775 million adults across the world lack basic reading and writing skills. Out of the world’s total, 37 percent of illiterate people live in India. Literacy is a human right and a basic necessity to lead a successful, healthy, and happy life. While efforts are being undertaken to reduce the disparity in access to education and providing equal learning opportunities to all, UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) aims to contribute towards the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 by focussing on the often ignored community of children with difference learning.
Difference learning applies to one in every six people worldwide; difference learners require their educational materials, teacher delivery, and learning assessment to be different from standard education models and practices. Difference learning includes the following diagnoses (or 4Ds): Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia. Learning difficulties, unlike physical disabilities, cannot be easily seen and detected hence, we call this The Seen Unseen!
New science and research has transformed our understanding of learning and learning difficulties. Prevention of reading difficulties in students with dyslexia requires both effective classroom instruction and powerful intervention support. Teachers and educators need to be given scientifically accredited training in fields relating to how children learn and develop and also learning difficulties. Dyslexia is often misconstrued as problems in reading and writing English. However, the fact is that children with Dyslexia have problems in reading and writing in every language that they know, not just in English!
Realizing this gap in imparting education, UNESCO MGIEP’s Difference Learning programme aims to implement literacy testing in the regional languages of India in order to provide remedial learning for improving the functional literacy rate of all students, including the target group, i.e., learners with the 4Ds. In April 2016, UNESCO MGIEP, in partnership with Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT-D) organized the UNLEARN workshop for teachers in New Delhi. The aim of the workshop was to generate awareness about difference learning, create a support network of schools and organizations working in the field and encourage inclusive education in classrooms and beyond.
Nearly 400 teachers, special educators, and administrators from schools in Delhi actively participated in the two-day workshop. Key findings from the workshop were:
- An alarming disconnect between extensive evidence-based research and existing practices in the area of difference learning and in literacy, in general
- Urgent need for universal screening for K-2, to not only address the students with learning differences, but improve literacy of all students;
- A vacuum in the support systems, relevant products, and enabling frameworks for parents, teachers, policy makers, and the individual learners.
Developed by the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC) in India, the Dyslexia Assessment in Languages of India (DALI) is a package that contains screening tools for school teachers and assessment tools for psychologists in Indian Languages to identify dyslexia. The tools are available in Hindi, Marathi, Kannada and English.
UNESCO MGIEP aims to extend the DALI test in other regional languages in India for early detection and diagnosis of learning difficulties. In addition, UNESCO MGIEP is developing a free of cost, online resource called SixthSpace that will provide parents, teachers and students with all information, tools and advice related to learning differences.
These initiatives, we believe, will have a significant impact on students in terms of ensuring functional literacy and will contribute towards achieving Quality and Inclusive Education as part of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.