Why do we continue to deliver a discriminatory education to so many children?
The burning question that remains unanswered is “knowing what we now know, and have known for some time, why are we forcing children with dyslexia through an education system that has a traumatic effect on them, is of little value to them and has for many, lifelong emotional repercussions on them?”
Many parents feel immense guilt that, by law, they are required to send their children to schools that do not meet their needs, and often do them more damage than good. Others feel that they have failed their children because they place them in a school system that appears ill-equipped to provide an education appropriate to the needs of their children.
The Ministry of Education, and the Minister himself, must take final responsibility for overseeing a system that is not fit for purpose. There is no systemic plan or intent to improve education for neurodiverse/ dyslexic learners by the Ministry of Education.
Are there good things going on in individual schools or classrooms to support children with dyslexia? Yes, absolutely. All credit to those enlightened teachers and schools. Parents have been known to make lifestyle choices like moving house or changing jobs to get their children into the small number of enlightened schools. Sadly, that choice is beyond the circumstances of most parents. Getting a needs-based education for your children should not be a post code lottery or limited to only those rich parents who can afford it. The education sector should be the experts on education delivery but frequently it is concerned parents who are advising the teachers about their children’s needs. Yes, teachers have to manage large numbers of children at once, but often teachers pull the “I am the expert card” and tell the parents “Don’t worry, all children progress at different rates”, and “don’t worry, Johnny or Joanne will get it soon”.
The impact of undiagnosed and unsupported dyslexia is pervasive. Children with dyslexia are more likely to drop out from school, leave without qualifications, suffer from low self- esteem and diminished confidence and be at risk of depression and anxiety.
All the while the education system is falling over itself to meet the needs of other groups within the diversity spectrum. All children deserve to have their needs understood and met, but it seems that some forms of diversity have higher priority than others. Dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions pay a big price for being largely invisible.
While there are good aspects of the New Zealand education system it is a very much “one size fits all”, linear model that takes little account of children who think and learn differently Sadly nothing is going to change until the status quo becomes uncomfortable.
For the compulsory education sector three things need to change. Firstly, the Colleges of Education, where teachers are trained need to provide in depth instruction about dyslexia/ neurodiversity and how to educate to include it.
Secondly the Ministry of Education needs to show some leadership and take the necessary steps to foster a learning environment that meets the needs of dyslexic/ neurodiverse learners. They make up at least 10% of the population and it is accepted that good practices to support dyslexic learners are good for regular learners as well.
Thirdly there should be a public education programme about dyslexia and neurodiversity, so that everybody, including teachers, parents and the wider community understand all the ramifications about a condition that impacts at least 10% of the population.
Dyslexia and other forms of neurodiversity are everybody’s problem. A child with dyslexia grows up to be an adult with dyslexia. Children who do not have their education needs met at school often go on to have unfulfilled adult lives.
The choice regarding dyslexic/neurodiverse children is simple. Either we invest now – or pay later, in the form of underproductive adults, higher prison numbers and adults who cannot read well enough to get a job. Ignoring the ten percent of the population who have dyslexia/neurodiverse conditions is morally indefensible and is a luxury that New Zealand Inc. cannot afford.