AFS has a long-standing history of significant contributions to the research of intercultural education, often working in partnership with leading institutions and notable researchers. In an effort to get a better understanding of the impact of study abroad programs, and the development of intercultural competence as a key 21st century skill, the article below provides more insights from the AFS organization in Italy. Find out more about AFS Research.

By Roberto Ruffino, Secretary General at Fondazione Intercultura and Trustee on the AFS Board of Trustees

Roberto Ruffino, Fondazione Intercultura

The well-known international journal Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad has published an article by Mattia Baiutti, a researcher with Fondazione Intercultura in Italy, on the topic of intercultural competence: how it can be developed and assessed during a pupil mobility program.

The article is the result of a three year doctoral research at the school of education of the University of Rome, followed by a two year postdoctoral research at the University of Udine. The paper presents an action research with 113 secondary school teachers all over the country, which also involved an international group of 29 experts. The purpose was to produce a tool that would rationalize the assessment of the learning that occurs during an extensive period of study abroad and that would facilitate the recognition and appreciation of the “plus” that comes from an intercultural experience, thus allowing pupils to continue their education without loss of school years.

The tool is called the “Intercultura Assessment Protocol” and it focuses on the intercultural learning that normally is not taken into consideration by the Italian education system, since there is no subject with this name in the Italian curriculum. It was published in Italian in a pedagogical series in 2019 and it is also available free of charge on line on the website of Fondazione Intercultura.

The Intercultura Assessment Protocol is actually a set of tools that can be used by teachers in the sending schools and it follows a multi-method, multi-perspective and longitudinal approach. They consist of pupils’ reflections while abroad and of logbooks, presentations, guidelines, reality tests, observations by teachers and third parties and assessment rubrics. Beyond its practical validity of facilitating the return of exchange students into their original schools, it has pedagogical value as it fosters students’ self-awareness and critical thinking.

Mattia Baiutti, researcher at Fondazione Intercultura

It fits well with the current trends in European education: to switch assessment from knowledge to competence – intercultural competence in this case – and it has already been adopted by many schools in Italy.

Lack of recognition of study periods abroad has always been a hot topic in Europe. Nowadays it is the subject of another study currently done by some 30 experts (including Mattia Baiutti and Roberto Ruffino from Italy) led by the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL), which is the umbrella association of AFS organizations in Europe, with the purpose of drafting a proposal of a European framework for the recognition of study periods abroad, so that international experiences may become a standard part of national curricula. The Intercultura Assessment Protocol has been adopted as an example of good practice by this group. Currently Austria and Italy are the only two countries where pupils may return from study periods abroad and continue their education with their peers. Elsewhere many pupils are still discouraged from spending time abroad or they have to sit make-up exams or take courses over again when they return.

Assessing intercultural competence in an academically acceptable way may become a powerful tool to legitimize educational exchanges and to give them a positive role in the school curricula of the future. In the case of the Intercultura Assessment Protocol it has also been a means to differentiate AFS from commercial competitors and to show and measure the educational value of its programs.