I’m writing this piece as a some what frustrated parent. I am frustrated in the New Zealand Education system and I am frustrated with the situation we are in.
It might come as a surprise that as a teacher I am un impressed with the quality of Education Children in New Zealand are currently receiving. This lack of quality is coming from higher up and in no way reflects the exceptional, qualified, caring and hard working teachers we have present in our schools.
We have known for awhile that our 9 year old daughter is dyslexic. I first figured out something was wrong when after a year at school her reading had plateaud. She was a bright and capable child who loved books, loved reading and loved making up creative interesting stories. Yet she couldn’t read. She started hating school and hating reading to us after school. She was getting headaches almost daily and no one knew why. I went along to our GP with all of the information I could find and a supportive letter from her teacher in search of an answer. He referred her to a paediatrician who diagnosed a “specific learning disorder”. However, his diagnosis means very little in the way of support. To have an official diagnosis you need to go through a registered assessor. These are not cheap ( ranging in price from $500 – $900 NZD). We know before she starts high school we will need to go down this path so she is able to receive the appropriate support for exams and assessments.
Last week we got confirmation that our 7 year old son is also dyslexic. What are the chances?! Their father and I have no learning disorders, both did well in school and have both gone on to University and further study. It seems surprising that we have two children with Specific learning disorders!
Our son has never done very well academically, he had many excuses for his poor academic record and we hoped that reading recovery (an intensive reading programme targeting the lowest Year 2 readers in a school) would help. Unfortunately it did not. It is incredibly difficult for an intelligent child to perform poorly in school. Our son has suffered high anxiety, periodically vomits at school and is sent home. He has had sore stomachs for years with no medical answers. It is heartbreaking to hear your child tell you how stupid they are.
We applied for government funding to have him assessed but this was declined as a child needs to be at least 2 years below in all academic areas. How can a child who has only been at school 2 years be more than 2 years below?! He is, by the way just not in Maths. When you are young Maths is almost entirely oral, as soon as it becomes written he will lose confidence in the one subject he loves. So, we bit the bullet and drained our savings account to have him officially diagnosed.
The problem is, now what?
The school does need to step up and work alongside us to get the best results for our children but with what funding? There is no funding available for our children. It feels like my children are unimportant and are just going to be expected to under achieve. I know they are intelligent children, their IQ tests prove that. They have educated parents and come from a family that wants the absolute best for them. They have a love of learning, love being read to and enjoy school (for the most part). They are hard workers and want to do well. But they are not.
We could pay for tutors at $30 -$100 a session. However, when I pick my 7 year old up from school he is so drained he often can’t walk to the car. My 9 year old loves dancing and netball, should I pull her out of these things that she loves to afford her tutoring costs? Should I work less so I can support their learning more? (I currently work three days a week). Should we change schools? Should I home school?
There is no easy solution.
I am scared that my children will never value how truely bright and capable they are. I am scared for their mental health as they get older. New Zealand has a massive youth suicide rate and I do not want my children to become another statistic. I am scared that nothing will be done to support children and families like mine.
I know we are not the only family in this position, I know we are lucky that we could afford (just) the formal assessments for our son and will do it again soon for our daughter. Many families in this position will slip further through the cracks.
New Zealand’s education system needs a huge shake up. We need to go back to basics. We need to support all children regardless of their learning needs and their needs to be funding available so these children don’t get left behind.