Are fish stupid at climbing trees?

Even 80 years ago Einstein was speaking on how the concept of one-size-fits-all does not make sense for all children

Last week we had a meeting with students suffering from various conditions, such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia and other conditions. We wanted to hear what they have to say on the education system and what they feel is restricting them in continuing their studying and training.

I think that all youngsters mentioned the importance they give to their education and their high aspirations among the more important goals in life. They want to increase their talents and their skills and lead full and fruitful lives. At primary and secondary level, students are given what is termed as Arrangements access.

These are various arrangements intended to help students suffering from certain conditions, which facilitate examinations and make them more accessible. Some of these measures include the size and typeface of fonts, the accessibility to a scribe or a reader and being allowed more time during an examination. 

Although relatively small changes, they make a complete difference in student life. This little extra administrative work makes a lot of difference to students, parents and families. 

There is much talk about inclusiveness and diversity of skills in schools, but in reality how much are we willing to change? There are several educational institutions, including the university, with which we have made very little inroads. Many parents find that while they think that their children can cope well with studies and examinations up to Form 5, they feel that when it comes to post-secondary education they face an insurmountable mountain they cannot scale. This is detrimental to the morale of these youths and their families. 

Things do not start and end with examinations. The teaching method and structure of these educational programmes should be designed so that they are suitable for children with various needs and challenges. The concept of a one-size-fits-all sugar is an outdated one.

This reminds me of the quote of the great scientist Albert Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid.” 

Even 80 years ago Einstein was speaking on how the concept of one-size-fits-all does not make sense for all children.

This is because Albert Einstein himself had these difficulties and did not fit in with a very rigid educational system. Indeed, one of the things that Einstein was known for and which solved many of his mathematical and physical problems was his renowned visual stimulation as against his lack of ease with numbers. He was able to understand a problem of a physical nature by visualising the problem and forming a picture in his own mind. 

As universities of international repute, such as Oxford and Cambridge, were able to adapt to these human realities and retain the quality and level of their education, I believe that the Maltese institutions can do the same.

We have a habit of using buzzwords freely. ‘Inclusiveness’ is one of them. Everyone agrees with it and we portray ourselves as diverse and inclusive. But now the time has come to move from buzzwords to action. We should make the necessary changes that give these youths a chance. Ultimately, it is their right.