Green Youths for Inclusion through Ethics classes

What would you say if I had to tell you that dozens and dozens of local schoolchildren are being locked out of their classroom for three or four periods a week? Preposterous, I imagine a snooty West London accent telling me, what, are the little tykes being dragged out kicking and screaming, and the door barred shut behind them? Oh, haw haw haw, what an idea! Yes, a growing number of schoolchildren, currently tagged at 15% in a recent study, are being locked out of their own classes on a regular basis, whether literally shown the door or segregated to the back of their own classroom. The blame laid on these children and young adults? Not belonging to the Roman Catholic denomination.
Inclusion is a hot word which in recent years has been handed out as generously as electoral promises. Every day we encounter the word inclusion posing in any variety of exciting phrases such as ‘inclusion in the workplace’, ‘inclusion in education’, ‘inclusion in society’. Efforts, whether they spring from genuine or political reasons, are being increasingly made, which is well and good, yet true to tradition a distinct case of two weights and two measures is being so grossly applied here that the mind boggles. Disability, learning difficulty, ethnicity, age – yes. Sexual orientation – deafening silence. Religious belief – hell no.
Only some months ago a study reported on the local news indicated the discriminatory practices being applied all the time during Catholic Religious Education classes. From being left to their own devices in class to killing time wandering the corridors en masse like so many ghosts, learners who through their parents opt out of these classes are left without a real alternative.
It is, of course, ‘not an issue’, according to a teacher interviewed in the study, and actually ‘a very democratic approach’ according to that pinnacle of the education profession, a headmaster. Now that’s inclusion! Just imagine the (needless to say legitimate) amount of cry and hue raised if the same practice were applied to students with specific needs due to a disability or learning difficulty. Oh no madam, I am afraid your daughter cannot attend the science class since she is unable to light the Bunsen-burner. But it’s ok, we keep her busy jogging outside in the hallway, circulation and all that you know.
It is all about course content at the end of the day. Of course you cannot shove a doctrine down someone’s throat, but refraining from doing that simply does not justify you to ignore their own needs. A real alternative to Catholic Religious Education is needed in the form of an ethics class.
An alternative to students who opt-out has only now been commended by the new educational curriculum, but as usually happens over what might upset particular interests, there has so far been nothing but the sound of so many dragging feet. More deadlines have been broken than by your average post-graduate student. The Malta Humanist Association, one of the stakeholders invited to submit its proposals, had drafted an excellent well-documented report recommending the creation of an ethics class to be offered as a choice in competition with Catholic Religious Education to all students. As they wisely point out, identifying with the Roman Catholic faith and opting for a non-confessional syllabus are not mutually exclusive acts: many Catholic parents may decide that their little bundle of screams imbibes enough catechism in his MUSEUM classes all things considered and would be better off having a more holistic education. The non-assessable PSD classes, they argue, with their emphasis on experiential learning and immediacy, might not allow for the finer metacognitive subtleties of social and environmental interaction to shine through as effectively. On the long term, they even suggested these ethics classes to be extended to all, since let’s face it, confessional approaches do not usually make for much critical discernment, with the new option being between having Religious Education classes in addition to ethics or having a more intensive ethics course.
The need is however urgent, we have punished these kids enough as it is. That is why Alternattiva Demokratika took this proposal on board in their electoral manifesto without a second thought upon first hearing it. On the lines of MHA’s recommendations, Alternattiva Demokratika has effectively proposed that once in parliament it will immediately address this routine institutional exclusionary practice by actively pushing for the creation and application of an ethics class as an alternative choice to religious education instead of leaving this injustice to simmer any longer on the back-burner, as well as recommending the universality of ethics education in the manner prescribed by the MHA in due course.


Letter to the Editor, published MaltaToday 17 February 2013

Reuben Zammit
ADZ-Malta Green Youth Chairperson

Green Youths demand space for Young Musicians

As usual in such campaigns the needs of our youth are being forgotten amidst tablets and a 101 other promises meant to draw the adult electorate by hook or by crook.

The young are a particularly vulnerable sector of society in Malta, often having neither the experience nor the financial independence to enjoy and develop their talents to the fullest. This applies in particular to those involved in the musical scene. Many youths lack the basic resources and space needed for practice and as a result we have many promising bands from all musical scenes, from rock to folk, struggling to make ends meet, let alone get a break.

Those in authority should stop encouraging our mentality of ‘Eurovision takes it all’, where mainstream music, more often than not monopolised by older established singers, is allowed to choke out more creative alternative genres. Having been an avid follower of the metal music scene in my teenage years, I have heard various truly amazing bands perform in countless concerts, and more recently it seems as if folk music is undergoing a revival as well. Yet to date the only springboard to fame for aspiring musicians of whatever genre remains the Eurovision. Why should all musicians face the choice of either being filtered through the funnel of pop-music criteria or consigned to relative oblivion?

So what can we do to tap this local talent? First of all, the establishment needs to update its definition of culture. For the government, ‘culture’ has simply become a nationalistic buzz-word meant to evoke knights, auberges and pastizzi. At a time when today’s young musicians are given  little to no incentive, perhaps because the government has been too busy running after errant DJs, student newspaper editors and local writers with truncheon and handcuffs, it seems evident that the meaning of culture is being hegemonised from above and that our youth are simply being excluded from participating. Culture without dynamic change and agitation becomes however an empty shell. You cannot have the cake of apathy and repression, and then eat it as well.

A system of soft loans to help musicians for instance, such as that which AD is proposing, would go a long way toward galvanising our music industry. Youth in particular should be helped, perhaps even by reducing utility bills and subsidising rent on garages used for practice.

For another, national broadcasting should give more space to the alternative music scene. Flowering talents have from time to time been given their opportunity to perform on television, and that is a good start. Most youths must however, like me, find the lack of diversity astoundingly mind-numbing and off-putting. Though modern music has its own version of mcdonalisation, MTVisation, in which every talent is drowned in a sea of irrelevant corporate blandness and no sound can be truly called distinct, there are countless other scenes free from big business interests in which Maltese bands can easily compete with the rest.

The Maltese alternative scene has enough variety, originality and youthful zest to be able to rivet our generation’s attention, replacing the current sense of alienation and ‘cultural ennui’ experienced by most of us. Of course, from the same national channel still caught up in a 1960s frame of mind which refuses to give fair coverage to a third party, I guess all we can expect for years to come is more of the same.

A third but not final solution would be the operation of non-exclusive youth centres all over the island. Such a project, even to the ambitious extent of having one in every locality as proposed in AD’s electoral manifesto, is not half as daunting as it may initially seem. With the right kind of help, local councils should not find it exceptionally hard to set up and run such centres, which would comprise of a number of halls or rooms made available upon booking to other youth voluntary organisations, young musicians and other artists. Such centres would first and foremost serve as a recreational hub for youth, something severely needed in a country where the average 17-year old has already grown jaded and tired of the same old stale new nightclubs selling the only relief from their tedium at prohibitive prices in Paceville, which has long stopped being the exhilarating Mecca of old. Secondly, how can we ever expect to get out of our current rut unless we provide a much needed space for our local talent? As if it weren’t enough being cooped up in some ugly modern flat where just tuning your guitar is guaranteed to disturb some ten other families living above, below and around you.


Letter to the Editor, published MaltaToday 10 February 2013

Reuben Zammit

ADZ Chairperson and AD spokesperson for Youth