Top Psychologist calls for Special Exams for children with learning disabilities

Thousands of children with learning disabilities may have been stopped from achieving their potential due to the rigid system of examining students in Kenya.

This is according to Top Child Psychologist Dr. Jane Ngatia, who added that some of the children with learning disabilities may be so good at verbal expression but when called upon to write cannot deliver as expected.

Mrs. Ngatia was speaking at a public forum on Mental Health for children held recently in Nairobi.

Some students who suffer conditions such as dysgraphia may have difficulties with handwriting, spelling or putting their thoughts on paper and this may lead to failing exams for the mere fact that their handwritings are not legible.

We do not have exams for children with special needs. Some of them are very good at hearing but when they read it doesn’t make sense to them. Where is the exam for such people? Kenya is crying out for children who have been abandoned by the system. Can’t we have exams that are read out loud for them then they record the answers?

Basically, a learning disability (LD) is a disorder that affects people’s ability to interpret what they see or hear, or how they link information together in the brain.

Typically, a child may suffer from a mild LD which an attentive teacher can handle well or a severe LD which can be handled professionally at a special school.

At least 10% of school-age children have a learning disability.

Jane Ngatia
Dr. Jane Ngatia, Veteran Child Psychologist

According to HelpGuide.Org, some of the most common learning disabilities include dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD and autism.

Autism is a developmental disability that is characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication. Children with autism will often show symptoms at 2-3 years of age.

Some of the symptoms that may be displayed in the classroom include anxiety driven behavior (fidgeting, pacing, clicking pens, mumbling, appearing to be in flight or fight mode at all times), they take forever to complete a task as everything else catches their attention and they don’t concentrate on any work. They may be unfocused, disorganized or use time poorly.

Dyslexia is a disability in reading. Symptoms include trouble with written and word recognition and understanding words and ideas. Learners struggle with reading speeds and fluency and do not grasp vocabulary easily. They have difficulty with word spelling e.g. “rat” – “tar”, “no” – “on”, etc.

They also have problems differentiating right from left and in adulthood but they thrive in skills-based careers.

Dyscalculia is a brain-based condition that makes it hard to make sense of numbers and math concepts. In some instances, the child with will miss the logic behind mathematical concepts despite them knowing what to do in class. They really try to learn and memorize basic number concepts.

Dysgraphia manifests as writing difficulties which are either messy, poor, illegible or disorganized.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD ) and Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder (ADHD) are becoming fairly common in the classroom. Some of the unique symptoms exhibited include learners being inattentive, hyperactive or impulsive. They can also be hyperactive and impulsive but pay attention.


Assessing the children with learning disabilities 

An assessment is conducted to determine if the child has any learning disability or disorder. The Kenya Institute for Special Education can help you with this.

Once the assessment is done, the parent can decide on the next course of action which could be taking their child to a Special School or alternatively they can take him to a regular school with a department that caters to special needs.

Since our children are mostly in school, the teacher is best-placed to know if the child is having learning difficulties or not to then recommend an assessment test. It is, therefore, very important that the teacher and parent work closely to ensure this.


Interventions by parents 
  • Read out loud to your child every day and also have your child read out loud to you.
  • Do learning activities with your children.
  • Look for good, research-based, intensive reading programs, such as Lindamood-Bell and Read Naturally. 
  • Give your child opportunities to develop their talents.
  • Always praise your child for what he or she does well.
  • Join parent groups for support, as it is always easier to go through the journey knowing you are not alone and interacting with parents who can give you more tips.


Documentation from various agencies 

According to the World Bank Human Capital Index report, Kenya is the third best country in Africa on literacy levels. The report ranks the country based on the harmonized test scores and expected years of school.

While this paints a very glossy picture, another report by Twaweza states that schooling in Kenya does not lead to learning. Teachers, education administrators, policymakers, and the public (especially parents) do not focus on or measure core learning competencies such as early grade literacy or numeracy.

According to the report in all three East African countries, more than 90% of children are enrolled in school for at least 5 years with substantive gender balance. Nevertheless, many children complete primary school without fully mastering basic skills.

When these learning outcomes are documented and presented, teachers, education sector authorities and parents often respond with suggestions for more input – advanced teacher training, more salary, more capitation funds, more computers etc. There is still a lack of understanding about the importance of learning outcomes and a lack of critical dialogue about what type of input produces better learning outcomes.


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