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
ADZ-Malta Green Youth Chairperson