[Main photo: TODAY]
“I am where I am today because of dyslexia, and not in spite of it,” said 23-year old Edward Yee. The final year Business and Accountancy student at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has just been awarded the prestigious 2019 Rhodes Scholarship to do two Masters degrees at Oxford University.
He is the first Singaporean to be awarded the scholarship, which the UK university had reinstated after a 14-year hiatus.
Edward would be the latest in a line of Singaporeans who have been given the opportunity. The list include Tan Eng Liang, the first Singaporean/Malaysian who did three years in Oxford in 1964; opposition politician Chen Show Mao; former PAP minister Raymond Lim; and historian Thum Ping-tjin.
The global scholarship was established in 1902 by British financier and statesman Cecil Rhodes, and it allows recipients up to three years of studies in Oxford. The £9,000-a-year scholarship covers tuition, accommodation and allowance.
Edward was chosen by a panel in Singapore headed by former head of the Civil Service, Peter Ho, and which consisted of former Rhodes Scholars and eminent Singaporeans, reported the TODAY newspaper.
The decision by the panel to award the honour to Edward was unanimous. He embodied the values and qualities of a Rhodes Scholar, they felt. These include academic excellence, and “devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship; moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in your fellow human beings.”
Such qualities perhaps were honed through the difficult times Edward had had to face since he was a kid in school, having to overcome the obstacle posed by dyslexia.
He was a slow starter in school, he told TODAY. At Henry Park Primary and his first two years at St Joseph’s Institution, he failed practically all his examinations. Around primary 4 or 5, his mother took him to the doctor’s where he was diagnosed with dyslexia, defined as “a type of specific learning difficulty identifiable as a developmental difficulty of language learning and cognition.”
“It is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling,” explains the Dyslexia Association of Singapore.
“(The difficulty) is really memorising things, especially things which don’t quite have relation to each other, like I can’t tell a story,” Edward said.
When his PSLE approached in primary six, Edward’s father took three months’ leave from his job to dedicate himself to helping his son learn in a different way – one of which was through the use of coloured highlighter pens, a method which Edward uses even today.
“His notes are covered in an array of colours – blue, red, green and yellow – each with a particular purpose. Red, for example, denotes a very important point, while green is for definitions or questions.” – TODAY.
In secondary three, he enrolled in the Integrated Programme (IP), which was a turning point for him. It helped because the curriculum was focused more on learning and application than the attainment of grades through rote.
While Singapore’s education system, he feels, may not be designed for dyslexics, this does not deter him. “That doesn’t mean you don’t succeed,” he said. “I saw it as just a different way of thinking, and that different way of thinking should be used as a strength.”
Edward’s next goal is to help change the lives of the less fortunate for the better, through impact investing, which McKinsey describes as “directing capital to enterprises that generate social or environmental benefits—in projects from affordable housing to sustainable timberland and eye-care clinics—that traditional business models often sidestep.”
In other words, impact investing are “investments made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.” (GIIN)
Edward’s interest in impact investing was first sparked by backpacking in Bangladesh and countries in Southeast Asia where he saw that social enterprises were impeded by a lack of resources in their efforts to assist local communities.
“If I can’t do what they do as well as they do, the next best thing I can do is to support them in what they do, to help them in whatever way I can for them to create the greatest impact they can. The people who are changing lives should be given the most resources,” he told TODAY.
And so he started Givfunds, which gives out low-cost loans to social enterprises where capital is raised through donations from high-net worth individuals and grants.
Edward’s interest in helping the less fortunate this way aligns with his Masters programme in Oxford in Social Data Science and Evidence-based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation.
“For the next decade, I see myself working to help change makers create greater impact,” he explains. “Right now, the best way I can contribute and the one which is the most attractive to me is through providing capital, impact finance.”
Edward will, in time to come, join the many illustrious dyslexics who have made an impact not only within their own communities but also to the human experience as a whole.
Some of the most famous dyslexics include scientist Albert Einstein, actor Tom Cruise, billionaire businessman Richard Branson, and Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew (who was mildly dyslexic).
These examples, including Edward’s, put to rest the myths that dyslexics would not or could not succeed in life.