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Categorizing Learning Disabilities and Difficulties

Learning disabilities can be used as an umbrella term to categorize different types of problems faced by learners in academic performance. The reasons also vary depending on intrinsic and extrinsic factors of learning and their degrees of influence on the learning environment. Nomenclature and research for decades were dominated by causal explanations, resulting in outdated concepts like minimal brain damage. According to the opinion of Stevens et al. (2017), learning disabilities particularly hinder the process of deciphering knowledge through reading or by the use of other comprehensive abilities. Saletta (2018) categorically states that difficulties in the areas of reading and reading comprehension can be persistent and hinder the learning procedures of individuals lifelong. Dyslexia is a Particular Developmental Language learning disorder. Individuals with dyslexia face difficulties in reading. The diagnosis of the problems through implicit or explicit signs is of utmost importance. As a learning disability, Dyslexia is needs minute attention on the part of the teachers. In the Australian context, dyslexia are a major concern among teachers and learners. According to the Australian Dyslexia Association, dyslexia affect nearly 10% of the Australian population ("Dyslexia in Australia | Australian Dyslexia Association", 2022).

Learning difficulties is also an umbrella term that covers all the cognitive, motor and other difficulties in learning a student might face. According to Woods, Wyatt-Smith & Elkins (2005), learning difficulties in Australia are defined as part of daily interaction with school-based instruction, with students categorized and often grouped according to perceived competence. It is part of what schools do when providing for their students. School terminology includes terms such as 'learning difficulty', 'at-risk', and 'needing higher levels of support. According to the opinion of Van der Kleij, Cumming & Looney (2018), learning disabilities have been receiving particular attention on the part of educators and policy reformers to add more guidance and help for enhancing the learning experiences for children with special educational needs. In the Australian context, research has shown that there is a problem in teachers and educators articulating and documenting students' difficulties in learning and adjusting to the classroom environment.

Intellectual and learning disabilities among the students in Australia are a glaring problem in the education sector of the country. Learning disabilities can be defined as the problems students face in learning and imbibing knowledge in a traditional classroom setting. Brenchley & Costello (2018) are of the opinion that proper intervention in the assessment system is imperative in the context of properly helping the students suffering from learning disabilities. Learning disabilities can vary in their degree of hampering the education of children depending on the severity of the particular disability. While verbal learning disabilities can be aided with several learning aids, non-verbal learning disabilities are far more persistent and problematic, especially for children of early age. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) and the Human Rights Commission recognize dyslexia in Australia. There is an issue with schools because dyslexia should be recognized under the special needs section of every Education Act in Australia. "Helping People with Dyslexia: A National Agenda" outlines key recommendations from the Australian Working Party (2010). It is a worthwhile document that the ADA supports. Dyslexia is a disability recognized in Australia, according to the government's written response to the working party. In Australia (primary and secondary schools), a concept known as a specific learning disability is not well understood, and children and young people with specific learning disabilities are not supported with additional funding for education support strategies. Those who work towards the benefit of students with learning disabilities have noted that teachers preparing or teaching students at an early age are ill-prepared for dealing with students with specific learning disabilities (Brenchley & Costello, 2018). Pre-service training about dealing with students suffering from learning disabilities is imperative for future teachers. Researchers have also noted a scarcity in terms of resources to diagnose and support learning disabilities among students in Australia. Various new methods of integrating ICT and other technological aids into the vocational training of teachers have positively changed the landscape of teaching students with specific learning disabilities. Scholars and researchers have also pointed out that the outlook of the general public and the majority of the parents also needs to change. As students with specific learning disabilities continue to feel shame in articulating their specific problems and hindrances they are facing in learning. Teachers have the grave responsibility of changing the learning environment into a more equitable one for every student.

