For this educator, a more inclusive learning environment starts with changing misconceptions about the condition and encouraging a love of languages
By Sanjay Surana
Jan 10, 2022
As a child, Mr Edmen Leong dreamed of becoming a farmer as he was drawn to nature and a simple, self-sustaining lifestyle. Today, even though he did not fulfil that ambition, you could say he is still planting – the seeds for the love of languages in young dyslexic learners, that is.
While studying psychology at Perth’s University of Western Australia in 2006, he chose linguistics as an elective and grew to love it.
“After university, I knew that helping others learn languages was something I wanted to do,” he says. Pursuing his degree ignited his passion for linguistics and as dyslexia involves tackling difficulties with language, he developed an interest in learning about the condition.
Upon graduating, he volunteered through his church to teach English to students who had come to Singapore from China, as well as in schools in Chiang Mai.
In 2010, he joined the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) as an educational therapist and rose through the ranks to become its director of Specialised Education Services.
Today, Mr Leong oversees the development of a good number of education programmes catered to dyslexic learners, including speech and language therapy. These programmes provide students with a structure to learning, which builds up their confidence in the process.
“The programmes are designed to suit an individual’s learning pace and provide multiple pathways to learning,” he explains.
Mr Leong also wants to dispel the misconceptions associated with dyslexia. He says: “Having spoken with some parents of students who attend our pre-school programme, I have noticed that a handful of parents are reluctant to identify their children as dyslexic as they progress into primary schools.”
He believes parents should seek appropriate intervention early, so that their child will be equipped with coping strategies from a young age that would enable him or her to learn.
“People say dyslexic students are lazy or not intelligent. But if you talk to children with dyslexia, you can have an engaging and intellectual discussion. When they are reading text, however, their ability is below standard. They feel short-changed because education around the globe is still predominantly gauged by pen and paper,” he explains.
Hoping to do more for dyslexic learners, Mr Leong pursued a master’s in applied linguistics at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University (NIE NTU).
Although DAS offers a master’s degree that focuses on special education through its private education arm, DAS Academy, he felt that the programme at NIE NTU would provide additional knowledge and expertise beyond the field of special education, such as by using statistics and research skills.
He adds that while the DAS Academy course placed more emphasis on practical skills in supporting those with dyslexia and associated learning differences, the NIE NTU master’s degree programme looked at the wider scope of theory and research.
Mr Leong, who is currently pursuing a PhD at NIE, is conducting research on reading motivation for adolescents with dyslexia.
Eventually, he hopes his work will open doors for dyslexic learners and provide access to author-reader interactions that would help stimulate their thoughts and perspectives.
“I hope to find a specific direction on how we can help children with dyslexia and encourage them to read. If you are able to read and enjoy a book, that constant desire can lead to even more reading exposure and experience,” he says.
Find out more about the master’s in applied linguistics at NIE NTU at www.nie.edu.sg/graduate-education/masters-by-coursework/master-of-arts-applied-linguistics