Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Dyslexia and Jamaica's Education System

All children can learn, all children must learn. This is usually true if all the factors are in place to encourage teaching and learning. However, upon closer examination there are many learning challenges that hinder children from learning. Jamaica’s education system is faced with many challenges but perhaps the most prevalent barrier to education is dyslexia. Dyslexia in many instances is genetic and runs in family. Dyslexia affects up to 17 per cent of a given population. Children with dyslexia have difficulty learning to "decode," or read words by associating sounds and letters or letter combinations. Students usually have difficulty recognizing common "sight words," or frequently occurring words that most readers recognize instantly. Examples of sight words are "the" and "and." Children with dyslexia also have difficulty learning how to spell, sometimes referred to as "encoding." Recent research suggests that there are two main features of dyslexia. First of all, people with dyslexia have weak phonemic awareness. This means that they have difficulty hearing the fine distinctions among individual sounds, or phonemes, of the language. Disturbingly, phonics is no longer taught in many of our educational institutions which clearly compound the issue at hand. Dyslexic students also have difficulty rhyming and breaking words down into individual sounds. Phonemic awareness relates directly to learning to decode and to spell words. In addition, it takes longer for children with dyslexia to "process" phonemic information, or to make connections between sounds and letters or letter combinations.
Other symptoms of dyslexia include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading which can impede vocabulary development.
Interestingly, both sexes are affected by dyslexia at equal rates; however, boys are more likely to “act out” as a result of having a reading difficulty and are therefore more likely to be diagnosed early. Girls, on the other hand, are more likely to try to "hide" their difficulty, becoming quiet and reserved. Many of our students from as early as the primary level display severe behavioural disorders stemming from their frustration levels and their inability to cope at the required educational pace due to poor reading and comprehension skills.  In many instances our schools are not resourced to adequately deal with such students. As a result teachers become frustrated and the use of corporal punishment is sometimes applied in order to correct what is oftentimes confused with behavioural disorder. It is not uncommon for these students to be labeled as ‘bad’, since dyslexia is oftentimes confused with behavioural disorders.  The Ministry of Education should consider granting scholarships to teachers to pursue studies in Special Education so that more students who are affected by dyslexia can be diagnosed. Poverty plays a significant role in the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia. Students from the upper class who are dyslexic will most likely be diagnosed at an early stage and treated thus their learning will be slowed significantly. Conversely, students from the lower socio-economic background will take a lower time to be diagnosed thus jeopardizing their learning process.  With early intervention and a structured programme in place dyslexic students can live rewarding lives. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Special Education Unit, is a useful resource and partner regarding children who are dyslexic. All children can learn, however, some children require more support and scaffolding than others. 
 #education #dyslexia #learning #school #phonics
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
Twitter @WayneCamo