Unlocking Learning in Italy

The use of education technology to support language acquisition and social inclusion of learners with a migration background

Two students, one working on a tablet
UNICEF Italy/2021/Martelli


Achieving Italian language proficiency is crucial for the educational and social integration of children with a migration background in Italy. This is particularly important for first-generation migrant and refugee children, who face a two-year achievement gap in Italian language skills compared to their peers. With the right implementation, the Akelius digital learning app (Akelius app), a digital tool for learning Italian as a second language (ITA L2), can help bridge this gap. Teachers use the app in a blended learning approach, combining it with traditional methods in the classroom. Evidence shows that the app can improve language skills and enhance student motivation and engagement. 

Piloting testing within formal schools

In Italy, more than 700,000 asylum seekers and migrants arrived in the country between 2014-2020. To help address this urgent need, the Akelius app was piloted in the 2021/22 school year in 2 comprehensive schools of Bologna and Rome for Italian and English language. This research presents findings from the first year of implementation of the Akelius app. Results show the use of the application supported self-paced learning, boosted students’ motivation and confidence. The use of the tool was especially beneficial for newly arrived children and children with disabilities. The report also explores challenges and good practices to inform improvements in the use of digital learning in classrooms.

Scaling-up across formal schools

In response to the arrival of around 49,400 Ukrainian refugee children, UNICEF expanded the Akelius programme in Italy. By February 2023, it was active in 57 comprehensive schools and five Ukrainian education centres in Latium, Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto.

This report ties evidence collected during the expansion of the Akelius app with the broader context of digital learning in Italy and provides three recommendations for key institutions, including the Ministry of Education and Merit, the Regional Education Offices and the schools. These recommendations aim to foster supportive conditions that enable teachers to effectively use technology, including the Akelius app, to enhance the Italian language skills of children with a migration background. 

Suggested citations:  

Pilot testing – English: Poleschuk, S. et al., Unlocking Learning: The use of education technology to support disadvantaged children’s language learning and social inclusion in Italy, UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight, Florence, Italy, 2023.

Scaling-up – English: Cárceles Martínez-Lozano, Joaquín, et al., Unlocking Learning: The scale-up of digital learning to support language acquisition and inclusion of learners with a migration background in Italy, UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight, Florence, Italy, July 2024.

Report cover featuring a child using headphones and a computer
Emanuela Bonini, Thomas Dreesen; Barbara D’Ippolito, Joaquín Cárceles Martínez-Lozano, Marta Carnelli, Sophia Benassila, Svetlana Poleschuk and Wanda Grimaldi
Publication date
English, Italian