The five research projects on the theme of 'Equality and Recovery', selected by the Polisocial Award 2021 and financed thanks to '5 per mille' pre-tax donations to Politecnico di Milano, are coming to an end. The public health emergency resulting from the pandemic contributed to intensifying inequality and marginalisation and actualising the risk of an increase in disparity; therefore, the funded projects work towards economic, social and cultural recovery by promoting the development of methods, strategies, tools and technologies aimed at reducing inequalities and facilitating access to resources and opportunities for particularly vulnerable people, social groups or communities.
The starting point of the Equi06 project is the Italian Legislative Decree no 65/2017, which proposed the creation of an "integrated 0-6 system" combining the two nursery-school segments (what used to be called 'kindergartens'), historically developed separately with different educational approaches, managers and institutional bodies. ‘The level of development of the two segments is also uneven,’ emphasises Stefania Sabatinelli, the project's scientific manager. "In Italy, kindergartens are attended by almost all children between the ages of 3 and 5, as opposed to nurseries addressed to 0-2 year-old children".
The integrated 0-6 system is still a work in progress: at the pedagogical level, some ministerial guidelines have been issued and the NRRP provides funding for the creation of 0-6 poles, ie facilities dedicated to educating children from zero to six years old. Why is it necessary to integrate these two educational segments? "Comparative literature tells us that in countries where services are organised in a single cycle (those in northern Europe) the quality levels of supply are higher and more homogeneous", explains Sabatinelli. "Such single cycle could also favour earlier access by children: at the moment, the costs of enrolment in crèches are often very high, unlike those in kindergartens, and this is a barrier for many families". Early access to high quality services is important because children learn to learn and to be with others in their first years: it is at this stage that the inequalities that lead to children having unequal starting points already at the beginning of compulsory schooling can be countered more effectively.
The Equi06 project has three main research objectives, ie mapping the existing 0-6 services in Milan, investigating the conditions of a specific territorial context and experimenting the transformation of an existing space to foster 0-6 integration.
"Mapping the existing 0-6 services in Milan has been a useful research action in itself. We could locate them on a map and such operation had never been done before", Sabatinelli emphasises. "Now we also know the relationships between crèches and kindergartens, public and private services, municipal and state services, continuous and supplementary services".
With this information, the researchers identified an area on which to focus their study: "We chose the Comasina district because there we found a high potential demand for 0-6 services, along with several indicators of social fragility", explains Sabatinelli. Narrowing the field of research even further, the team selected a 1.5x1.5-kilometre box in the district, within which there are public, private, municipal and state services, as well as a multi-service municipal day-care centre where the two educational cycles are offered in the same building though operating separately.
The last objective, coordinated by the Department of Design and still in progress, consists in working on the Merloni multi-service building with the coordinator of services in the area, some educators and some parents, in order to ponder on how to improve the spaces inside and outside the building and the routes to get there, as well as to understand how the educational environment can be transformed and improved with minimal interventions.
The pedagogical aspect is not neglected: although it does not fall within the competence of the Politecnico departments being involved, it is supplemented by external partners - Comune di Milano, the National Institute for Documentation, Innovation and Educational Research (INDIRE), Save the Children, Gruppo Nazionale Nidi e Infanzia, Legacoop Lombardia.
The final objective is to define a guidance document on the learning achieved: ‘Our ambition is to draw general lessons, guidelines that can be useful beyond this specific context. It will be interesting to replicate the project in other contexts - and perhaps even on other scales,' Sabatinelli concludes.