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Letter of the Day: Give special help to special-needs teachers

Published:Tuesday | March 1, 2016 | 3:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

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 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 recognising common 'sight words', or frequently occurring words that most readers recognise 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.

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 because of 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 labelled 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 longer time to be diagnosed, thus jeopardising their learning process.

WAYNE CAMPBELLwaykam@yahoo.com