Inclusion is how in an education system there are efforts to include people with different needs without compromising the quality of education for the rest of the class. In my experience I can say that my story of inclusive education began in my primary education. I was eventually diagnosed with of traces of Asperger syndrome, however this was quite a challenge due to lack of awareness on Asperger syndrome in the early noughties.
My parents applied for and managed to secure a learning support assistant. In a particular year in primary I had to share my LSA, which was I felt was rather detrimental at such a young age. During my Secondary Education I mostly had inclusive LSA’s apart from one case. I had an LSA who simply wished to reduce my subjects and often drew me out of the class simply to avoid doing the hard work and helping me focus on my intellectual development. Just because an LSA is close to retirement, it does not mean that s/he has to treat the cases differently than when she started her career. This incident contributed to a loss of self-esteem which led later on to being vulnerable for physical and verbal bullying by other pupils.
LSA’s were still present in class during Sixth Form in GCHSS, but their presence was largely limited to class, in comparison to the previous stages of education. I feel that this gradual easing of control helped me to prepare myself for tertiary education. Being an academically capable student, led me to being chosen to participate in a youth parliament on inclusive education in Brussels.
This experience made me more aware of the importance of inclusivity. I also got the chance to see the perspective of fellow participants who had less advanced education systems with regards to inclusion when compared to Malta. I am grateful to past governments and educators who fostered a sense of inclusion into the education process.
Although we were the smallest delegation we were selected for another trip, this time we were the only youth and we were with ministers and directors of inclusion. By this gesture we were being shown appreciation of the progress the Maltese education system has made in education of an inclusive nature. However, we should not rest on our laurels and think that having LSA’s in primary and secondary schools is enough.
It is good to have these structures in place and let them be, but if the school system puts pressure on students at an age where they are formulating their careers and characters, it renders the inclusion efforts useless. Undue pressure and extensive syllabi are already a headache for regular students, leave it then for students who have special needs to any extent, be it Asperger Syndrome or other conditions like ADHD and dyslexia.
From what can I say personally, having an extensive syllabus at a young age results in a mind developing quickly, but a brain that starts to dislike it and avert the constant input. This is leaving students with no free time due to the increasingly overwhelming amounts of classwork and homework, which is rather counter-intuitive to the educative system.
On a concluding note, we as Maltese should be proud of our level of inclusion. LSA’s have been supporting students from at least some twenty years ago. Inclusion is a dynamic area and should not revolve only around LSA’s but should be seen as part of a holistic view to tackle the challenges of stigma, bullying and the bursting syllabus.