Dyslexia in Australia

To outline the proper reasons behind the influencing factors on the learning outcomes of secondary students, the newspaper article published in The Herald can be referred to. The 2021 article by Jordan Baker, clearly highlights the problems faced by teachers at the Walgett Community College. The gravest problem that she discusses in the article is related to the safety of the students and the teachers. The article documents a few violent incidents that have made Walgett Community College a place where teachers do not at all prefer taking up jobs at. The problem of violence is created by a few students; however, the effect is spread to everyone present in the educational institute. The unemployment rate of Walgett College secondary students is one of the most significant obstacles to their learning. According to Levine (2011), parents who are unemployed have severe negative effects on the performance of their children at secondary schools. Students whose parents recently lost jobs or who have been dependent on social services for a long time may become less motivated and attentive in classroom settings. For students from volatile backgrounds, it is also easy to pick violence over tranquility and calmness.

The research of Kalil & Wightman (2011) shows the significantly staggering connection between paternal unemployment and students’ disengagement in educational institutions. It is a known fact that consistent disengagement on the part of students leads to poor academic performances on their part. Apart from other problems like geographic location and positioning of the indigenous communities within a set of long endured discrimination, indigenous children in secondary schools can feel severely disinterested in learning and applying that knowledge in real life. As the Herald article by Jordan Baker states, the lack of teachers in the Walgett Community College is a serious problem. Before looking into the reasons for teachers leaving jobs at Walgett Community College, the effects of the lack of teachers on the students’ learning outcomes should be discussed. Reid (2017) points out the problems at Walgett Community College in terms of the implementation of educational policies and the necessity of changing the outlook in solving the problems at Walgett Community College. Marginal communities that have faced discrimination for a long time and also the remote geographic location has made it harder for policymakers to be able to help the communities in terms of education. These are the problems that Reid (2017) has highlighted in outlining the reasons behind lower academic performances among the students in Walgett Community College. Social equity in rural areas is an important task, and without equity members of remote communities cannot uplift their social or educational outcomes.

Trudgett et al. (2017) in their research has highlighted the perception of the parents regarding the geographic isolation of the indigenous students in Australia. According to Trudgett et al. (2017), geographical isolation has a very negative impact on the performance of secondary students. The research of Perso and Hayward (2020) addresses the problem of geographic isolation and its effects on the learning outcomes of indigenous students. As the authors note, the most important endeavour lacking in the initiatives at Walgett Community College is developing a specific sensitivity towards different community cultures among the students. Without cultural sensitivity, students will feel more and more detached and in turn unsafe in the classrooms. That in turn has a hugely negative effect on the learning outcomes of the students. The authors also note that students who are not being able to fit into the social setups for different reasons face more problems in learning. Poor academic performances are reflections of students facing problems in different socio-economic areas of their lives. Apart from economic stress and geographic isolation, students also face problems in engagement and attendance. This problem related to attendance and engagement is interrelated to the socio-economic problems that have been discussed previously. The students whose parents have difficulties in managing financially are more likely to be disengaged in a classroom and also their attendance in classes will be lowered significantly. According to the opinion of Hancock & Zubrick (2015), disengaged students face a variety of academic and social difficulties. Low achievement is associated with disengagements, such as absences, disruptive behaviours, and a lack of involvement in school. These factors have a detrimental impact on the school experience of students. In addition, the engagement-performance relationship is usually reciprocal. Over time, low achievement reinforces itself, which means it is a consequence of disengagement and can also lead to it.

Impacts of Learning Disabilities and Difficulties on Students

To understand the specific factors influencing the learning outcomes of secondary students at Walgett Community College and Coonamble Public School, first, it is imperative to understand the scenario of the two educational institutions through the experiences of the students, parents and other observers. Egeberg & McConney (2019) have pointed out that the perception of students regarding effective classroom teaching strategies or classroom management methods should be taken into account for the purpose of being able to cater to students better. Research on effective teaching and classroom management that uses teachers' viewpoints and references knowledge and beliefs has been extensive. Contrary to that, the research about students' viewpoints focuses more on their perceptions (beliefs, opinions, and thoughts) about people, situations, or events. The perception that students' thoughts, beliefs, and feelings overlap and are interchangeable is also common.

