Don’t leave dyslexic students behind


IN Malaysia 10% to 15% of primary school going children are reported to be dyslexic.

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability and children with dyslexia have difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition and have poor spelling, decoding and encoding abilities.

This is because they are not able to grasp the sounds of a language and therefore are not able to connect the graphic form of the letter to the associated sounds.

Though neurobiological in origin, dyslexia is a very treatable condition. It needs to be identified and diagnosed early so that specific phonological teaching techniques can be adopted for the child.

A multi-sensory approach that is phonetic, systematic, explicit, cumulative and incremental may need to be taken to teach these children. Almost always, these children have average or higher than average IQ.

Many dyslexic children who have been exposed to the right teaching techniques go on to lead normal, or even extraordinary lives.

Albert Einstein, Beethoven and Lee Kuan Yew are good examples of people who overcame dyslexia to achieve their potential remarkably.

In Malaysia, all children with learning difficulties come under the category of Special Education Needs (SEN). The Special Education Integrated Programme (SEIP) schools have specific classes just for children with special needs.

More than 1,300 primary and 700 secondary schools offer these specific classes for these children.

The Inclusive Education Programme, as currently practised in our schools, places children with special needs in the mainstream classrooms – with one or two hours of extra coaching – or they are enrolled into SEIP. Dyslexic students, may when deemed suitable by the teachers, be included in the Inclusive Education Programme.

According to “The Right to Education for Children with Learning Disabilities”, a 2015 Human Rights Commission of Malaysia study, parents complained that inclusive programmes in some schools are only for non-academic subjects like art, music and sports.

Oftentimes, there is no additional support or modification in the curriculum and the child with special needs is expected to “keep up”.

An equally grave and growing concern is the ill-matched qualifications and expertise of special education teachers and their placement.

Parents have also highlighted that the dyslexic condition in their child has very often not been adequately identified or assessed.

While it is the government’s role to provide help to children with special needs, it is also important that parents get involved and advocate for their children.

In some private schools, a parent or parent-appointed tutor is allowed to sit in the class and help the child with dyslexia.

For parental participation to be effective, they need to be well-informed about their child’s dyslexic condition.

The fear is that only a small number of dyslexics are in the loop for special education provided by the government. What about the rest? What happens when the dyslexic condition of a child is not correctly identified and proper teaching techniques are not instituted? Do they drop out of school? And if they do, where do they go? What do they do?

Dyslexic children cannot understand why they have learning difficulties and may begin to have adverse feelings about their disability and lose the motivation to learn.

Quite often being diagnosed as dyslexic could serve as a stigma to the child. And in a class, it does not help when parents of children without learning difficulties insist that their children are not held back by slow learners.

The problem is compounded by the fact that they are put into a different class which is often labelled as “dumb” by other students.

All these have led to a situation where dyslexic children often feel rejected and develop a low self-esteem.

Self-esteem, which plays a vital role in our psycho-social functioning as well as in our psychological health, appears to be a deficit in dyslexic children.

Several studies overseas show a link between reading difficulty, low self-esteem and externalising behaviour such as conduct disorder, delinquency, aggression and defiant behaviour.

The causes for such behaviour could be stigmatisation by teachers and peers, repeated failure in school and harassment from school mates.

All these may cause dyslexics to drop out of school and adopt coping behaviour which is often deviant.The way forward

The Malaysian Education Blueprint 2012-2025 recognises the need to strengthen existing foundations of special education programmes through:

> the introduction of flexible and appropriate curriculum

> equipping teachers and other specialists with the necessary knowledge, skills and techniques to teach students with special education needs

> provisioning adequate resources, including financial and other essential school infrastructure as well as facilities; and

> creating public awareness and involvement.

To achieve all these goals, the government must allocate funds for inclusive education provision, development and research, and develop and implement a systematic and holistic early intervention programme that includes all categories of SEN, particularly dyslexia.It will be sad indeed if dyslexic children turn to a life of crime because the education system was unable to diagnose this treatable condition and steer them on to a path of an education just like any other normal child, in a normal class.

SUMANGALA PILLAI

Secretary

National Organisation for Dyslexia

We welcome letters on issues related to education. Send to educate@thestar.com.my

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