Gioulina Kokkalia and Aristotelis Skamagkis – Secondary education for all: The case of specific learning difficulties (dyslexia)
Design has the potential to better the societies we live in. In this context, this article argues that design of educational services can improve the educational process. More specifically, we describe our study on secondary education private tutoring schools called “frontistiria” and the inclusion of children with Specific Learning Difficulties. As we are currently running the first phase of the design process we will try to present some specifications for the design of a dyslexia-friendly classroom.
Introduction to specific learning difficulties (Dyslexia)
There are many definitions of dyslexia currently used by professionals and education authorities and, although these definitions may share some similarities, it can be confusing to parents and teachers to observe and understand the variety of definitions to describe dyslexia. (Reid, 2003) However, for the purpose of this study the descriptive definition of the British Dyslexia Association is thought useful: “Dyslexia is a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling and writing. Accompanying weakness may be identified in areas of speed of processing, short term memory, sequencing, auditory and/or visual perception, spoken language and motor skills. It is particularly related to mastering and using written language, which may include alphabetic, numeric and musical notation”. (Peer, 2001)
According to Porpodas (1990), it is estimated that 3-5 pupils in each classroom have to face the problem of dyslexia. Statistics show that Dyslexia affects almost 4% of the Greek student population. Additionally, the studies support the view that boys face dyslexia 4 times more often than girls.
On the other hand, in the last decades there is a rising awareness of Dyslexia in Greek schools and families; there are a few very important researchers in Greek Universities and some highly accredited dyslexia schools. Although Greek government has formed the KEDDY centers for the support of children with learning difficulties, there is still a lack of a coherent national educational strategy to cope with Specific Learning Difficulties.
Greek educational reality
For the purpose of this article we will try to present some facts on the Greek Educational System and more specifically on Secondary Education. Post-compulsory Secondary education in Greece may be divided into Lykeia and TEE. Lykeia Curriculum is structured in a way to prepare students for higher Education through the conduction of National Examinations. According to the research and consulting firm ICAP, the vast majority of students study in public schools with only 6% studying in private schools. Public expenditure on education in Greece is one of the lowest in the European Union. According to Eurostat (2008) The EU25 expenditure on education is 5.04% of GDP with 2.25% allocated to secondary education. In Greece the expenditure is as low as 3.98% with only 1.41% allocated to secondary education.
Although Greek secondary education is mainly provided by public schools, the contemporary Greek educational system is systematically supported by private tutoring schools called “frontistiria”. The main reasons for this reality can be traced to the insufficient government funding, the unstable educational policies and the traditional cultural tendency of Greek families to support their children to attend higher educational institutions. Every year Greek families spend approximately 1 Billion Euros to frontistiria in a percentage that covers 85% of the student population (Hellenic Federation of Frontistiria Teachers, OEFE). From all the above becomes clear that frontistiria influence strongly the Greek educational system.
Frontistiria and the design of services for children with dyslexia
It is by now understood that Greek families spend almost 3/5 of the government expenditure in frontistiria. Since the role of frontistiria is the additional support of weak students, it could be logically implied that there would be a special provision for students with Specific Learning Difficulties, but this is not the case. It could be assumed that frontistiria exclude those students or provide insufficient educational services.
There are two main reasons that frontistiria should consider redesigning their educational services to support students with Specific Learning Difficulties.
The first and most important reason is the Ethical Case. Although it is true that only 4% of the student population has dyslexia and most of them are aware of their condition, they still deserve high standards of education and support in order to be efficient and competitive. Students that cannot cope with mainstream educational practices can feel stigmatized and excluded. Therefore frontistiria are ethically responsible to provide services that can benefit this important category of students. Alternatively they have to deny the provision of those services, which again is a stigmatizing factor for both student and family.
Another important reason is the Competitive Case. Frontistiria belong to the private sector, they usually operate as franchises and in specific periods they spend an important amount of money for marketing and promotion. The competition in the frontistiria sector is really intense and there is an imperative need for differentiation in the marketplace. In our opinion, the design of inclusive educational services that also support the needs of students with Specific Learning Difficulties has the potential to lead to solutions that will make the educational process more efficient, more successful and hence more competitive.
As a result, it can be suggested that re-thinking the educational process in frontistiria can improve their public image and acceptance, and can provide a significant and unique advantage in the marketplace.
