Education Ministry to assist children with learning disabilities

Guyana Chronicle
May 14, 2000

GEORGETOWN: (GIS) EDUCATION Minister, Dr Dale Bisnauth, Friday said his ministry will strive to accommodate children with learning disabilities.

The minister gave the undertaking at the conclusion of a Dyslexia Awareness Workshop, and after admitting that the Education Ministry had not done much to assist those children with problems in learning to realise their potential and to learn as much as they could.

He lauded the initiative of the Caribbean Dyslexia Association Centre to travel across the Caribbean to create an awareness and equip teachers and parents with the correct procedures for handling the problem of dyslexia.

Expressing his delight that the Education Ministry was part of the programme, Dr Bisnauth said the workshop serves to strengthen the Ministry's mission of providing for all the children of this country access to quality education involving the extended family of the school.

Dr Bisnauth pointed out that many are swayed by the opinion that "access" is just the building of schools but even more important is "the way the curriculum is geared to meet those of the needs of all our children including those with learning difficulties".

During his speech, the Minister pointed out that many adults have achieved very little and have low self-esteem because when they were students, no one was aware that they might have had learning difficulties. Instead, they were labelled as stupid.

Parents gathered from three schools, Redeemer Primary, Smyth Memorial Primary and East La Penitence Primary on the fourth day of the workshop. Heads and teachers from the three schools participated in the workshop the three previous days.

The Minister urged the parents to leave the forum with an awareness of how they can help children with dyslexia.

The Caribbean Dyslexia Association based in St Michael, Barbados, is involved in a programme to bring dyslexia awareness to other islands and countries in the Caribbean. The organisation has received funding from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), to visit 18 islands and countries that are English-speaking members of the CDB.

Education Consultant Practitioner, Miss Marilyn Managhan, pointed out: "It is... not mental retardation, or a disease, but a way that students process information slightly differently. ... It gives them a problem with the word and language, not just the reading, writing and spelling, but mathematics and musical notation".

The problem is not unique to the Caribbean, she noted, but is found across the globe. It can also affect adults said the Education Consultant.

A method of solving the problem - multi-sensory structured teaching - involves the use of the auditory, visual and tactile senses.

Giving an example, she said dyslexic students can learn the alphabet by closing their eyes and using wooden letters and the sense of touch to identify the letter thus, making it easy to write and pronounce.

Response from the other countries and particularly from Guyana, has been excellent, but in some of the countries, the top Education officials have not been as supportive as they have been in Guyana, she stated.

She commended the Education Ministries for its competence and efficiency and appealed to the teachers involved to put in place an action plan to implement the skills and techniques learnt, for the benefit of the children.

Guyana is prepared to utilise the knowledge gained, she said.

An introductory questionnaire for the teachers gave the facilitators an idea of the level of training, years of experience, their particular knowledge about dyslexia and what are the main issues in their classrooms.

An evaluation was done to determine the effectiveness of the workshop.

Parents also completed an information form where they can give some idea of the difficulties their individual child is experiencing.

Ms Managhan revealed that a report will be compiled at the conclusion of Caribbean tour and despatched to the various Governments informing them on the relevant issues in their country.

"It is not just a one-shot project, but designed to make a difference in the education system," she explained.

The greatest difficultly which was common at every workshop held so far across the Caribbean was the time factor.

Ms Managhan noted that it was ironic that they advocate that teachers give time to their students to think, process, and discuss ideas, but "we are not practicing what we are preaching because of the time constraints," she stated.

"Three days are spent with teachers and one day with parents, while ideally, teachers should have one week minimum and parents three days and in the end bring them together," she added.

Local organisers revealed plans to ensure that fathers and husbands are a part of the next meeting.

The focus for parents included identifying dyslexia and who may have it, the characteristics of someone with dyslexia, why it affects some children and not others.

Ms Managhan urged parents to find out more about their children, so they can appreciate them, support them, and do their best as loving parents.