The Problem

Dyslexia impacts the individual, society and the economy at large.

Dyslexia is neurologically based and often hereditary. It causes difficulties in reading, writing, spelling and organization. Dyslexia makes fluent reading difficult, which affects not only academic success but also self-esteem and social-emotional development.

Dyslexia and the individual

Dyslexia, also known as specific reading difficulties, is the most common form of learning difficulty with a prevalence of 10 percent or more of any given population, depending on the orthographic system, type and degree of dyslexia, reading age assessed and sampling methods used

With a world population of more than 7 billion, this learning difference clearly impacts a huge number of children and adults, with far-reaching, life-long consequences.

Dimensions of the global problem

‘By 2030, 3.2 million teachers are required to achieve universal primary education, and 5.1 million more will be needed t0 achieve universal lower secondary education.’* (our italics)

Target 4.c states: By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries …’

* Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4 – Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, UNESCO, 2016

It’s worth pointing out that the UNESCO Institute of Statistics in 2016 put the estimate at almost 69 million in total.

This can only be achieved by concerted, efficient international effort. Online learning and modern technology must play a role.

Dyslexia and society

With interventions early on by teachers trained in dyslexia and its management across the curriculum, students with dyslexia can avoid falling into depression and a spiral of failure.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging shows that the brains of people with dyslexia develop and function in a different way.  Their evident capacities for intuitive and imaginative thinking lead to inventiveness and creativity. Some people with dyslexia, given the opportunity and encouragement to manage their dyslexia and triumph over it, become celebrities in their fields, like John Chambers, chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems Inc.

But right now many students with dyslexia remain undiagnosed throughout their school careers. They face the misery of failure early in their lives. Their motivation to learn is quickly snuffed out as they are deprived of self-esteem and, far from being encouraged in their abilities, are labeled as lazy or disruptive by teachers who know little about how to adapt their teaching to meet these learners’ needs.

Without identification and effective intervention, the impact of dyslexia can be significant and long-lasting not only for the individual, but for society at large.

The long-term effects of dyslexia on young adults include school failure, depression, increased risk of suicide, delinquency and reoffending.

Without adequate literacy skills to read signs, fill in forms or write emails, social integration is beyond the reach of young people with dyslexia who have no choice but to remain dependent on society.

Surveys show that amongst the high percentage of illiterate people in prison, a disproportionate number will have dyslexia.

In countries where public services are limited, education becomes a luxury item that only the rich can buy to rescue their children from life-long illiteracy. This flies in the face of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations, which states that everyone has the right to free, compulsory education, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages and that education “shall be directed to the full development of the human personality…”

Even in wealthier countries where public education is available for children of all backgrounds, disparate resources can leave great gaps in services available for students with special needs. If individual equality and societal success are to be achieved, students of all nationalities and walks of life must have access to teachers who are trained to recognize and address learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

Dyslexia and the economy

A 2006 KPMG Foundation report, The long term costs of literacy difficulties, analysed the overall costs to society that result when illiteracy secondary to dyslexia is ignored. They include social costs, unemployment, consequent mental health problems and remedial programs as well as costs incurred due to antisocial behaviour, such as drug abuse, early pregnancy and most significant of all, criminal justice involvement.

In the United Kingdom, KPMG reports, ‘the total resulting costs to the public purse arising from failure to master basic literacy skills in the primary school years are estimated between £ 5,000 and £ 43,000 per individual to the age of 37, and between £ 5,000 and £ 64,000 over a lifetime. This works out at a total of £ 198 million to £ 2.5 billion every year’, which far exceeds the costs of quality early intervention.

At every level, dyslexia and its repercussions are a cause for public concern and an urgent call to action by those responsible for education policy makers and provisions.