Challenge for Educators - The Way Forward

Multilingualism, Literacy and Dyslexia,
Lindsay Peer and (Eds.),
David Fulton Publishers 2000,
reproduced with permission

Without question there are many challenges facing education today - teachers, school management, politicians, parents and students all have specific needs, and experience increasing pressures from the changing demands of society. These challenges and priorities which face education today are many and complex. Financial considerations compete with the desire to provide an equitable education for all students despite political will, cutting -edge research and enlightened practices.

The needs of bi-lingual children, their parents and the communities in which they live must be seen as one of those overriding priorities and should not be considered in financial terms but in terms of equity and best educational practices. Identifying the literacy and communication needs of bi-lingual children in a culture-fair manner will not only help to ensure the preservation of culture but also help to identify the cognitive abilities and communication skills of bi-lingual children. This must be at the heart of any educational philosophy and innovation and in the 21st century.

These challenges and priorities provide the thrust and the purpose for this volume. It is necessary that culture -fair principles and practices are considered in the identification and assessment processes, in classroom practices and provision, the curriculum, in the training of teachers, the selection and allocation of resources, in policy and in liaison with parents and the wider community. The need to maximise the potential of dyslexic learners whose first language may not be English is of overriding importance and this must be the priority of identification and assessment procedures.

The remainder of this opening chapter will discuss some of these key factors, all of which can influence the outcome of the education process for bilingual learners who have dyslexic difficulties.


The identification of dyslexic difficulties represents a crucial acknowledgement on the part of education authorities of the importance of identifying difficulties and strengths as early as possible. It has taken those who represent the interests of dyslexic people some time to reinforce this message to education authorities that dyslexia must be diagnosed early if intervention is to be successful. This is also crucial in the case of bilingual learners. It is necessary therefore that culture -fair tests and appropriate strategies for bi-lingual learners be developed and widely used.

Bolton and M'gadzah (1999) in discussing the training requirements of educational psychologists highlights how one Educational Psychologist in their study indicated that it should be compulsory for all trainees to carry out at least one piece of casework involving the assessment of a bi/multi-lingual child. This would certainly help to identify the needs of bilingual children and with appropriate training could form a platform for additional training in dyslexia and bi-lingualism. It should also be noted that the research data published by the Scottish Office Education Department (1991) showed an over representation of bilingual children assessed as having severe learning difficulties/ profound learning difficulties in contrast to their under-representation in moderate learning difficulties/specific learning difficulties. The CRE (1992) suggested this uneven distribution was likely due to lack of clear culture -fair assessment criteria.

Practice and Provision

The selection of resources, and particularly reading material, is of significant importance in the case of bi/multilingual learners. Reading materials can provide the stimulation and motivation for learning and enhance the development of literacy skills. It is important therefore that such reading materials acknowledge the diversity of communities and of individuals within these communities. Assessments should therefore be linked to reading material which is seen to be culture -fair and the recommendations from these assessments linked to resources which are culture appropriate. There is little doubt that reading progress will be accelerated if efforts are made to utilise high interest and age appropriate reading materials. This applies to all children but it is particularly crucial if there is compounding literacy difficulties. It is also important to consider factors relating to conceptual development. This relates quite heavily to language usage and the learner's own experiences. It is important therefore that the home and community context of bi/multilingual learners are considered. This can facilitate the development of appropriate schema and the development of meaningful concepts. This in itself can aid decoding and literacy skills.

Policy - The school and the community

In order for any of the above suggestions to make any impact in the practices in classrooms and schools there must be sound and enlightened policies. It is interesting to note that a report on the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry (McPherson Committee of Enquiry 1999) suggested that every institution should examine their policies and the outcomes of these policies in order to ensure any section of the community is not placed at a disadvantage. This should certainly be considered in relation to educational practices but also in relation to dyslexia and literacy. It has taken long periods of intensive lobbying, groundbreaking research and wide scale teacher training programs to help address the needs of teachers and pupils in relation to dyslexia. It is essential, therefore, that similar pressures and impetus for training is afforded to bi-lingualism and dyslexia. Furthermore it is essential that these policies consider the needs of the neighbourhood, of communities and of parents.

One vital factor in dyslexia is the need to dispel misleading myths and encourage optimism and co-operation. Information needs to be disseminated and avenues for parents and adults with dyslexia opened in order to allay fears and encourage communication. The parents of bi-lingual children who have dyslexic difficulties should be encouraged to develop essential skills in self-advocacy and be encouraged to participate in consultative groups on dyslexia in relation to both practice and policy.

Potential of Learners

If the barriers to literacy can be overcome, bi-lingual learners, as with all dyslexic children, can benefit from a range of learning experiences which can develop language skills and facilitate progress in attainments. It is important that the actual process of learning is understood and highlighted. The development of thinking skills and metacognitive awareness can help do this and therefore access the full curriculum for dyslexic children. Those aspects should also be seen to be important for bilingual dyslexic children. The development of schema and language concepts are fundamental to understanding language in a meaningful context. Once concepts and schema are understood it is easier to apply them to other experiences and other learning contexts.

Cline (1999) suggests that racism can be conceived as the interaction between an uneven distribution of power and influence, discriminatory practices and the prejudiced belief and attitudes of individuals. It is important that discriminatory practices do not diminish the learning experiences and the potential of bi-lingual dyslexic learners.

The Way Forward

There is much still remaining to be achieved if the needs of all dyslexic children and adults are to be fully met. While much has already been achieved in general within the field of dyslexia, particularly in terms of policies and provision, there is still a great deal of progress yet to be accomplished in the field of bi-lingualism and literacy.

It is hoped therefore that enlightened and adequately funded policies will acknowledge current research and the views of practitioners and parents. It is necessary that current assessment, practice and provision for dyslexic children be extended to meet the literacy and learning needs of dyslexic children whose first language may be other than English. Identification and accurate diagnosis are essential as these can help to identify the most appropriate materials and learning environment for all bi-lingual learners with dyslexia. It is hoped that the contributions in this volume will help in some way to achieve the means and the motivation for this to become desirable and established practice in every country.


Cline, T.,(1999)Training to reduce racism in the practice of educational psychology. Educational and Child Psychology Vol. 16, 3 pgs. 127-135

Commission for Racial Equality (1992) Set to fail? Setting and banding in Secondary schools. CRE publications

McPherson, W., (1999) The Stephen Lawrence Enquiry. London HMSO

Scottish Office Education Department (1991) Special education needs and ethnic minority pupils.

Paper presented at BDA International conference York April 2001 Lindsay Peer and Gavin Reid.