School inclusion is reality, not myth

TOn the De Filippo middle school in Brugherio (MB), Life Week has just ended, a week where the kids went “to school of emotions”, meeting artists, sportsmen and scientists. De Filippo is a multicultural school, open to fragilities and to the territory, where teaching is personalized, group work is done, the desks are in islands, there is the rehearsal room, the art room, the vegetable garden, and everyone plays football, each with their own abilities. The support teachers are the class coordinators and all parents report to them. An environment where talents are valued and no one is left behind. Where scholastic inclusion works.

Environmental education at school, second stage of the ACEA project

It is certainly not the only one: lThe media “For the blind” Vivaio di Milano has inclusion in its DNA: lots of music, special practical activity workshops with open classes, an extra hour of physical education, theater project and, in April, the Vivaiadi, school Olympics open to visually impaired and non-visually impaired people.

School inclusion: many differences, a wealth

The topic has been talked about again since Ernesto Galli della Loggia has published two articles on Corriere della Serawhere he highlighted the critical issues behind what, in his opinion, is the myth of inclusion: «It means the simple presence of the disabled student in the classroom unaccompanied by any significant intervention».

«We are aware that our school is not perfect» says Martina Fuga, vice president of CoorDown (coordination of associations of people with Down syndrome) and mother of the teenager Emma, ​​to whom she dedicated a beautiful book that has just been released, Eighteen (Salani). «But after forty years of Italian experience research shows without the slightest doubt that inclusive education is good for everyone,to children with disabilities and those without, and not only from a relational point of view but also from that of skills. When one of Emma’s classmates sits next to her and explains to her, the results are extraordinary.”

A school where inclusion is reality and works. Getty Images

Our country «has a model that works, even if it can be improved a lot» is the opinion of Dario Ianes, professor of Inclusion Pedagogy at the Free University of Bolzano and co-founder of Erickson Study Center. It is not the only one, because the models of Norway, Spain and Portugal are also inclusive, while others are getting closer. However, we were among the first, if not the first ever, to abolish special classes.

«We started between 1971 and 1977, bringing children with disabilities to school» confirms Ianes.«An important moment was the arrival of law 170/2010 which recognized DSA, children with learning disabilities (dyslexia, dysgraphia, etc.) the right to a personalized school plan. Finally, in 2012, Minister Francesco Profumo’s directive on BES (Special Educational Needs), i.e. students who need special attention, was released and the audience was further broadened”. BES includes many categories: children with disabilities, DSA, but also those who have behavioral, linguistic disorders, or economic-cultural fragility. So many differences, a great richness. «Inclusion is attention to all diversity» continues Ianes. «School is increasingly uneven, there are children with two mothers, different lifestyles. Inclusion means responding in a personalized way to all these real needs. To do this, a change in teaching is needed. Only in this way can it work.”

Difficulties in high school

The traditional lesson today no longer has any reason to exist: the talented yawn, the fragile do not follow. «We value everyone: the excellent ones have responsible tasks, the others simpler ones» says Fiorella Iorio, art and support teacher at De Filippo. «If the climate is serene, the conditions for bullying are lacking». The teacher is the mother of a boy with a rare genetic disease, Prader Willi syndrome: «From my experience, I can say that inclusion is possible, especially up to in middle school. In high school, the problems increase.” Martina Fuga agrees: «Children are trained in diversity. Teenagers are so focused on themselves that they struggle with others. You have to give it time. And hope that teachers, both support and curricular, collaborate.”

Few specialized teachers

And here is one of the unresolved issues. There are 316 thousand students with disabilities (Istat data 2021/22), equal to 3.6 percent of the total. There are 207 thousand support teachers, but of these 32 percent have no specific training. «They enter by direct call and, unfortunately, they often change to go to a disciplinary chair» observes Ianes. «The lack of teaching continuity is a problem. The other, crucial one, is the poor collaboration between support and curricular teachers.”

