Yesterday the govt launched a pilot programme costing $3.6M for 20 mainstream primary schools to identify and help students with dyslexia. This programme is targeted at primary 3 students to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of special education (SPED).[Link]. There are 177 primary schools and every year there roughly 15% to 20% of students have varying degrees of dyslexia. So what has been happening to these dyslexic students before this pilot programme for a small number of schools?
Dyslexia is learning disability it is often mistaken for lower intelligence or "slowness". A dyslexic child can be of normal or above normal intelligence - intelligence and dyslexis are uncorrelated. Today, the onus is very much on parents to find out if their child is suffering from dyslexia. A test by a psychologist costs about $500 and the cheapest one available is by DAS (Dyslexia Association of Singapore) and costs $375. Many cases of dyslexia go undetected every year and this is so especially for children from poor families whose parents don't understand the problem or cannot afford to get their children tested. In some other country more well balanced education system, there is a good chance the child overcomes the problem and start to catch up by the time he gets reaches age of 14. But this is not what happens in our education system which is a sorting system obsessive about streaming, ranking and exam scores. Schools will sort their students according to exam scores putting those with higher scores together and those with the worst scores in the same class. This is done in the name of efficiency - students with different ability has to be taught at a different pace. I'm not against this idea per se but the problem here is students are sorted at a very early age without sufficient effort to tackle the real issue. The weakest class in a school can consist of students with dyslexia, attention deficit, those with poor discipline, those with family problems and the genuine slow learners - and many do not need the pace of teaching to be slowed but their underlying problems. Very often we put these children in a vicious cycle - a child with attention deficit or dyslexia is put together with children with discipline problems and behavioral difficulties. The behavior of the other children in class will affect these children negatively.
OECD recommendations Ten Steps to Equity in Education::
The recommendation of leading experts in OECD [Education Today 2010 : An OECD Perspective][Summary] is to limit early tracking and streaming and postpone academic selection in order to achieve an inclusive education system. Instead of focusing on streaming and sorting students, 2 areas that require more investment is pre-school education and early intervention. With the large income gap and rising poverty among Singaporeans, there is a need to do more to break the link between low socio economic background and poor academic performance. While the PAP govt avoid giving more direct aid to the poor, preferring to spend more on defence and giving scholarship to foreigners, it has claimed that it wants a more inclusive society. They cannot let the children from poor families enter primary school without good pre-school education. insufficient aid for early intervention then stream them down to the worst classes and still claim they are interested in building an inclusive society. We are seeing the education system stratifying, many good teachers leave the public schools to start tuition centers that only richer families can afford to send their children. Primary school teachers are pressured to move up the pace of teaching leaving those with poor preschool education behind because some parents invested heavily in pre-school and their children enter primary one knowing the entire syllabus. Our celebrated "social mobility" is starting to look like a lock down of our social classes - only 1/6 of the students from the bottom 1/3 of our socio economic class make it to the top 1/3 of the PSLE scorers[here]. You only have "half a chace" if you're poor and the difference start to show up within the first 6 years of edication.