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Dyslexia helped him become who he is today, says first Singapore Rhodes Scholar in 14 years

SINGAPORE — Mr Edward Yee’s dyslexia may have caused him to regularly fail his examinations when he was young. But the final-year Business and Accountancy student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) sees his condition as a strength and not a weakness.

Mr Edward Yee will be heading to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom in Oct 2019 to take up two Masters degree that will help further his current goal of changing the lives of the disadvantaged through impact investing.

Mr Edward Yee will be heading to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom in Oct 2019 to take up two Masters degree that will help further his current goal of changing the lives of the disadvantaged through impact investing.

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SINGAPORE — Mr Edward Yee’s dyslexia may have caused him to regularly fail his examinations when he was young. But the final-year Business and Accountancy student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) sees his condition as a strength and not a weakness.

"I am where I am today because of dyslexia, and not in spite of it," said the 23-year-old.

That strength has propelled him to be awarded the 2019 Singapore Rhodes Scholar - the first in 14 years as the scholarship was reinstated after a hiatus.

Mr Yee will be heading to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom in Oct 2019 to take up two Masters degree that will help further his current goal of changing the lives of the disadvantaged through impact investing.

According to Rhodes National Secretary for Singapore Andrew Wee, Mr Yee beat more than 90 other applicants to secure the prestigious scholarship.

The panel, chaired by former head of civil service Peter Ho and consisting former Rhodes Scholars and other eminent Singaporeans, were unanimous that Mr Yee best embodied the qualities of a Rhodes Scholar - someone academically outstanding and a leader with a commitment to serving others.

STRUGGLING ACADEMICALLY

In an interview with TODAY, Mr Yee said he was a slow starter who pretty much failed his examinations throughout most of his primary school life at Henry Park Primary School and the first two years of his secondary education at St Joseph’s Institution.

Not having any idea what dyslexia was, he recalled that it was sometime when he was in Pri 4 or Pri 5 that he was diagnosed with the condition after his mother took him to undergo a series of tests.

Mr Edward Yee’s dyslexia may have caused him to regularly fail his examinations when he was young. But the final-year Business and Accountancy student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) sees his condition as a strength and not a weakness. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

“(The difficulty) is really memorising things, especially things which don’t quite have relation to each other, like I can’t tell a story,” he said.

What helped him cross the hurdle of the Primary School Leaving Examinations was intensive coaching from his father, who took leave for three months before the exams and taught him a different way of studying.

One of the methods, using different colours of highlighters, is still used by Mr Yee in his university studies 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.

A turning point came in Sec 3, when he enrolled in the six-year Integrated Programme at National Junior College.

He said the curriculum was more focused on application rather than rote memory, which allowed him to put more emphasis on learning, instead of grades.

That mode of learning continued with the application-based teaching he received in university.

His voluntary work with the Dyslexia Association of Singapore also helped him to gradually start see dyslexia as a strength rather than a liability.

“I saw it as just a different way of thinking, and that different way of thinking should be used as a strength. Our education system might not be designed for dyslexics. But that doesn’t mean you don’t succeed,” he said.

He added that he is “extremely lucky” to get the scholarship as he did not expect it at all.

He also admitted that he is now “more stressed than anything” as he is not sure whether he would be able to live up to the expectations as a Rhodes Scholar.

His interest in impact investing was sparked by backpacking stints in Bangladesh and other parts of South-east Asia, including Vietnam and Cambodia, where he saw how social enterprises are trying to help the local communities but are hampered by a lack of resources.

“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 said.

So Mr Yee started Givfunds, a start-up that provides low-cost loans to social enterprises. Capital is raised through donations by high-net worth individuals and grants, which goes into a fund where the principal, after being repaid, is loaned out to another social enterprise.

And it is also why he applied for the Masters programme in Social Data Science and Evidence-based Social intervention and Policy Evaluation, which will be covered by his scholarship.

He believes these degrees would help him better design a social intervention programme and measure its impact, as well as utilise data to create outcomes and allocate resources better.

“For the next decade, I see myself working to help change makers create greater impact. Right now, the best way I can contribute and the one which is the most attractive to me is through providing capital, impact finance,’ he said.

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