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Dyslexic Irishman denied SFI assistance

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11:09 CEST+02:00
When Alan Newsome moved to Stockholm five years ago he signed up for a Swedish for Immigrants (Svenska för Invandrare- SFI) course, only to find that as a dyslexic he was denied support and was forced to quit.

”I couldn't keep up, so I had to quit. I am currently studying a Master's programme at Uppsala University so it is not a question of intelligence,” Newsome told The Local on Tuesday.

Frustrated with what he saw as insufficient understanding for his condition, and a lack of action after more than 40 telephone calls to various teachers and SFI managers, he decided to seek the help of the Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) hoping to establish his right to assistance.

But DO told the 40-year-old Irishman that despite the fact that this right is enshrined in the 1994 national curriculum for non-compulsory education – the rules which govern SFI – he had no such right as an SFI student with dyslexia.

Patrik Edgren, the research officer at DO who handled Alan Newsome's case, told The Local on Tuesday that he information he supplied was wrong.

”My response to Alan Newsome was incorrect - I should have told him that he had no right according to the discrimination act but that he does under the schools law,” Edgren explained.

If the local municipality does not provide the support that the schools law requires then the matter should instead be addressed to the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen), Edgren said.

Madeleine Edström, a vice principal for SFI in Stockholm, argued however that it was less a question of rights than resources.

”Of course the municipality has an obligation to provide support, but we have no way of diagnosing whether a student has dyslexia with regards to SFI education,” she told The Local on Tuesday.

When told that Alan Newsome has a valid diagnosis from Ireland she continued:

”There simply aren't any qualified special needs teachers, not that are qualified to teach SFI anyway.”

Edström conceded that while not all practising SFI teachers in Stockholm hold qualifications to teach SFI, all are required to have a university level teaching qualification and have completed studies in Swedish as a second language.

”If they are not fully qualified then they can be employed but must be given a plan (for further training). One of the schools did have a special needs teacher once but she found another job,” Edström said.

Alan Newsome explained that at his current seat of learning, Uppsala University, he is provided with the assistance he needs to complete his course successfully, without the need for a special needs teacher.

”It is not high tech stuff – just a question of talking books or computer programmes,” he said, arguing that the teaching methods at SFI did not cater to his learning disability and that his school was not prepared to amend teaching materials accordingly.

”It really is a very basic way of teaching with no visuals, all verbal, and you are not allowed to use the PC programmes outside of SFI premises – due to licensing issues,” he said.

Madeleine Edström conceded that the material used at SFI level is not available in talking book form.

”The book simply isn't made as a talking book, some of the teachers do use material that has a CD accompaniment though,” she said.

When asked whether other material could be found within the field of Swedish language teaching, for Swedish children with dyslexia for example, Edström replied:

”Yes but those are for Swedish children, with Swedish as their mother tongue – on a level far too advanced for an SFI course.”

Despite the problems in recruiting teachers and finding suitable teaching material, Madeleine Edström argued that had Alan Newsome's case been brought to her personal attention then she would have acted to ensure that he be given the support that he needs, and that the curriculum requires.

”We may not have specialist teachers, but we have plenty of teachers willing and able to give extra help. We have a lot of dyslexic pupils studying SFI,” she said.

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