Author: Panayiotis Constantinides
The following article constitutes part of my dissertation for the University of Glasgow Postgraduate Diploma in Inclusive Education, Research, Policy and Practice. The full article can be found at the author’s account at www.researchgate.com.
The aim of this small-scale research is twofold: firstly, to examine how aware Greek primary school teachers are of Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties mostly in the first three years of primary school. Secondly, to recommend ways through which Greek teachers will improve this awareness. The study is a qualitative research, since the purpose is not to test or measure the current situation and produce statistics. On the contrary, it aims at understanding the depth of the issue not only by analysing the existent literature and the Greek legal framework which refers to Dyslexia (e.g. law 3699/2008), but also by observing what people who are directly related to it – teachers – say and believe. These views will be assessed in a way that will bear suggestions to improve the current teachers’ awareness of Dyslexia in Greece. In general, it adopts Mills’s explanation on qualitative research as an “approach to data collection to understand the way things are and what the research means from the perspectives of the participants in the study” (Mills, 2011:5).
The significance of this research lies in the fact that the area of Dyslexia awareness among primary school teachers and even educators in general is very weak in Greece and measures need to be taken to reinforce this awareness.
The findings prove the above view to a large scale and justify the need for changes not only in the legal framework, but in teachers’ attitude as well, if we wish to create an inclusive pedagogical environment in Greek primary schools and equal opportunities to knowledge.
Review of literature
The literature of this research mainly consists of two different pillars:
The first refers to scientific articles and books on Dyslexia in Greece, mostly written by Greek key thinkers, such as Dr. Anastasiou Dimitrios from the University of Western Macedonia and Athina Zoniou-Sideri from the University of Athens. The second is an analysis of the legal framework in Greece during the last 30 years, with a particular focus on the last decade, when some changes in order to improve the situation have occurred. Laws 2817 of 2000, 3699 of 2008 and 315 of 2014 can be considered as the most representative regarding the recent legal framework in Greece.
The project is based on the following research question:
“How can Greek teachers improve their awareness in identifying Dyslexia during the first three years of primary school?”
The above question was carefully chosen after taking into account the researcher previous experience in assessing pupils with Dyslexia. After a period of almost four years assessing primary and secondary school students, the researcher realized the noteworthy lack of awareness on Dyslexia, from the part of primary school teachers, as much as the inadequate educational and legal framework to cope with this learning difficulty efficiently in the 21st century. Lack of a variety of resources, poor legal framework and recession problems were some of the main reasons why this research question has been a challenge to discover. Furthermore, it will be really helpful to reach conclusions and offer suggestions that would improve the current situation on Dyslexia in Greece.
Methods of data collection and why they were chosen
The participants were teachers of primary schools in Greece. The basic reason for this choice is that their role can be essential in identifying (or worse not) children in their classes, who possibly need to be assessed in order to be offered further support as early as possible. The methods of data collection were questionnaires and interviews. Questionnaires (13 in number) were chosen because it is a convenient way to collect data not only for the researcher, but for the individual to be questioned. The second method of data collection was interviewing a number of teachers (six), giving the opportunity to triangulate the collected data.
The initial target group of participants required a few standards. First, the purposeful sampling had to be teachers of state primary schools to keep in accordance with the research question. They should be teaching in the first, second or third class of the primary schools during the current school year or the last two years.
Ethics was meticulously and typically coped during this project following the rules and regulations of the University of Glasgow Ethics Committee in order to make sure that the research is an ethical one. Apart from completing the relevant Ethics Application and Consent form, some more ethical aspects were also taken into consideration. For instance, all persons and authorities had been consulted in advance and “equal access to information generated by the process” (O’ Brien 1998:12) has been offered to all participants. Throughout the research anonymity was kept for all participants and they were provided with a Plain Language Statement (see Appendix) well before an interview or completion of a questionnaire informing them in detail on the purpose of this study and what it involved if they decided to participate.
Previous background on Dyslexia
The first feature in common which derived from the data analysis deals with the above issue, since half of the sample (sample 1 questionnaires N1=13, sample 2 interviews N2=6) accepted they had not been taught any subjects relevant to Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties during their undergraduate studies. A factor to note here is that the older the teacher, the less possible to have been taught on Dyslexia. This simply means the change in the academic curriculum as the years went by, in order to “fit” the needs of a modern, more inclusive class. At the same time, the need for more practical and less theoretical university courses during undergraduate studies was stressed by the majority (n=16).
