The Israeli educational system fails to meet the needs of children with dyslexia, says a group of parents and advocates urging for more research and interventions for students with this neurological language-based learning disability.
While extensive research from the US shows that 1 in 5 children suffer from this common learning disorder, Israel has not invested sufficient efforts to cope with the gravity of a learning disability that affects an estimated 500,000 Israeli students.
Children with dyslexia have difficulty with phonemic awareness. This challenge makes it difficult for them to distinguish the separate sounds that make up words. They have trouble breaking apart and building words, a skill that the majority of children develop naturally prior to learning the alphabet. Additionally, studies have shown that these children also struggle with rapid automatic naming, the ability to quickly name letters, numbers, and objects. This difficulty has shown to be linked to reading fluency and comprehension. As a result of these areas of weakness, children with dyslexia struggle with reading, comprehension, writing, and spelling.
Leading in the awareness and intervention of this learning disability is a coalition of parents, and professionals urging for specialized attention to this common learning issue.
“When dyslexia is picked up early, for example in kindergarten, and kids are given an appropriate and proven intervention, they can achieve success in school. Additionally, researchers have discovered that when given this type of intervention at a young age, the brain can self-correct and begin to use the weak reading areas more efficiently. Children with dyslexia are bright, with lots of creativity and the ability to see the big picture and think outside of the box,” says Dr. Rinat Green, a child psychologist who has become an expert and advocate on behalf of children with dyslexia. Green founded an organization called Kol Koreh, which aims to raise awareness and spread resources on these topics.
Green and other parents of students with dyslexia say that the problem is that Israeli children only have two options: either to be placed in a regular classroom and play catch up most of the time, or go to special education classes, where kids get mixed in with students with serious emotional or behavioral problems.
“Many bright and talented kids grow up feeling that they are not smart or capable because teachers are not trained in knowing how to cater to the specific needs of students with dyslexia,” said Green. “Many parents spend a lot of money on private tutoring, but this is not always the answer, especially when the tutor is not sufficiently trained in proven methods to teach children with dyslexia how to read.”
According to research from Dr. Sally Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, the window of opportunity to help children with dyslexia is between kindergarten until third grade. After that, most children have already fallen behind in school and will be constantly trying to catch up. However, most kids are not identified as being dyslexic until after 3rd grade and lose this window of opportunity. This causes too many children to grow up failing school and feeling lost. Students with dyslexia tend to fall between the cracks in an educational system that is heavily based on reading, comprehension, writing, and spelling.
Experts suggest that children with dyslexia require intensive one-on-one intervention that focuses on reading, decoding, spelling, comprehension and language fluency. The intervention should be explicit and multisensory so that children learn the essentials of language in a way that best helps them break the reading code.
Yehuda Noyman, principal of grades 7th-9th at the Or Torah school in Jerusalem, explains that the current school system lacks resources for a large population of children. “These aren’t children without motivation, they are children that simply cannot sit in a classroom for 45 minutes, without support; they have learning difficulties, especially with language. They cannot learn and succeed in the way the current curriculum is laid out.”
Noyman thinks that the students are being harmed by the regular system and should be given special attention. “They don’t fit in the regular classroom or in special education classes, so they have nowhere else to go.”
“All kids want to succeed and they do not want to keep failing, get yelled at or be criticized,” said Channah Spiegelman, a guidance counselor in Israeli schools, a dyslexic herself and mother of 6. “They have objective difficulties learning because their brains are wired differently.”
Added Noyman, “Children with dyslexia are smart, they just need to be approached and taught differently.”
With nearly 20 years of experience in Israeli school settings, Spiegelman estimates that at least three to five students are suffering from a learning disability in an average class of 30. “When a teacher doesn’t understand the problem or can’t cater to them because they have to teach a certain curriculum at a specific pace, some kids are labeled and don’t fit into the system.”
Anglo families have a vested interest in improving interventions and resources for children with dyslexia – particularly because the issues with dyslexia are exacerbated when introducing a second language to a child who already struggles with his or her primary language, especially when the second language also differs significantly in its use of reading symbols and codes.
Spiegelman added that bilingual children with learning disabilities really struggle the most within the current system. “With a learning disability it crosses over to all the languages, but one can succeed in life and in school if given the proper tools,” she said.
But it’s not always so easy. “Unless someone can hire tutors and spend thousands, not every child is in the box, most are not and many cannot succeed in the current school system without proper attention. As Anglos, we don’t always know how to navigate the system and get the best services for our children,” said Stephanie Brown, a mother of 9 living in Beit Shemesh who made Aliyah from New York in 2006.
Dyslexia has a genetic component, so typically families struggling with dyslexia see the issues in more than one child. Without support and awareness in schools, the task is often overwhelming for parents. They are not only responsible for the taxing costs of private tutoring but also to find effective interventions in a system that isn’t addressing their children’s learning needs properly.
This is exactly what Kol Koreh is working to changing. “Our dream is for kids and their families to be embraced into the system and provided the proper tools they need to be successful,” said Green.