In contrast, young people have well-articulated opinions about effective and ineffective classroom management. Researchers have established that students are not passive recipients of teacher actions. Often, students choose to resist or comply, ignoring, avoiding, sabotaging or questioning teachers' requests. The intentions behind students' actions are determined by their perceptions of classroom life and by their adverse relationships with their teachers. The massive problem located by Jason King (2017) in a podcast about the problems in Walgett Community College and Coonamble Public School is the problem of disengagement among students. As he has highlighted during the interview, the students who are disengaged need special attention on the part of the teachers to design curriculum and teaching in such a way that encompasses their particular interests (experiment, 2017). The podcast also highlights the massive drug-related problem that plagues the region and its adverse effects on the learning outcomes of the secondary students at both the school and the community college.  McCausland et al. (2021) highlight the drug-abuse issue in the community and its effects on the disengagement of the students in classrooms. The authors highlight the need for effective collaboration with elderly people of the community and the educational institutions’ management in order to serve the children better. The shortage of staff is another serious problem at the Walgett Community College and Coonamble Public School. The shortage of staff leads to inadequate attention to individual students in the traditional classroom settings. That in turn also creates problems of disengagement and other learning difficulties. Problems of staff shortage according to the opinion of De Wall (2021) seriously hinders the progress of learning among students at Walgett Community Schools and Colleges. The author also notes a serious problem in the implementation of policies and frameworks for improving the educational outcomes of the students. There have been many recommendations from the committees regarding the curriculum and other aspects, but most the teaching professionals are discouraged by the low feasibility of the proposed changes. King (2017) also discusses the issue of low attendance on the part of the students despite several attempts at increasing engagement and other activities for changing the students' views about learning. These are the main concerns of the schools in Walgett and Coonamble.

Problems in Diagnosing and Supporting Learning Disabilities in Australia

Apart from the specific problems at the schools and colleges, the effects and influences of the problems should also be taken into account in addressing the problems of poor performances of the students at the secondary level. Besides specific general community problems, family and other personal problems also work as important factors in students’ reasons for dropping out of courses. The early dropout of students is more problematic in terms of their actions affecting the whole student population of the particular region. The gap between the teachers and the students regarding the communication of their problems is also a major reason for persisting problems at schools and colleges. Tursunboyeva & Ashirova (2021) in their research work outline the importance of effective communication between teachers and students and how beneficial it could be in the light of a problem-solving guide to better facilitate students. According to the authors, the important elements of respect, recognition of specific cultures and positive reinforcement can effectively build positive relationships between teachers and students in educational settings. The positive relations between teachers and students not only enhance the performance of the students but also help teachers in gaining a better understanding of the specific learning difficulties of the students. The high employee turnover at the Walgett Community School is a problem that is occurring despite sufficient funding in terms of resources in those schools. King (2017) also has highlighted that the problems of Walgett Community College are multifaceted and the problems cannot be addressed with the direction of addressing a single problem alone.

From the perspective of a pre-service teacher, I would like to highlight my experience of knowing in detail the gap between the learning outcomes and academic performances of children in rural and urban areas. From the perspective of a pre-service teacher, the first and most jolting phenomenon that I have noticed is the severe shortage of staff in the schools in rural areas. The influencing factors of lack of an adequate number of teachers are studied worldwide. However, in my opinion, the attention to regional factors and particular environmental factors should be taken into consideration a bit more. In terms of the schools and colleges catering to learning disabilities and difficulties of the students, there is a huge gap in the understanding and the utilisation of resources. As I have learnt from various sources, there is little to no scarcity of resources in the rural community schools, however, the understanding on the part of the authorities and the teaching professionals are not being properly utilised to help the students with special learning needs. 

References

Adlof, S. M., & Hogan, T. P. (2018). Understanding dyslexia in the context of developmental language disorders. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 49(4), 762-773. Doi: 10.1044/2018_LSHSS-DYSLC-18-0049

Brenchley, C., & Costello, S. (2018). A model of assessment and intervention for Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD) in the Australian education system: an educational and developmental psychologist perspective. Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 23(1), 67-86. Doi: 10.1080/19404158.2018.1467936

De Wall, M. (2021). Strength in workplaces is critical. Education, 3-3. Doi: https://www.proquest.com/openview/54cd1809a6df3b62092cce53ccd40613/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=27966

Dyslexia in Australia | Australian Dyslexia Association. Dyslexiaassociation.org.au. (2022). Retrieved 3 April 2022, from https://dyslexiaassociation.org.au/dyslexia-in-australia/.

