See beyond the Obvious: Not able or Different Part II

By Tahseen Shariff ~ Inclusive Education Enthusiast on 30 Apr 2020Education


It was in the middle of a movie* about a dyslexic child that I first understood the depth of my brother’s learning difficulty. “You see that boy, Tahseen?" he said, "I was like that in school. Whenever I tried to read, the letters would keep switching places, it took a lot of concentration to focus, I always ended up having a headache after the first 15 minutes." He was 25 years old at that time, and the guilt I felt at not having understood his plight throughout his formative years is what led me to take up Inclusive Education.


My brother, although not academically inclined, managed to find his niche in creative arts. After landing a steady income desk job, he tried various side hustles to find his passion. He talked to people as mentors and tried to understand his potential. He still makes mistakes but learns from each one, teaching all of us that learning is not confined to a classroom. He now works part-time as a video editor. 


There are many children in school who “underperform”. By underperform I mean they don’t meet the expectations of the system. The system that expects them to regurgitate all that is learned into a piece of paper. This may be due to two reasons. Either they have a learning disability, or they just do not fit the learning style we are forcing them to mould into. 


As a dear friend of mine pointed out to me, “Do all children who do not do well at school have learning disabilities?” My answer would be “No”. Before labelling a child with a learning disability it is necessary to understand the difference between a learning difficulty and a different learning style. 


In Part I, we noted that every child learns differently regardless of their abilities. This is because every individual uniquely perceives the world. Some people see the world in a logical pattern, some are impulsive. Others make sense of it through their physical senses while others view the world as an abstract reality. These different points of view are what makes us diverse. We need each of these abilities to progress through the challenges of life and living. 


In the educational field, it is common to refer to the different learning styles as Multiple Intelligences. Proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983, the theory of Multiple Intelligences explains that each person has a preferred learning style which helps them process the information they acquire from their surroundings.


The eight intelligences proposed are verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, musical/rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Since then there have been similar models that stress that we, as humans, do not learn in the same way. The way we filter, remember, and retrieve information depends on our preferred learning styles. 


So, what does this mean for the children in the classrooms? Our school systems commonly impart information through textbooks and assess the knowledge gained with a written examination. The child with the Verbal-Linguistic learning style will thrive in this setting. However, the child who learns best through movement (Kinesthetic), pictures (Visual-Spatial), or in peer groups (Interpersonal) will not feel as motivated to participate in the lesson. It does not mean they have a problem, but rather their preferred way of learning makes it harder for them to concentrate in such an environment. Lack of engagement in the lesson will result in poor performance. The child would have to work harder to achieve the benchmark set by school standards. That is why teachers are encouraged to use more than one style to deliver a lesson. 


Learning Disability, on the other hand, is a term used for learning difficulties arising from a neurological disorder. This simply means that their brains are wired differently causing difficulties in reading and spelling (Dyslexia), numeracy (Dyscalculia), writing (Dysgraphia) and reasoning (Autism) to name a few. Because of a different wiring system, retrieving information is not as simple as asking a question on the topic. Despite being as smart or smarter than their peers, children with learning disabilities underperform because they cannot learn effectively in the traditional way. If parents, teachers, and other professionals discover a child's learning challenges early and provide the right kind of help, it can give the child a chance to develop skills needed to lead a successful and productive life.


We must understand that we cannot judge a child by their performance in school assessments but rather accept them for their unique strengths and abilities. As educators and caregivers, we must make each child feel that they are capable and offer them opportunities that will enhance their potential. A learning difficulty is just a different ability. The sooner we accept this the sooner we can empower all children.



By Tahseen Shariff ~ Inclusive Education Enthusiast