Designing a pilot classroom in a frontistiria franchise chain (a case study)
Considering the above, we agreed with a new fast growing frontistiria chain to design a pilot classroom where for one year we could test several design ideas with students with a diverse range of abilities in order to re-define the classroom experience. The long-term strategy of this franchise chain is to become the number one provider of educational tutoring services in Greece and in this context we suggested that we should re-think the whole frontistiria service experience having as a main core the redesign of the educational process.
In order to achieve a successful result, we made the hypothesis that if we could design an educational experience that could be effective and enjoyable for students with dyslexia, we would have created a unique experience for the rest of the students too. In this way we could achieve a real inclusive educational process.
Our thoughts and designs are often driven by a deep belief that when we cover the obvious needs of an extreme group of population, we also cover the latent and unconscious needs of a greater percentage of the population.
We are currently running the research phase of the project, where we gather information on the educational process, multi-cultural education, the psychology of students in general and more specifically on the educational needs of students with Specific Learning Difficulties.
Recognizing the vital role of design in re-forming a better society, we would like to share with the design community some of the most important specifications that we came across during our research.
Teaching Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (Dyslexia)
The first step in order to help teenagers is that they become aware of their difficulties. They must know the exact nature of their problems so as to be able to face them. The awareness of dyslexia is the most important step for them to build the knowledge and their personality, of course. Furthermore, the teachers and the staff of a tutoring school must have the knowledge and should have the experience of dyslexic students. They should know how to teach dyslexic students strategies and meta-cognition in order to learn more efficiently and easily. Lastly, pupils have to be taught about the nature of their difficulty where appropriate, including areas of strength and preferred learning styles and teachers must be aware of the suitability of their teaching styles. (Mortimore, 2003)
Additionally, it is thought necessary for pupils to work in a variety of groupings (including opportunities to work in mixed-ability groups), as well as working with an adult in groups. Also, there is provision for one to one and small group teaching and specialist support which is dictated by need. Care is taken to ensure that pupils’ cognitive ability is taken into account in any setting or streaming system so that teaching presents dyslexic pupils with an appropriate level of cognitive challenge. As a result, diverse learning needs are met and potential barriers to achievement are overcome. (http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/DFSPack.html)
Moreover, multisensory teaching and learning opportunities (e.g. Mind Mapping) are viewed as methods that can help dyslexic students. In addition, homework should be provided on separate sheets, scribed into homework diaries or recorded on an audio device and discussed with parents as required. Teachers can give students the information and the instructions on a non-white paper (e.g. cream, light blue) where relevant with an accessible font and layout and alternatives to copying from the board (ICT is used to support pupils learning-computer screens and text size is adjusted where appropriate). Finally, an audit of resources can be available within school for supporting pupils with dyslexia (magnetic letters, literacy games, word mats, coloured filters/overlays, alphabet on the wall, maps, posters with rules, relevant pictures, etc). Lastly, it is very important for the pupils to develop ‘life skills’, such as problem solving, decision making, stress management, communication and emotional literacy. At this point the assistance of the parents and the psychologists is thought vital.
As Reid (2003) mentions, dyslexia-friendly schools (and frontistiria it can be said) need to adopt an open and flexible approach encouraging communication between all parties (teachers, family, specialists, pupils). It is believed that their policies and alternative methods will help students to gain their self-esteem that has been lost through the traditional methodologies of the Greek educational system that seems to have many problems -still- to face…
From all the above it is becoming clear that dyslexia-friendly frontistiria classrooms are not only necessary but also feasible. The design process and the final solutions will be developed with the help of the students themselves using a user-centered design approach. Although it is a difficult journey, we hope that our hypothesis will finally come to realization.
- Benekou, V. (2009), http://www.ethnos.gr/article.asp?catid=11424&subid=2&pubid=101474
- Gleeson, B (1999). Geographies of disability, London: Routledge.
- Mortimore, T., (2003). Dyslexia and Learning Style: A Practitioner’s Handbook. London: Whurr.
- Pollock, J. & Waller, E. (1996). Day to day dyslexia in the classroom. London: Routledge.
- Porpodas, K. (1993) Dyslexia (in Greek). Athens: Morphotiki.
- Reid, G., and Fawcett, A., (2004). Dyslexia in Context. London: Whurr.
- Reid, G., (2003). Dyslexia: A practitioner’s handbook. Chichester: Wiley.
- Reis, F. (2008). Population and social conditions. Eurostat Luxembourg.
- Thomson, M., (1996). Developmental dyslexia: Studies in disorders of communication. London: Whurr.
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