was going on, and even if without mentioning it, many universities were adopting methodologies and implementing projects that translated into practice some S-L principles, like the MentorLink project of the University of Padua of the Polisocial program of Politecnico of Milano.
In Bologna at that time, the term itself was unknown and absent from any official or informal document both at school and university level. Given to the commitment of Bruna Zani and the boosting effect of Europe Engage, which has proven to be a think tank, a catalyst of energies, and a booster of initiatives, both at the local and international level, things suddenly changed.
In 2016 the University of Bologna hosted the IARSCLE European Regional Research Conference, launched the Italian Network of S-L and Community Engagement and started its first pilot experience, offering S-L to a small group of students of the Master Degree in Clinical Psychology as part of the activities of the Community Psychology Lab. The experience was really successful, appreciated by students and also by the Director of the Master degree who agreed to double the experience in the subsequent year.
In 2019 The University of Bologna activated mandatory courses in S-L for students of two Psychology Master Degrees (Clinical Psychology and School and Community Psychology), along with an optional course offered to a maximum of 25 Alma Mater students to develop transversal/soft skills.
In 2019-2020 this last course will be offered to 50 students in two different campuses, and also other Departments of the University of Bologna (Chemistry and Interpretation and Translation) will offer courses adopting S-L methodology. The Italian Network met also in 2018 and other Universities included S-L in their official teaching: the University of Florence started offering its Psychology students the opportunity to subside the hours they would dedicate to their curricular internship with an amount of time devoted to the implementation of Service-Learning projects. At Cattolica University in Brescia, students enrolled in Political and Social Sciences Faculty were offered S-L options (“experimental stages”) and in Kore University, in Sicily, students of the School of Languages and Cultures of the UKE may choose their internship in S-L mode.
The Italian Network, which counts representatives from twelve Italian universities, five foreign universities and four private training agencies (Figure 1), has planned its third meeting on November 2019, and the University of Bologna, and its Community Psychology team, lead this time by Professor Cinzia Albanesi, building on the legacy of Europe Engage, and thanks to the Erasmus+ Knowledge Alliance Project Rural 3.0 (https://rural.ffzg.unizg.hr/) engaged in a new challenge: expand S-L beyond its “urban” borders, and bring it in the rural communities of Romagna district, where it may be even more needed.