With a greater emphasis placed on awareness raising campaigns on dyslexia and other specific learning differences, there are now more students with learning challenges identified in pre-school, primary school or even secondary school. This enables them to access specialist programmes and services through the school-based dyslexia remediation programme, or educational therapy at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) to help them cope with their literacy challenges. Unfortunately, as students transition to Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), academic demands do not only increase but specialist support, resources and awareness may not be as prevalent and accessible especially in supporting tertiary students with dyslexia and other specific learning differences (MacCullagh et al., 2017; Mortimore & Crozier, 2006; Olofsson, Taube, & Ahl, 2015; Pino & Mortari, 2014).
According to international prevalence rates, 10% of a population have dyslexia- a lifelong learning difference, of which 4% have dyslexia severe enough to warrant immediate intervention. Additionally, a study conducted by Hatcher, Snowling and Griffiths (2002) recognised how cognitive challenges associated with dyslexia persist into adulthood and higher education. Hence, if 4% of tertiary students may likely have dyslexia, are there sufficient resources in IHLs to support these students?
Therefore, taking into consideration the prevalence rate and that tertiary students with dyslexia may likely continue to struggle with keeping up with the learning pace and academic rigor in IHLs coupled with our constant effort to enhance programmes to keep abreast with changing times and demands in the education landscape, iStudySmart™ was developed primarily to support this population of students. For students with learning differences, their literacy challenges that include reading, comprehension, spelling and writing may persist throughout their lifetime. For some students, they may be able to overcome their difficulties with compensatory strategies but for others, the compensatory strategies may not be sufficient to help them cope as the academic rigour is more intensive and demanding in IHLs.
iStudySmart™, an online learning programme, combines both e-learning and online consultation sessions. It supports and equips students with critical skills that extend beyond literacy intervention that prepare and support them in higher education and future employment. It also aims to bridge the gaps in resources and expertise to enable older students with dyslexia and specific learning differences to access a specialist programme that caters not only to their learning needs and challenges but also enables them to become self-reliant, independent and empowered individuals. Multi-modalities and key teaching principles have also been built into the design and content to ensure that the students accessing the course materials are able to do so with greater independence and ease. Depending on the learners’ needs and profiles, the online consultation session is another platform where the facilitators would provide differentiated instructions, scaffolding and guidance.
IHL students supported on iStudySmart™ have varied learning needs and profiles. Besides dyslexia, some students also have other co-occurring challenges which include speech and language impairment, mild ASD and ADHD. The common learning challenges observed in most students include:
● gaps in executive functioning skills i.e. poor time management, prioritisation and organisation skills
● difficulties in communication, tertiary writing and presentation skills
The majority of the IHL students supported so far were year 1 students and therefore, it was a significant transition for them in terms of the demands and expectations from Secondary to Tertiary learning environment. Hence, providing continued specialist support to students beyond their secondary education is important in helping them acclimatise and cope better in higher education.
iStudySmart™ has better equipped me to present on the spot, harness my speaking ability and create slides on the go. The programme has also taught me not just the skills but also the tools necessary to excel in tertiary education.
-iStudySmart™ Alumni and IHL Student
iStudySmart™ has helped me in my studies and built my confidence.
-iStudySmart™ Alumni and IHL Student
As students with learning challenges in higher education appear to feel that they do not receive enough support (Griffin & Pollak 2009), having access to specialist programmes and services is therefore important especially for those with dyslexia and specific learning differences. There may also be some students who only experience significant challenges in IHLs. Hence, more can and should be done in the areas of awareness raising, screening and assessment, empowerment, funding and resource creation. The DAS is already doing so through the 360 degree pact project in collaboration with the Lim Hoon Foundation to establish a cohesive and collaborative network of support for tertiary students with dyslexia and specific learning differences.
To find out more about the programmes and services available to support students with dyslexia and specific learning differences in higher education, please call 6444 5700 or visit the website at www.das.org.sg.
Griffin, E. & Pollak, D. (2009). Student experiences of neurodiversity in higher education: insights from the BRAINHE project. Dyslexia, 15(1), 2341.
Hatcher, J., Snowling, M., & Griffiths, Y. (2002). Cognitive assessment of dyslexic students in higher education. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 119–133.
MacCullagh, L., Bosanquet, A., & Badcock, N. A. (2017). University students with dyslexia: A qualitative exploratory study of learning practices, challenges and strategies. Dyslexia, 23, 3–23. doi:10.1002/dys.1544
Mortimore, T., & Crozier, W. (2006). Dyslexia and difficulties with study skills in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 31, 235–251. doi:10.1080/03075070600572173
Olofsson, Å, Taube, K., & Ahl, A. (2015). Academic achievement of university students with dyslexia. Dyslexia, 21, 338–349. doi:10.1002/dys.1517
Pino, M., & Mortari, L. (2014). The inclusion of students with dyslexia in higher education: A systematic review using narrative synthesis. Dyslexia, 20, 346–369. doi:10.1002/dys.1484