Being inclusive

Inclusive education is one of the most effective ways of promoting a broad and tolerant society. The idea that a classroom is a community is not unique to inclusion.
We must put into practice the inclusive idea of educating children with learning difficulties and disabilities in classrooms with children without disabilities. As such we need to educate students in the full sense of the word and to promote development across all educational domains, and this is what we have been working towards ever since taking office last year.
Maltese educational and voluntary organisations have been involved in promoting inclusive education for several years. Various programmes to promote inclusive education have helped, but they have been too restrictive when it comes to exams. We have followed the principles we have adopted in many of our reforms. We have held several wide-ranging consultation meetings, especially in the provision of Access arrangements for SEC and Matsec exams, and a team of experts is evaluating the feedback that we have obtained.
The End of Primary Benchmark managed to reform exams into assessments and it caters for different levels of understanding. Last year and earlier this year, we revised this process by making End of Primary Benchmark more accessible and inclusive. This will provide an innovative approach to assessment, especially in access arrangements. It is, in fact, a description of what the student knows. Instead of results we now have assessments that give a breakdown of the performance in the different components.
We are using technology to improve each student’s particular skills and to record his or her performance. The introduction of listening skills, mental exercises in mathematics and electronic readers have facilitated the process of access arrangements for students with learning difficulties.
A number of overall improvements in the 2014 end-of-year benchmark have been introduced to the benefit of all students, both for those with learning difficulties and those without. In short, this new benchmark exercise offers easier access to examinations without diminishing the standard of educational assessments.
The values of social justice and inclusion are cultural and not automatically achieved. The ministry has embarked on a training programme that includes staff at the ministry, DGs, Directors, Assistant Directors, Service managers, Education officers, Heads and Assistant Heads of Primary and Secondary schools, heads of departments, councillors, social workers, prefects of discipline and other support staff. We are now planning to work closer with teachers, LSAs and kindergarten assistants.
This training focuses on critical thinking, developing more creativity and open mindedness. It emphasises student engagement and discusses diversity, equality and fairness and focuses on the most important principles of inclusion.
Learning Support Assistants play a crucial part in these programmes for social inclusion but inclusion is the responsibility of the all the staff and the whole school. We realise that the best way forward for children with learning difficulties is by providing the services of those who can help them keep up, as much as possible, with their classmates.
The number of Learning Support Assistants has risen substantially these past two years. In 2012, the total of LSAs was 1,590 and we have increased this by approximately 10% in 2013 and by around 12% in 2014, to a total of 1,980. This highlights the government’s commitment towards educational and social inclusion. However, simply providing an LSA is not enough and that is why we have tasked the European Agency for Inclusive Education with reviewing our system.
Several other developments with regards to inclusion in Malta including the European Agency revision as well as the use of ICT for Inclusion are being studied for implementation. The aim is that of using ICT to support learners with disabilities and special educational needs in inclusive settings within compulsory education.
We are also developing a more inclusive curriculum that supports teacher’s professional practice in raising standards of education for all pupils, to ensure that all pupils in mainstream and special schools have access to a common set of subject syllabi, thus providing equal opportunities.
There is much ground to be covered. The ministry, together with the Education Department and the relevant directorates, is working at full throttle to address the problems that students with learning difficulties have faced for many years. Scribes, readers and learning support assistants are an important part of an inclusion policy but there are other equally important components that will ensure a comprehensive policy on inclusion.

 

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