Egeberg, H., & McConney, A. (2019). Correction to: What do students believe about effective classroom management? A mixed-methods investigation in Western Australian high schools. The Australian Educational Researcher, 46(1), 201-201. Doi: 10.1007/s13384-017-0250-y

experiment, T. (2017). The toughest schools: Walgett's education experiment. ABC Radio National. Retrieved 3 April 2022, from https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/the-toughest-schools-walgetts-education-experiment/9075574.

Hancock, K. J., & Zubrick, S. (2015). Children and young people at risk of disengagement from school. Subiaco, WA: Commissioner for Children and Young People, Western Australia. Doi: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Kirsten-Hancock-2/publication/281257513_Children_and_young_people_at_risk_of_disengagement_from_school_literature_review/links/55dd3b4108ae83e420ee62bc/Children-and-young-people-at-risk-of-disengagement-from-school-literature-review.pdf

Kalil, A., & Wightman, P. (2011). Parental job loss and children's educational attainment in Black and White middle?class families. Social Science Quarterly, 92(1), 57-78. Doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2011.00757.x

Levine, P. B. (2011). How does parental unemployment affect children’s educational performance?. Whither opportunity, 315-335. Doi: https://books.google.co.in/books?hl=en&lr=&id=mF_me7HYyHcC&oi=fnd&pg=PA315&dq=Levine,+P.+B.+(2011).+How+does+parental+unemployment+affect+children%E2%80%99s+educational+performance%3F.+Whither+opportunity,+315-335.&ots=wudj5TG0xe&sig=dOV6MGhbKmiuab-xtpU_Hg4aiWo&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

McCausland, R., Spencer, W., MacGillivray, P., Robinson, V., Hickey, V., Baldry, E., & McEntyre, E. (2021). CommUNIty-Led development: A partnership to realize Aboriginal Elders’ vision for change. Community Development, 1-19. Doi: 10.1080/15575330.2021.1923044

Perso, T., & Hayward, C. (2020). Teaching Indigenous students: Cultural awareness and classroom strategies for improving learning outcomes. Routledge. Doi: 10.4324/9781003117728

Reid, J. A. (2017). Rural education practice and policy in marginalised communities: Teaching and learning on the edge. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 27(1), 88-103. Doi: 10.47381/aijre.v27i1.111

Saletta, M. (2018). Reading disabilities in adolescents and adults. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 49(4), 787-797. Doi: 10.1044/2018_LSHSS-DYSLC-18-0005

Stevens, E. A., Walker, M. A., & Vaughn, S. (2017). The effects of reading fluency interventions on the reading fluency and reading comprehension performance of elementary students with learning disabilities: A synthesis of the research from 2001 to 2014. Journal of learning disabilities, 50(5), 576-590. Doi: 10.1177%2F0022219416638028

Trudgett, M., Page, S., Bodkin-Andrews, G., Franklin, C., & Whittaker, A. (2017). Another brick in the wall? Parent perceptions of school educational experiences of Indigenous Australian children. In Indigenous children growing up strong (pp. 233-258). Palgrave Macmillan, London. Doi: 10.1057/978-1-137-53435-4_11

Tursunboyeva, L. T., & Ashirova, M. F. (2021). Positive teacher-student relations. Academic research in educational sciences, 2(Special Issue 1), 62-66. Doi: ISSN: 2181-1385

Van der Kleij, F. M., Cumming, J. J., & Looney, A. (2018). Policy expectations and support for teacher formative assessment in Australian education reform. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 25(6), 620-637. Doi: 10.1080/0969594X.2017.1374924

Woods, A., Wyatt-Smith, C., & Elkins, J. (2005). Learning difficulties in the Australian context: Policy, research and practice. Curriculum Perspectives, 25(3), 1-14. Doi: ISSN: 0159-7868

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