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EDUCATION


The learning lottery


Children with dyslexia face a postcode lottery when it comes to the facilities and equipment schools provide in order to help tackle their condition, reports Richard Mackillican


B


ritain’s schools should be awash with equipment to help dyslexic


children. After all, a wide range of assistive technologies is available and the last government professed to be dedicated to encouraging equality in opportunities for all schoolchildren.


But this is not always the case, according to Judi Stewart, former chief executive of the British Dyslexia Association.


“There is a large variation in terms of what assistive technologies are made available to schoolchildren throughout Britain, ” says Judi, who is herself dyslexic.


“Home Access has provided laptops to many more pupils than was previously possible but we are certainly not in a position where each child has access to a computer.


Every dyslexic child is different which necessitates that they will need a slightly different solution to help them overcome their condition.


“The assistive technology tools that are most commonly used are speech to text, text to speech and mind mapping. Text to speech, for example, allows a child to access the written word if they cannot read and it also helps with spelling and proof reading.


“Sometimes, though, the solution is as simple as using a different screen colour or making the font size of the text


40 pse


larger, so that the reader only has to concentrate on reading the words.


“It is incredibly important that our children and young people are offered support. If our young people get to 13-14 with little or no writing and reading skills because of their dyslexia, then they are not going to be able to access the rest of the curriculum.


“This means that not only will these young people have the problem of their dyslexia but also the fact that they cannot access another parts of their education, despite being very capable of picking up these subjects, as dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. This leaves perfectly intelligent


Judi Stewart


dyslexic children illiterate and uneducated, which is a double whammy of disillusionment.


“Even a child or young person who is mildly dyslexic, as I am, will find assistive technology useful. I can read and write but I am slow and technology enables me to keep up.


“Assistive technology


programmes can work together. I can dictate a letter using a digital recorder and have this converted directly into a Word document. I can correct or change that letter still using speech to text or revert to the keyboard. If I want to write a strategy or briefing paper I might use a mind map. I have so many ideas but I can not get them onto the paper fast enough to remember them all; ideas tend to tumble out so there is no order or apparent logic to what I am writing. The mind map allows me to concentrate on the ideas and the programme will convert the ‘map’ into a written document. I can then work on the presentation of the paper and of course use text to speech programme to proof my work.


“Although some programmes do require a little work by the user, the time spent in finding what works for you is worth it. Technology has come such a long way and what can be achieved and how easily it can be achieved just gets better and better.


“By using these kinds of technologies you are removing a barrier which could be potentially harmful to a child’s development and the confidence which comes with that development.


“The early identification of dyslexia and appropriate teaching methods are ‘must haves’ for a dyslexic child. On top of this a child needs to find the right coping strategies such as assistive technology.


It is essential, though, that an assistive technology kit is not just handed out and seen as the solution. Assistive technology provides solutions but they need to be the right solution for that individual and good training on how to make best use of the equipment is essential.


“Whether a child or young person is severely dyslexic and cannot read or write at all or just mildly affected they want the same opportunities to access education as their peers.


Enabling children to express themselves through the written word is hugely important in allowing them to get their ideas across in life, as well as be able to pass through the education system and onto a career of their choice.”


Jul/Aug 10


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