Frequency of Dyslexia cases in class
The second common feature is of crucial importance, since it refers to the frequency of Dyslexia cases or LD in classes and all (n=19) participants have experienced such. It is interesting though to note here that older teachers of 40 and over (n=14) stressed the lack of relevant assessment tools and structures some 20 years ago. Today, with the improvements in the legal framework, mostly law 315, teachers who suspect a difference, contact the SEN teacher and if there is not any, since not all schools provide one, they contact the head teacher and the Special Education Counselor. The role of the latter was also established by law 2817/2000, the first of the key laws in Greece, as mentioned in the literature part. The participants here refer to the usefulness of Resource Rooms, a solution which was provided with the same law and was improved with laws 3699 of 2008 and 4186 of 2013.
On the other hand, one of the participants, who works as a head teacher, mentioned the lack of willingness of KEDDYs (State Diagnosis and Support Centers) to accept students who are sent as “dyslexia suspected” by the school. Unfortunately, this may sound as a weird discrepancy, but the high number of students to be diagnosed and lack of adequate scientists in these centers have resulted in such a negative reality.
Regarding the extent to which teachers feel adequately aware on Dyslexia and LD, the overriding majority (17 out of 19) feel they are not at all. Only in one case where the teacher was a SEN graduate, she felt reasonably confident. It was a common phenomenon that teachers be informed generally about changes in law or new Ministry of Education decisions during the teaching staff meetings, something which could not provide enough knowledge unless the teacher devoted time for self-research. Also, what was obvious among replies (17 out of 19) was the fact that as teachers gained more teaching experience, they could “suspect” more easily an LD or Dyslexia case. Most of them (16 out of 19) finally do believe that with more cooperation among the teaching staff the situation would improve significantly. Perhaps with the hiring of a SEN teacher in most Greek schools, this cooperation will become more fruitful. In this part no differences were noticed.
Schools attitude towards pupils with Dyslexia
The crucial part of the school’s attitude towards a pupil who has been formally diagnosed with Dyslexia comes next. As mentioned before, when a student has been identified to have some signs, the case is discussed in the teachers meeting, which is usually held every 3 months according to Decision 353.1/2002. However, teachers meetings are held more often, because there are issues to be discussed much earlier than the 3-month scheduled ones. It is generally accepted that then it is a matter of the teacher how to cope with the case more efficiently. Simultaneously, the number of students is of high importance. Despite the fact that teachers are aware of the fact that they need to give equal chances to LD students to participate more, the more the students in a class, the more difficult to provide these chances. Resource Rooms are available for these students according to laws 2817 and 3699, however, as stated above, unfortunately not all schools provide them, a phenomenon which should be eliminated, so that every single pupil be given the chance to attend supportive classes. Furthermore, the moment a pupil holds a formal diagnosis by the state committee, the school adopts the recommendations given with these diagnoses and tries to follow them. An interesting point here is that the majority of mainstream students respect the condition when they share the same teaching hours with pupils with Dyslexia. In a nutshell, participants mentioned the need to discuss more often issues of students with Dyslexia and share experiences among them and also with the SEN teacher, to learn more and be able to handle cases more effectively.
The uncommon feature here came from a SEN teacher (n=1) who stresses that teachers should give Dyslexia students the “opportunity to discover the ‘strong’ part of themselves”, so as to help them build their self-confidence, a feature which at the moment is not taken into account by the typical Greek school.
All in all, the resources of this small-scale research project offered invaluable information on the matter and answered a hundred percent the research question. The fact that some crucial commonalities came straight to the surface, helps in realizing the main problems teachers in Greece have been facing towards awareness concerning Dyslexia. Also, some features which were expressed only by 1-2 teachers offered useful ideas and food for thought in order to form suggestions and bring solutions for the future.
Lack of state support is a key factor in many different areas which affect Dyslexia awareness. This lack concerns a range of aspects, such as insufficient undergraduate courses during future teachers’ basic studies. An updated university curriculum should be designed by the Greek Ministry of Education, which will include subjects on Dyslexia and LD together with examples and intervention practices based on the experience and the students’ needs which have been recorded so far.
Moving on to after graduation professional improvement, seminars and lectures must be organized by the Ministry of Education or even each LEA, so as to ensure teachers’ Continuing Professional Development (CPD). One cannot think of teachers without CPD in the 21st century, mostly with the numbers of students with Dyslexia to hold according to the British Dyslexia Association 10% of the UK population (http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/about) and to rise dramatically year per year.
