Hope for pupils with learning difficulties


It is common for teachers to label students as bright, average and weak.

The bright are streamed in one class, so are the average and the weak.

While this is done with good intentions, to enable teachers prepare standard lessons, the result is always disastrous.

Often, teachers give less attention to weak students who they consider slow learners. They find it difficult to repeat concepts, teach them how to read and write, things that other students at the same level do without difficulties. The result is that such students are stigmatised by colleagues and teachers.

A lesson at Kenya Community Centre for Learning. [Photo: Micheal Oriedo/STANDARD]

They are branded rude and they frequently get academic warning letters. Many drop out of school.

Mr Dan Chukulu, deputy head teacher of Kenya Community Centre for Learning (KCCL), a school for students with learning disabilities, says such learners need personalised attention to excel in their education.

Unfortunately, they fall behind in public schools where classes are large. “These learners perform below their age. They have reading and writing difficulties and some of them cannot count. In most schools, a teacher would not teach them such basics since other students are way ahead,” he says.

KCCL is setting an example of how to help weak students and others with learning difficulties succeed in their education and consequently, in life.

The school admits students who experience learning difficulties, because they suffer from disorders, for instance, those with dyslexia — inability to decipher written language — and dyscalculia — difficulty with numbers.

Others have autism, a condition in which a person has a disturbed psychological development. The individual’s use of language, reaction to stimuli and the interpretation of the world are not fully established. “We aim to make the learners overcome learning problems to succeed in their education,” Chukulu says.

At the school, students are classified into three categories depending on their mental capabilities. These are elementary, middle and senior classes.

“You can get an 18-year-old in elementary stage and a 12- year-old at the senior class. They pupils progress at their own pace.

Pupils in elementary classes learn numerals and alphabetical letters. At this stage, students learn to count and recognise alphabetical letters.

In middle and senior school, Chukulu says, pupils are exposed to various subjects and perform basic skills like reading and writing. “Students at these two levels appear normal though they have learning disabilities which require teachers to give them individualised attention,” he says.

The lessons are split into short periods, lasting about 20 minutes, to keep the full attention of the pupils on particular subjects.

In the afternoons, learners do not attend classes but engage in group activities, like karate.

On this day, we find them engaging in origami, a Japanese paper-folding art. “This is a psychomotor skill that helps them to socialise, interact and exercise their bodies. It appears like an easy task but most of the students take time to come up with different patterns,” he says.

Students at the senior level sit for exams based on the US system of education. “We settled for external exams because the local education system does not cater for such children. We have schools for physically disabled children but none for people with learning difficulties,” says Chukulu

He says the use of the US curriculum has enabled the school change lives of students who would have wasted away. “In the US exams, one needs 200 points to pass which is much lower than in our education system. Some do the exams online because they cannot hold pens and write,” he says.

One of the success stories from the school is Kevin Mwangi, who is now qualified pilot. “People have different ways of learning. Some of us are slow and need one-to-one teaching to help us comprehend concepts,” he says.


Mwangi joined the school at the senior level after finding it hard to cope in a mainstream school because he was a “slow learner.”

“After passing his finals, he joined a private university to study a business course but later changed to piloting,” Chukulu says.

Teachers in the school with 20 students also help learners to identify their talents and pursue them.

“One can be academically slow but be good in physical activities. We encourage them to pursue their interests and vocations because not every one can excel in academic work,” Mary Ngala, a teacher says.

But teaching the learners is not a job for the faint-hearted.

Ngala says one has to plan for each learner in a class because they are at different mental levels.

“You need a lot of patience because the students take time to understand a concept,” she says.

Related Topics

KCCL slow learners