Cabiru is one of our worst students, according to his marks. If he doesn't have the lowest grade in the class for an assignment, he's the second-lowest. Cabiru is in Form I, the equivalent of 5th or 6th grade, but reads and writes poorly. His English comprehension is low, and if you didn't know better, you'd think the boy was stupid.
He's not. I teach Math, which means that sometimes, the illiterate students can excel, if they wish, because numbers aren't letters. Math speaks its own language. At the beginning of the year, Cabiru couldn't read my written instructions on the board, e.g. "List all the factors of the given numbers." Now, I have changed my approach to be sure to read aloud all instructions, if it isn't clear. Cabiru's marks have gone up! On a recent quiz on plotting points on a cartesian plane, he scored a 9/10. He knew what he had to do, and with his verbal instructions, he was able to excel.
There's still a long way to go... there won't always be someone to hold his hand through life, and literacy in English is an important skill that Cabiru still lacks, though he is improving. It is frustrating because his deficiencies are likely due, in part, to poor education policy at the national level, whereby every student is promoted every year, regardless of marks.
Recently, my wife brought some of our own books into class to share with the students. They love books; many don't own books besides their school books. I once asked a form 5 student what she likes to do, and she replied, "I like to read." What do you read? "I read chemistry, biology, economics, geography..." There is little reading for pleasure, little reading outside of classwork. Well, the students loved to see our books (mostly children's books for early readers) and Cabiru latched onto a book we have called Wanyeeto, which is a collection of Lamnso' folk tales about wanyeeto, the anteater, written in Lamnso' and translated into English. Well, it turns out that while Cabiru can't read English, he can make his way through the Lamnso'! It was wonderful to come to his class after Logan was finished teaching them, and have him beg her to leave Wanyeeto with him. It is rare to meet someone who is literate in the dialect, so I was fairly impressed. He's still a kid, he still causes mischief, but there's hope for him, and all the other students.