See beyond the Obvious: Not able or Different

By Tahseen Shariff ~ Inclusive Education Enthusiast on 23 Apr 2020Education


I am very lucky. My basic education journey has been rewarding and relatively smooth. I began my studies in Olympio Primary School, in Dar-es-Salaam. In a class of an average of a hundred students, I always ranked in the top five. As I advanced from Primary to Secondary to A-levels, it got harder, but I still managed to do quite well. So why am I telling you about this, you ask? Was I gifted? Brilliant? Nope. I was just lucky that I could read, listen, comprehend, and remember the content enough for assessments. And that is the formula for passing all standardized tests. 


 In contrast, however, my younger sibling had the toughest time at school. He did not know his letters or read till age eight. He struggled at every phase of his education and bore the brunt of everyone's ridicule, punishments, and constant comparisons. He hated school and had behavioural issues during his adolescence phase, because of this, he was often asked to leave the classroom. So, was he lazy? Stubborn? Stupid? Nope. He had a learning disability which hindered his reading, comprehension, and math abilities. He could not concentrate on schoolwork for more than 10 minutes. Which meant he failed most of his standardized tests. Except for one, Art. He excelled at that. It should have clued us in about how he learns best, but during those times knowledge about different learning styles was rare. And it still is. 


Often our perception of a successful student depends on the grades they achieve. The better the grades of a student, the more likable, teachable, and popular the student becomes. However, those who underachieve are often tolerated, complained about, and given innumerable lectures on working harder. They are labelled as either lazy, naughty or "slow learners". 


Learning disabilities are included in invisible disabilities because they are not physically seen or understood by people. People with learning disabilities are very intelligent and able in all other aspects of life except for general academics. Since learning difficulties become obvious in primary education, it means that it affects the foundation of further learning. Children between the ages of 7- 13 years, learn how to read fluently, grasp the basics of math concepts, and form the building blocks for the other subjects. That is why instead of ignoring, banishing, or punishing the child we need to ensure we understand how they learn best.


So, what can we, as parents and teachers do, for children who seem to have learning disabilities?


  • Understand that EVERY child learns differently regardless of their abilities
  • Never compare or belittle a child for failure, rather emphasize that failure is the first step towards success
  • Use multiple ways of teaching the same content. Teach through visuals, art, games, and reading. See which one works best. Repeat. 
  • Strive for progress, not perfection. Celebrate even the smallest success. 
  • Expose children to all opportunities. Travel, read stories, watch movies, visit different businesses and professionals. You never know where a dream may be hidden. Once they have a goal, children (even adults) focus better.
  • Speak to every child with respect – how we speak to a child determines how they will perceive themselves in adulthood. The more ashamed they are made to feel the less confident they become as adults.
  • Connect, Communicate, and give freedom to Choose. Ask children about their dreams, give importance to their passion, and let us not bury their ambitions under our expectations.



Many famous personalities are reported to have learning disabilities. But each one of them is successful because they had people around them who believed that being different was better than being like others. If a child is made to believe he/she is worth it, they grow up to be achievers. Our job as carers of young minds is exactly that, see beyond the obvious, guide them to find their passion, make them believe they can attain beyond their wildest dreams and let them soar!


By Tahseen Shariff ~ Inclusive Education Enthusiast