Posted by: Gurindam Jiwa | Friday, October 16, 2009

Early Recognition of the Learning Disability Needs to be Pushed

After having to read through the summary of trying to recognize learning disability yesterday, someone showed up telling us that we had to do more. Someone who himself had difficulty learning, yet he was more successful than most of us in our lifetimes combined.

We should take the cue from Sir Jackie Stewart. The complete article from The Star, follows.

The Star Online

Home > Lifestyle > Focus

Thursday October 15, 2009

Awareness drive

Racing great Jackie Stewart, who has dyslexia, pushes for early recognition of the learning disability.

HE is a three-time Formula One world champion, who made a fortune in business and as an F1 team owner, but spent a good part of his life thinking he was stupid.

Sir John Young Stewart, better known as Jackie Stewart, quit school at 15 without passing any exams.

“When I left school, I thought I was dumb and thick—because that was what my teachers told me,” said Stewart, who has dyslexia.

“That’s very bad for a young person and it really gave me an immense amount of pain, humiliation and frustration.”

When a child gets labelled in class, he added, the stigma moves to the playground.

“Other students remember you are stupid in class and clever people don’t like to be with stupid people.

“It really hurts the social structure of a young boy or girl, who then hang out with the same group of people who are not educated, who cannot get a job, and who eventually turn to alcohol, drugs or crime,” said Stewart during an interview at the Dyslexia Association of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur recently.

First-hand experience: Sir Jackie Stewart, who is himself dyslexic, telling the children at the Dyslexia Association of Malaysia’s early intervention class how he managed his learning disability.

A Royal Bank of Scotland global ambassador, Stewart was in Kuala Lumpur to meet Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to share the benefits of early recognition of dyslexia and discuss ways to enhance the quality of education.

He also delivered a letter of support from the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning of Scotland to formalise the commitment from Scotland to help raise awareness of the learning condition in Malaysia.

As a child, Stewart said he had exhibited exceptional hand-eye coordination, which was later crucial to his success as a race car driver. Stewart’s father was a former motorcycle racer who owned a garage business and sold Jaguars.

From Dunbartonshire, Scotland, Stewart began racing saloons and sports cars in the 60s, showing remarkable talent. He was subsequently hired to drive in the 1963 British Formula Three series, winning seven races in a row.

Nicknamed “The Flying Scot”, Stewart began racing internationally in 1964, becoming F1 world champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973.

However, at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1966, Stewart got into an accident that almost took his life. Since then, he started crusading for circuit and car improvements, and was among the first to pioneer the use of safety belts and full-face helmets.

Stewart retired from Grand Prix racing in 1973, moving on to a thriving new career in broadcasting, business and as an F1 team owner. He launched the Stewart Grand Prix and became the owner and principal of the Stewart Formula One Team between 1997 and 1999.

One of the most successful racers of all times, Stewart was only diagnosed with severe dyslexia when he was 42, by which time he had won the three world championships and become a millionaire.

Until today, he cannot read a book properly, recite the alphabet, nor remember the words of his country’s national anthem.

He has a book out—Winning Is Not Enough: The Autobiography—but confessed that he did it all by dictation.

“I cannot find my name on a typewriter or keyboard,” he said.

“I cannot read a map or follow rapid instructions but am very good at remembering names, phone numbers, race tracks and gauging distances.

“Sport, in my case, saved my life because I was able to be good at something,” said the soft-spoken 70-year-old grandfather of nine.

When Stewart’s two sons were aged 12 and 14, the boys were told they could not stay in school because they could not keep up with lessons. The school insisted that they be assessed for learning difficulties, after which both were diagnosed with dyslexia. Stewart was also assessed then.

“It felt like someone had saved me from drowning, because for the first time, I realised that I wasn’t stupid. I knew I could drive racing cars, I knew I could make money, but I still thought that deep down I was stupid.”

Stewart then got heavily involved in promoting dyslexia awareness. He is currently president of Dyslexia Scotland and vice president of the British Dyslexia Association.

In general, 10% of the world population has dyslexia, with some countries reaching 13%.

“Dyslexia is by far the largest percentage of all learning difficulties. It’s largely being ignored because the educational structure does not include help for people who have special learning needs,” said Stewart, who was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1972 and knighted by Her Majesty the Queen in 2001.

He said there needs to be a national effort to properly handle dyslexia and the effort needs to come from the top so that every teacher knows the problem and eventually, special classes in schools can be put in place.

“Ten percent of the population is far too many people to be losing, from (realising) their true potential,” he said.

Scotland has made great strides in terms of helping children with learning difficulties.

“In Scotland, every new teacher that comes out of teacher training college from now has all the skills necessary to recognise children with learning difficulties,” said Stewart.

Scotland is believed to be the first country in the world to incorporate this module into its teacher training curriculum last year. Stewart played a key role in making that happen and he credited the First Minister of Scotland and the Education Minister for their support.

“In five years, Scotland will have 20,000 new teachers, all who are trained to help children with learning disabilities.”

He emphasised the need for government intervention in providing adequate learning facilities and opportunities.

“People pay taxes for thing like healthcare and education, and they have a right to good education.”

Stewart said that sadly, there are still millions of adults with dyslexia who are ashamed to admit they cannot read or spell.

“Dyslexics are very creative. I always tell people: ‘You be nice to people with dyslexia because one day you might be working for them!’”

Stewart stressed the importance of early recognition of children with dyslexia.

“When you understand that you are dyslexic, it’s not a disadvantage as long as the school knows that and is not calling you stupid. Find something you are good at, focus on it, and you can thrive,” he said.



  1. GJ,
    I’m glad you brought up this topic. The more people talk about it openly, the more people have an awareness about it.
    I remember a male teacher (I remember his name too) who was very impatient with two students in Darjah Lima called these students ‘bangang’ and ‘bahlol’ out loud from his desk and threw their books to the floor. It was an unacceptable act and obviously he had no compassion at all.

    It’s been a while eh?

    1. Unfortunately, some people expect a quick fix to this problem, and there is none. It saddens me that they take a simplistic view in solving this. And bureaucracy is everywhere, even in developed countries.

    2. Besides compassion, I think the teacher (and some other teachers like him out there) lacked education … the real education.

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