Dyslexia - both 'in sickness and in health' - Time for education reform?

Dyslexia International (D.I.) by Judith Sanson (April 2009)

Dr. Britta Büchner of LegaKids, Germany, sent us a considered response to the questionnaires we sent to local associations about how dyslexia is perceived in their country.
Her report confirms the disturbing impression that in many quarters dyslexia is treated in the medical rather than in the education domain. The  plain fact that dyslexia is neurologcially based is disregarded. Education authorites are not taking into account the increasing body of knowledge now known about neuro-diversity.

This means that they  are lagging behind when they stigmatise people with different learning capacities as handicapped, sick or  disabled.  In some countries, to qualify for help,  you must apply for a 'disability allowance'.  This could award you with access to a free computer, extra help and extra time in exams. So, if you are dyslexic - do you bite the bullet and accept the 'disability' label - do you accept to be categorised as 'disabled' - even if you are a world-leader or nobel prize-winning scientist?

Whilst you can  argue that not being able to learn to read and write with the speed and accuracy of your classmates is as much a disability as short-sightedness.  But this does not take into account the multi-faceted nature of dyslexia which brings with it many competences and in some cases superior abilities.

You could argue that when teachers, who currently do not have the training to teach children with dyslexia or the ability to know how to identify them, are properly trained, it will no longer be necessary to make patients out of children who need adapted teaching. Children with dyslexia can be taught in ways in which they learn in the regular mainstream classroom. Reform is needed.

Finland, much cited as an example of best education in practice, reformed its education system and teaches children within the mainstream. Other systems might well follow suit. Children are not labelled and segregated even though they will have the specialised help they need of right in small group or individual sessions.

Finlands reforms of the 1970s put  an emphasis on primary education not just as the means  to force children on academically but to focus on self-reflection and social behavior. One of the most notable attributes of Finnish children is their level of personal responsibility.

At tertiary level, 20 universities which are owned and largely funded by the Finnish government, free education is available to all students  selected  on the results of entrance exams.

Polytechnics are available, again for free. These schools offer a very close link to working life with a focus on developing expert skills for various different vocational sectors. The entrance requirement : the traditional academic high school matriculation exam or the  initial vocational qualification.

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