Together in class

Bana Abreham

Together in class

Bana is a student in Italy, the European country where special schools for pupils with a disability were closed down from back in the 1970s. In the first episode of the series, Mari goes to visit her at highschool, in Bologna.

Italian Inclusive Education

1971 - Italian Law 118 granted all children with disabilities – except for the most severe cases – the right to be educated in mainstream classes
1977 - Italy closed all special schools and its Law 517 prescribed that all pupils with disabilities should be included
1980s - Inclusive Education was implemented in pre-schools and in secondary schools
1992 - the Law for the Assistance, Social Inclusion, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities no. 104 was adopted by the Parliament. Civil society, organisations of persons with disabilities and families were fully involved in the process.
2010 - less than 1% students with special needs educated in segregated settings. Italy is the European country with the highest inclusion of people with special needs in mainstream schools

For more info, click here.

“In Italy, students with disabilities are not segregated.”

We asked Bana to write something about herself and the school. We got this text back, a letter to you.

“Hello, dear reader of this letter,

I am Bana, I am 16 years old and I was born in Asmara, Eritrea. I arrived in Italy when I was 1 year and 8 months old. At first, I was alone with my mother, but in 2008 my two brothers and my sister came live with us. When we left Eritrea I was so small that the flight attendants made me a cradle out of a cardboard box and some blankets!

Many people ask me whether I feel more Eritrean or Italian. I always reply that I feel like a citizen of the world and that I belong to both cultures. However, Bologna will always stay my city.

I have just as many strengths as i have weaknesses. I consider myself to be very honest and loyal, and I’d like to be less messy and a little bit less impulsive.

I study at the Liceo Ginnasio “Luigi Galvani”, in Bologna. Beyond the very important academic lessons, at school I learn to assert myself, to never pull back, to develop myself into managing everything in my  life. At school I learned that receiving pity is not the same as being understood, but that it sets an end to any possible dialogue. At school I discovered who I want to be and whom I don’t want to resemble.

I like some singers, actors, writers, but I don’t see any of them as being my idol. With the risk of sounding self-centered, I say that my true model in life is myself, the one I would like to become when I’m all grown up.

I know that, hopefully, I still have a lot of time ahead and that I will learn a lot more things in the future. For now, I am aware that there are many paradoxes around disability.  I know that an important one of them is the fact that the most restraining disability is not knowing how to accept your disability. And this also applies to ‘normal’ people who cannot fully accept the disabilities of others.”

Why do you think special schools still exist in Europe? How do you feel about them?

"I believe that special schools still exist in Europe because disability is not yet seen as a feature with which one can easily live with, given the appropriate conditions, but is seen as an obstacle in the way of independent living and genuine integration in society. Disability is seen as a ‘thing’ that makes a person almost resemble an alien.
As I also said in the interview with you, I believe that a pupil with a disability could get more support inside of the environment of a special school, because there they can find people with the same disability and the teachers know all the details of their impairments. I believe that this model is not sustainable in someone’s life though. Special schools should close down because we all have to learn how to relate to the others, no matter if they have a disability or not. In the real world, we all live together and must integrate in society. The easiest way is by starting this process as early as possible. School days are best lived when you can be together with the others."

How could the educational system in Italy become even better for pupils with a disability?

"I have met and worked with several truly wonderful teachers, whom I will always remember. I believe that the Italian school system could improve if no teachers without a vocation for this profession shall be hired. One day, during Latin class, we learned that the word ‘teacher’ originates from a Latin word meaning ‘to leave a sign’. In my opinion, this is true: teachers do leave a mark upon their pupils and it is up to the schools to decide whether that impression will be a positive or a negative one."