Dyslexia is commonly misunderstood and identified as ‘just’ the inability to read and write. Normally a classic case of confusing your b and d. This general symptomatic assessment has had disadvantageous effects on dyslexics.
Misconceptions of dyslexia, seen as a disadvantage or an innate disability, is in the real world actually a significant advantage but a disadvantage in the education system. Leading research statistics indicate that about 35% of all dyslexics drop out of school when they reach high school.
Fifty percent of all adolescents involved in drug and alcohol rehabilitation have dyslexia. Sixty percent of all juvenile delinquents have dyslexia.
Research also indicates that 10% to 20% of the general population are dyslexic. But what is dyslexia, and how far back in time does it go? Neuroscientists explain that people with dyslexia have axons that are spaced very far apart, and therefore their axon lengths are significantly longer than the average human being.
Consequently, dyslexics have a difficult time doing what is called ‘fanatic decoding’ (the ability to look at letters and translate it into a sound to compose a word), and it takes five (5) times the energy for a dyslexic brain to do that than a normal brain would. This neurological advantage, however, has given dyslexics significant cognitive abilities.
They have the ability to look at a situation (which most people will not be able to) and identify seemingly desperate pieces of information, and blend those into a narrative that makes sense to them only.
In other words, they are unuttered geniuses. Contrary to the above, however, most persons with dyslexia live unaccomplished lives.
This is as a result of a ‘little twist’ in time known as the Industrial Revolution of the 1700s and 1800s. The revolution was good for humanity as it came with the introduction of the printing press and the formal schooling systems. It allowed us to embed and distribute pieces of knowledge and information on a large scale.
However, this disenfranchised and locked out about 20% of the general population. Before the industrial revolution, societies were largely based on apprentice models (where dyslexics thrived the most). People learned through observing and then doing kinaesthetic learning.
Then, here came an industrial revolution and the formal schooling system that completely decimated the dyslexics’ ability to learn. The dyslexic learner’s experience in a formal schooling system starts out as a montage of snack time and nap time in kindergarten.
At the tender age of five, they are imaginative and creative. Then we send them to first grade, where the education system slightly tightens the screws and introduces the basic benchmark of intelligence or otherwise known as “learning how to read and write”.
Their world suddenly changes overnight. They realise that what their peers are doing effortlessly, they are having an extremely difficult time learning how to.
This feeling of failure sticks with them as the years stack on, and they start wearing a shroud of shame. Schools are obsessed with conformity (which deprives dyslexics of their creativeness) and measurement. This creates a malignant form of low self-esteem, and they start to believe they are stupid. Accordingly, they naturally start gravitating towards being “the rebellious kid”, “the naughty kid”. Their grades fall dramatically, and they become less interested in the formal schooling system until they eventually drop out or fall out. But what if I told you that the education system, including Namibia’s formal schooling system, has and continues to contribute directly to the number of juveniles, and drug and alcohol abusers out there? This is for the simple reason that Namibia does not have the tools and mechanisms in place to identify and nurture dyslexic learners.
Leading research indicates that when dyslexics are fully empowered and realise that they have that innate intelligence, they represent over 35% of all entrepreneurs, 40% of all self-made millionaires.
Shockingly, one out of two scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the United States of America, are dyslexic. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb; Henry Ford, who revolutionised the automotive industry; Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and the inventor of the iPhone; and Leonardo da Vinci were all dyslexics who went on to accomplish great things.
This goes to show that dyslexics thrive when nurtured, and are successful in the arts, architecture and engineering fields. This can only be achieved when dyslexics realise their full potential.
We have to take these disenfranchised, frustrated learners who yearn for positive reinforcements, and introduce them to that cognitive skillset that they have. Take vocations such as the arts, engineering and architecture, and distil them to age-appropriate middle school level. We can use it to siphon out dyslexics.
And once we have these captive dyslexics, they will excel and reveal traits in which they are better than their “fluent reading” peers. How to achieve this? The Namibian formal schooling system, through its teachers, must endeavour to start offering lesson plans through video, audio, graphic and pictorial presentations. This will enable dyslexic learners to access the information without having to stumble over text as a barrier.
It is important for dyslexics to learn how to read, but it should not be enforced or rather lightly taught to them through a system that insists upon them an archaic form of educational medium, that is, text. Prominent universities producing teachers in the country such as the University of Namibia and the International University of Management must have curriculums that respond to dyslexics. Teaching graduates must be able to know how to siphon out dyslexic learners, along with their talents and abilities. The current state of affairs makes it evident that teachers are not being trained in dyslexia.
The introduction of the new curriculum by the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture provides an opportunity for reform that it is inclusive and cognisant of the disadvantages faced by dyslexics. The streams of both basic and higher education must be in synchronisation.
These two streams feed each other, and must be able to address these challenges from the grassroots up. Some of the smartest people in Namibia are currently either dropouts, at vocational centres doing any and every course that comes by, working for minimal wages, or worse, behind bars. These situations come as a direct result of a system that did not accommodate them. Hence, it is important to focus on a dyslexics’ strengths. Empowering and allowing dyslexics to blossom will create a new narrative.
They will use this new and empowering narrative to become self-actualised, content and confident human beings. Consequently, they will be joining the ranks of those famous dyslexics, and solving some of the world’s most complex challenges. Namibia will need this as we enter the fourth industrial revolution.