It happens, for example, in GLO (Operational Working Group). These are meetings in which all the class teachers and external specialists who follow children with disabilities should participate, together with the families, like therapists or neuropsychiatrists. «We meet three times a year, it’s not a bureaucratic thing» explains Fabio Regis, therapist at Imparole, a children’s center that deals with psychomotor delays and intellectual disabilities. «The first time, in September, the personalized educational plan is prepared together. Halfway through we see him running again, in June we take stock. The system works if everyone makes their contributionWe must remember that, according to the law, the support teacher supports the class, not the individual.”

When things go well, the child with disabilities, in addition to the 18 hours of support per week, can count on an educational assistant (depends on the local authorities) and above all on the entire teaching staff. «If you delegate it to support, you don’t do a good job.In Milan there is a culture of social services but this is not always the caseIanes confirms: “Sometimes social services are absent.”

The Erickson survey: discrepancy between ideal value and reality

Poorly trained and precarious support teachers, other uncooperative teachers, fugitive services: a disastrous combination. Especially if the other parents give the worst: «When my son Francesco, who has Down syndrome, was in primary school, his classmates’ families feared that his presence would slow down the program» says Rita Votti, of AGPD, Association of Parents and People with Down Syndrome, Milan. «In the third year, an extraordinary teacher arrived, who alternated with the support teacher, and everything worked. Today Francesco attends the Carlo Porta hotel school, he grows up simple but confident. When he entered high school, they said he would struggle with German, but he learned it. Teachers should look at the person.”

They don’t always succeed. A survey by the Erickson Study Center, in which 3,000 teachers participated, highlighted the distance between the dreamed inclusion and the achieved one. «When asked: “Do you think that children with disabilities bring advantages to peers?”, 95 percent answered yes» says Ianes. But to the next question: “Do you think it is not feasible with the most serious patients?”, 47 percent gave an affirmative answer. Again: for 30 percent, inclusion is unachievable.«There is a discrepancy between the ideal value and everyday reality» concludes Ianes. The professor, together with other colleagues, has just presented a very innovative law proposal on inclusive teaching: all teachers, after specific training, will spend part of their time on their discipline, another on support. Thus there will no longer be differences between teachers, nor blank delegations.

Technology helps school inclusion

At the Dante Alighieri middle school in L’Aquila, inclusion is daily. Carlo Scataglini, support teacher, pushes for collaborative teaching. «If the Italian teacher explains from the desk, I’ll shut up. If, however, the class works in cooperative groups, I can manage the work, since I know the method and how to simplify it.” Scataglini curates the necklace for Erickson Easy classics dedicated to students with disabilities, who struggle with traditional textbooks: «Let’s take the Odyssey easy. In the group, the boy with cognitive delay writes simple captions, while the better one goes deeper.Technology helps in both research and processing. For Science, with PowerPoint you can tackle the same topics from different points of view, just open and close the windows. So inclusion is not a myth but a reality.”

The testimony of Stefano’s mother, who had a serious disability but lived peacefully

by Laura Maria Michetti

«Our experience in the Roman public school was excellent: from nursery school, the San Lorenzo Children’s Home founded by Maria Montessori, up to high school, the Sereni agricultural institute. My son Stefano, who passed away in 2020, had a serious cognitive delay, with an absence of language and total non-self-sufficiency. But he has always met highly experienced people who went out of their way. The border schools were the ones most ready to respond, perhaps because they were best trained in managing diversity. I think of the Di Liegro middle school in Casal Bruciato, where extraordinary teachers were daily involved in the inclusion of Roma children. Well, these very children were involved in a project on Stefano, who was in more difficulty than them. At the end of the year they presented a moving work. When kids are confronted with someone who needs everything, unimaginable responses are triggered.

A network is needed for school inclusion to work

Inclusion is an extraordinary wealth and a resource that is great for everyone. I see it in my other children, who are open and sensitive. For it to work, it is important that there is a network between the family, the school and the health institutions, that there is a common project. The therapist who followed Stefano always explained clearly how to treat him. He was always with someone, because he also had vision problems, and it was considered a very serious case; when there was no support teacher, there was an assistant. At the agricultural school, the many students with disabilities had a dedicated laboratory, but Stefano’s teachers made sure that he spent a few hours in class every day. Twice a week he took vegetables from the school garden to the local supermarket, where they always gave him a great celebration. He was happy to go to school and his classmates adored him.”