While our politicians argue amongst themselves about money and education, perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves just how lucky we are if we have a brain that can operate well in the school and tertiary system.
Education provides us with the tools: the knowledge and understanding to help us navigate the bigger world that awaits.
But what if your brain doesn't operate quite like everyone else's'?
A new report from the University College London reveals that up to 10% of the population are affected by a specific learning disability (SLD), which could manifest itself as dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADD/ADHD or autism. To put this into perspective that implies that in every average class there will be 2 to 3 students affected by one or more of these conditions.
What causes kids to have a specific learning disability? Quite often the aetiology is unknown but the results occur as a consequence of atypical brain development, which could be associated with genetic and environmental causes.
Moreover a child with one identified SLD is at greater risk of having other learning disabilities as well. A child with ADHD has a 33-45% chance of also having dyslexia and 11% will have dyscalculia.
What is now needed, is a system to first help identify which kids have these disabilities and to then develop appropriate individualised support programs to enable these kids to develop to their maximum capacity.
Putting money into a system by itself, will not adequately address these issues. If Australia really wants to become "the clever country," it will need to tackle how to help the 1 in 10 of its future adult workers that don't fit into the regular one size fits all mould of the current education system.
We now have a far greater understanding of the different learning disabilities and that foundation of knowledge is being rapidly extended as more information becomes available from neuroscientific research. We also now have the technology to assist in developing some very effective programs.
Professor Butterfield in the article summarises what is needed: "Each child has a unique cognitive and genetic profile, and the educational system should be able to monitor and adapt to individual needs for each of the basic disciplines."
One day I believe we will, but it will require collaboration between policy makers, educators, technology experts and neuroscientific expertise to make it happen.
B. Butterworth, Y. Kovas. Understanding Neurocognitive Developmental Disorders Can Improve Education for All. Science, 2013; 340 (6130): 300 DOI: 10.1126/science.1231022