Opinion article on dyslexia, primary ' />

In the Opinion article on dyslexia, primary school teacher Mark Bracey writes about a classroom where the teacher is kind and children learn with ease among classmates who are also kind and tolerant of differences. Where the focus is on creativity and social interactions, rather than "process".

Is this dream or reality? Yes, it is a dream, just as we like to dream of 'mum and apple pie' when things get tough. The reality is that in New Zealand nearly one in four children struggles academically across primary and secondary school, even though we have an army of conscientious and capable teachers who try to help them.

Dyslexia, in simple terms, means being unable to read words, or at least not being able to read very well. Dyslexia ranges from very mild to very severe. Some say there are special reasons as to why dyslexia occurs, but even neuroscientists have so far been unable to figure out exactly what makes it hard for so many to learn to read, write and do mathematics with success.

Parents are sometimes told that their dyslexic children have a gift and that they are "different" in a good way. But my experience is that these children themselves don't like their so-called gift because it stops them from being what they would like to be - normal. They'd love to be able to read and write and do maths like their classmates, but they are caught in a trap.


Can you tell whether a child is likely to have difficulties soon after they start school? Yes, it is obvious to the teacher - and usually to their parents. Mark Bracey's dream is that these slow starters will be late bloomers and will grow out of these difficulties. However the reality is that children who start school behind nearly always stay behind unless schools do something dramatic.

The dream for the dyslexic child is that the caring teacher will find creative ways for them to succeed, but the reality is that the teacher in a classroom of 20 or 30 is unable to spend even small amounts of time helping those who are behind.

If we are realistic we will see that for all the talk about helping these strugglers, a recipe of love and kindness and a happy classroom - although fantastic if it can be achieved - is nowhere near enough. Just about any teacher, in five minutes, can pick pupils who are likely to struggle and leave school with minimal qualifications. These are the pupils who are obviously failing to learn like the others. In an ideal world we would provide the learning support to help them, but this will not happen unless we spend money on making it happen.

Some will say that these children do not want to learn, or that they come from families where literacy and numeracy is not part of their life, and so there is nothing we can do. The truth is that many dyslexic children come from affluent and loving families with masses of books and well-educated parents.

We are really good at thinking of hundreds of reasons why children will fail, but we struggle to think of one reason why they should succeed. One very good reason is that their future - and ours - depends on being literate and numerate. The government can fix this problem. It requires making specialist help available to children with dyslexia, and to all children struggling with the 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) at all levels of schooling - not just at the six-year-old level, as we currently do with Reading Recovery.

Fortunately, there is a Parliamentary Select Committee enquiry at the present time looking into what resources can be made available to help students with dyslexia. This is our best hope at the moment for a better deal.

Professor Tom Nicholson is a literacy expert at Massey University's Institute of Education, and co-author (with Susan Dymock) of The New Zealand Dyslexia Handbook (NZCER Press, 2015).