Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 2nd 2016 Contents • Twitter: @GuardianTT • Web: Guardian.co.tt
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2016
Imagine a mother s dismay
at being told by a teacher
that she should have plant-
ed peas instead of having
her child. Or imagine her shock
when an educational psychologist
says her young son is incapable of
learning---so George Street would
be a good place to send him.
Elizabeth-Ann St Clair ignored
these harsh comments from people
who ought to have been encouraging
and responsible. She pushed past
their pessimism because she believed
her son was something special.
Today, 30-year-old Akini Gill, who
had a speech impediment and was
diagnosed with dyslexia (a learning
disability that can cause problems
with reading, learning and writing)
and dyspraxia (poor motor co-ordi-
nation), has a Master of Arts degree
in music education from New York
Gill, originally from Laventille, has
taught music at Diego Martin Central
and Mucurapo West Secondary
Schools as well as Chaguanas Gov-
ernment Primary. He is now an
instructor at the Centre of Education
Programmes at the University of
When he was six, Gill s mother---
who was a late reader herself---first
recognised her son s challenges.
"My mother used to read stories
to me and my younger brother Efiba,
and at the end of the story, she would
ask simple questions about it, and
my brother would be able to answer
these questions but not me," Gill
It was difficult for Gill at school,
as his bad lisp and poor hand coor-
dination made it difficult for teachers
to understand him when he spoke
and wrote. His mother was often
summoned to the school to listen to
teachers gripe about these problems.
Switching schools did not help
either, as teachers at his new school
also complained to his mother about
the same issues.
"My mother thought it was just
the school and the way the teachers
taught, but it wasn t," she said.
His mother sought professional
help from chairman of the Dyslexic
Association of T&T, Catherine
Kelshall. Kelshall referred Gill to a
speech therapist, who recommended
that Gill should be seen by an edu-
cation psychologist at the Mt Hope
Children s Hospital. This was the
doctor who made the "George Street"
"In his report, it was said that my
language was in the retarded range,"
He was 11 but had the learning
level of a six-year-old.
Kelshall began to give Gill remedial
lessons. He did the secondary school
entrance exam (called Common
Entrance at the time) and based on
his results, Gill was placed in post
St Clair knew that another ordi-
nary school wasn t going to help her
son, so with Kelshall s help, Gill
enrolled in Eshe s Learning Center
for children with learning disabilities
on Ariapita Avenue, Port-of-Spain.
Gill had a second evaluation by
another education psychologist,
Allyson Hamel-Smith, who assessed
him as having dyslexia and dysprax-
ia.After two years of remedial classes
and attention at Eshe s, Gill did an
entrance exam at Belmont Boys Sec-
ondary and surprisingly, he was
accepted. Now 14, Gill was placed
in Form Two, but he struggled.
"I was unable to finish my work
on time and though my handwriting
improved a little, it was still an issue.
It was difficult to keep up with the
conventional teaching because there
was nothing specialised for someone
like me," Gill said.
Gill s experience at Belmont Sec-
ondary was mixed. There were some
teachers who encouraged, as well as
those who didn t.
He recalled being heartbroken after
a Parents Day meeting, when a
teacher told his mother it would have
been better if she had planted peas
instead of giving birth to him.
In Form Three, things looked up
and Gill had his first milestone of
beating all his classmates in a course-
work assignment. Gill said he was
so surprised that he did not believe
it until he actually saw his report
While some celebrated this victory,
others said the teachers conspired
to give him the grade.
At CXC, Gill obtained three passes.
On the advice of psychologist Hamel-
Smith, he was able to do the exams
with the help of two writers appoint-
ed by the CXC board and received
an additional 15 minutes on every
hour of the exam.
Gill praised his former music
teacher George Sambrano and English
teachers Christopher McMaster and
Lucy Reyes-Griffith who is now the
school s principal, for their role in
his success, but he lamented that
the education system did not cater
for children with learning disabili-
"This is very disappointing because
at this time after so many years and
so much development, there should
be trained teachers from pre-school
to university existing in the system
to deal with learning disabilities."
While at secondary school, Gill
consistently attended music classes
at Trinity All Generations School of
the Arts (Tags), at the Trinity Cathe-
dral where he had enrolled while
attending Eshe s.
At the music school, he was ham-
pered by his poor hand coordination
which meant he was unable to hold
pan sticks properly.
"I spent a lot of years shaking the
chac chac, hitting the tambourine
and just watching my peers move
on," he said.
After sitting CXC examinations in
2004, Gill was encouraged by music
teacher Sambrano to apply for the
music certificate course at the UWI,
•Continues on Page A28
One man tells
At one point, Akini Gill could not hold pan sticks properly
because of poor co-ordination caused by dyspraxia.
PHOTOS: DION ROACH
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