When a child cannot write and spell, they are often viewed as failures, but a school in Kitengela is showing that these children are simply gifted differently
Peter Ngila @peterngilanjeri
Miriam Njeri survived school by copying everything from her friend’s exam answer sheet until the teacher caught up with her.
“I began developing learning difficulties while in Standard Two. I would be punished by teachers at school and by my mother at home,” Njeri, 18, says.
The storyline is the same for Geoffrey Karani,16, and Clare Waithera,14, who all found it difficult to read and write in school.
Karani’s world almost tumbled when he was in Class Four when he began seeing sentences upside-down. “Teachers could advise me not to attend classes because I couldn’t read or write. During exams I could only fill the answer sheet with familiar words such as dog and cat,” Karani says.
Waithera,14, could be punished by the teachers in her previous school for performing badly in class.
What is common about the three teenagers is that they all have dyslexia, the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties and they are all students at Rare Gem, a school for Dyslexic Children, where with time they have learnt how to live a normal life.
According to Dyslexia Africa, dyslexia affects 10-15 per cent of the population of children in schools. Nancy Munyi, the director of Rare Gem, founded the school with three dyslexic children in 2012.
“Because I’m a special education teacher, three parents requested me to host three of their children in my house. But we had to look for a central place in Kitengela to set up a school,” she says. This was the same year Nancy and her sister Phyllis Munyi founded Dyslexia OrganisationKenya (DOK).
“Although all our learners have dyslexia and other learning difficulties, we teach them individually. After our first Kenya Certificate of Primary Education class in 2016, we decided to start a secondary school system, whose syllabus involves a combination academics and practical art work,” Munyi says.
She insists on dyslexics pursuing subjects related to their artistic passion in universities. Rare Gem currently has students up to Form Two.
Musician Victor Mbuvi, a DOK ambassador, who participated in a recent walk in Ngong Hills to mark the World Dyslexia month, says creating awareness on dyslexics shows that being slow learners doesn’t make dyslexic children abnormal.
“They just see things differently. Dyslexic people only need specialised training. When someone sees a ‘b’ instead of ‘d’ on the blackboard, I think they’re creative and imaginative,” Mbuvi says, recommending that the Ministry of Education should establish a different syllabus for dyslexic children.
According to Gladys Chania, a child and adult psychologist, dyslexia is a condition that is common and yet rarely understood. It’s based in the brain. She says the condition generally causes difficulty with reading, spelling, writing and sometimes even spelling.
Mostly it affects languages or phonetics, but you can still get it in arithmetics. It gives the brain trouble recognising certain types of information. “Dyslexia is a lifelong condition.
Most visible and noticeable common sign of dyslexia is difficulty decoding single words (reading single words in isolation). At times the child is slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds. The brain can also confuse words like at/to said/and does/goes buy/doy.
Generally, the condition causes one to make errors a normal person cannot understand,” she says.
Chania who is also a director at [email protected] Rehabilitation Centre, says dyslexic children need phonological training in early childhood developmental years so as to reduce problems as the child grows. This condition affects both genders almost equally.
“Dyslexia is not per se treatable, it needs continuous therapies depending on area mostly affected. Parents need to be more informed on this than anyone else,” she says.
In Kenya because of low capacity empowerment of parents, dyslexia is not even classified as disability.
Children are termed as slow learners, introverts and lazy while others blame teachers or even worse, witchcraft.