CPD is almost unknown in Greece and all participants impressively agreed that whatever they know about Dyslexia is based on self-study. The Greek government should find ways to organise and support CPD not only aiming at “improving the job performance skills of the whole staff”, but also to “improve pupil learning” (Craft, A., 2000:10-11). Currently, there are state bodies like EKPA (National Kapodistrian University of Athens) which run e-learning three-month courses on Dyslexia and other LD aspects via distance, embodying a really helpful spectrum (http://elearn.elke.uoa.gr/show_programs.php?catID=52). The Ministry should start cooperating with Greek Universities in order to run such programs with their assistance and trying to cover financially part of the fees. Half of the participants in this research suggested having such an opportunity and they were willing to join if part of the cost is subsidized.
Regarding LEAs, better and more frequent information on Dyslexia, new laws, assessment tests should be offered and this is a point that our research showed it is also a matter of headteachers. The latter should not only be willing to inform staff about anything related to Dyslexia, but be looking for the organization of such seminars in the area with the cooperation of other schools.
One of the most significant factors which seems to impede the improvement of teachers’ awareness in the first – crucial – years of primary schools is the weak legal framework which affects most areas of inclusive education, such as diagnosis centers, assessment tools, staff awareness and curriculum. For instance, law 3699 which can be considered a milestone in the Greek legal framework on education, refers in 30 out of its 37 articles to the organizational issues and SEN teachers’ qualifications instead of setting the scene for a core of articles for a rigid curriculum for all to improve and facilitate their learning skills, assessment tools and teachers’ CPD. As Anastasiou and Polychronopoulou mention “in Greece, a thoroughly categorical model of special education provision has never been applied to children with SLD or other mild disabilities” (2009:63).
Finally, Greece has been suffering from a deep recession lately, which already counts almost 8 years. The financial situation undoubtedly affects education to a critical extent. Diagnosis centers are underemployed or sometimes cease their services since there are no psychologists or SEN teachers to staff them. The Ministry of education needs to find ways to man KEDDYs with “educators with scientific prestige, knowledge, experience, ethos, maturity and determination” (Anastasiou – Iordanidis, 2006:8) so as to be able to cope with the difficulties of assessing students and inform parents. Law 315 of 2014 was a significant start by sending a SEN teacher to many schools, in capital cities, but this should cover all schools of the country. The establishment of Medical Pedagogical Centers was another step forward facilitating the diagnosis procedures and shorten waiting time, but they need to be well supported and adequately staffed.
In a nutshell, Greece can walk its own way in raising awareness of teachers in primary schools, a fact which will help young learners learn better. It is understandable that both would flourish much more easily under a stable economy, still in many cases, right decisions, well prepared laws and teachers’ willingness to improve their knowledge are basic ingredients for a successful, more inclusive recipe, for a well-supported, happier young learner.
Anastasiou, D., and Polychronopoulou, S. (2009) ‘Identification and overidentification of Specific Learning Difficulties (Dyslexia) in Greece’, Learning Disabilities, Vol.32, pp.55-69
Anastasiou, D. and Iordanidis G. (2006) ‘Issues of staffing Diagnosis and Support Centers’, University of Patras Pedagogical dpt
Anastasiou, D. (2007) ‘A diagnostic approach of Dyslexia: problems with criteria and identification procedures’, Education and Science, Vol. 4, pp. 387-410
British Dyslexia Association (online) About the British Dyslexia Association Background at http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/about (last accessed 7.7.2015)
Craft, A. (2000) Continuing Professional Development: A Practical Guide for Teachers and Schools, 2nd edition, London: Routledge Falmer
Mills, G. (2011) Action Research – A guide for the teacher researcher, Boston, MA: Pearson
National Kapodistrian University of Athens (online) Special Education e-learning programmes at http://elearn.elke.uoa.gr/show_programs.php?catID=52 (last accessed 7.7.2015)
O’Brien, R. (1998) An Overview of the Methodological Approach of Action Research (online) at http://web.net/robrien/papers/arfinal.html (last accessed 15.6.2015)
Republic of Greece (2000) Law nr.2817 Education of individuals with special educational needs, Athens: Newspaper of the Republic of Greece, issue 1, sheet number 78
Republic of Greece (2002) Ministry of Education decision nr.353.1 Duties and Responsibilities of head teachers and teachers in Primary and Secondary Education, Athens: Newspaper of the Republic of Greece, issue 2, sheet number 1340
Republic of Greece (2008) Law nr.3699 Special treatment and education of individuals with disabilities or special learning difficulties, Athens: Newspaper of the Republic of Greece, issue 1, sheet number 199
Republic of Greece (2013) Law nr.4186 Restructuring of Secondary Education, Athens: Newspaper of the Republic of Greece, issue 1, sheet number 19
Republic of Greece (2014) Ministry of Education decision nr. 315 Establishment of EDEAY – Committees of Diagnostic Educational Assessment and Support, Athens: Newspaper of the Republic of Greece, issue 2
Author: Panayiotis Constantinides