- by LSUvietnam
- in Academic language and learning support, Critical university questions and ideas, Learning and technology, Social justice in Higher Education, Straight from students, Student rights and welfare, Support for students with disability, Teaching resources, Teaching Vietnamese students
- 9 Comments
What is normal anyway? Supporting equality and diversity
By Ksenia Nikolaeva, Nguyen Tuan Tu and Carol Witney
Ksenia Nikolaeva is an alumnus of RMIT International University Vietnam and a PhD candidate in Computational Biology and Innovation. Nguyen Tuan Tu is a student in the Bachelor of Business Information Systems program at RMIT Vietnam. Carol Witney is a Learning Advisor in the LSU.
“My first thought was “No, it’s impossible, I can’t be a dyslexic!!!!!” Dyslexics, they are people like Einstein or Leonardo Da Vinci, but I’m probably what all of my Russian Language teachers would say, just lazy, daft and ignorant about my native language. So, naturally, I should be ashamed of myself. “How dare you! Russian is the language of Pushkin and Tolstoy. You just need to learn it thoroughly, read more!!!! read every day!!!!” and every summer holiday without fail, along with every other kid I would get it – the list of books that I had to read during the summer, which normally was more than 20 books, and I would promise myself – I would read every day, but inevitably, after 2 pages I would give up! I would read 2 or 3 books of my interest instead, and the next school year I would have to endure their comments about myself. I don’t know how I managed to make it through 11 years of school, but after my final combo exam – Russian &Russian Literature, I promised myself I would never ever again even touch a book except for science!!!!! I kept my promise for 3 years, and then something happened and I started to read, and I loved it because I read only books I liked.
However, the most remarkable thing happened to me after almost 10 years since I graduated from my high school. Just after I took my first IELTS exam, I decided to reveal my secret to my previous/old teacher and best friend – that I can’t remember how to spell words in any language, and no matter how hard I tried to learn them by heart, after a while they are gone and I would never be able to get a high score on IELTS as I’m useless. But my friend’s reply was shocking – “You are probably Dyslexic. Go and check online. There are a number of online screening tests for Dyslexia.” And so I did, and then I was diagnosed with Dyslexia by an educational psychologist in Ho Chi Minh.
It’s almost 2 years since that assessment, and I know for sure I’m not daft and definitely not lazy cos I worked harder than normal people, every day of my life was a struggle as dyslexia is not just slow reading or spelling, it really effects all aspects of your life (for example, when you’re filling out the form in the bank or writing a letter, when you simply have no idea where is left and right until you think about the hand you write with, when you truly believe that your flight is at 10 05 am and it turns out that it’s actually the number of your flight). Despite all the difficulties, I don’t feel that I am disabled – quite the opposite – I feel I am gifted. I know now what my limitations are and I know how to overcome them.”
“I was born with a visual impairment that over the years has gotten worse. After a visit to the optometrist at FV hospital five years ago, I threw away my glasses. The specialist told me that there’s nothing wrong with my eyes – it’s my optic nerve, and current technology could not help – maybe I’d be lucky in a few years’ time.
After graduating high school, I wanted to enter National University, but was denied for two main reasons; firstly, they thought that I wouldn’t be able to follow other students and keep up with the lectures, and secondly, they were very honest in saying that they didn’t have the expertise, resources and facilities to teach me properly.
A private Vietnamese university also gave me the same response as above, and a further enquiry to another National University by my mum was met with the response that I needed to apply through the Ministry of Education because I have a visual impairment.
Basically, I was told that I could go to one of the teaching universities, but I’d only be able to teach students with disabilities once I graduated.
Despite the challenges that I’ve faced in my life, I consider myself to be extremely lucky – lucky that I was able to go through the education system with people of my own age, lucky I had extra English classes with native speakers from the Loretto Foundation, lucky I didn’t get into National Uni, and lucky that I got into the English programme at RMIT, lucky I met the admin lady, Oanh, in building 8 who sent me to Phoenix, who referred me through to the LSU, lucky for my English teachers – Rheanne, Alan, Amy and Liz and lucky for having a mother who firmly believes that I should be using my brain and not my hands, and who keeps me in line……”
(Tu is also very modest – he doesn’t take credit for the enormous amount of work/perseverance that he put into his English studies – studying in class four hours a day, and then coming to the LSU for a further 2-3 hours in the afternoon, 5 days a week the 20 weeks needed to pass Level 6 and Level 7)
Ksenia recently took her 2nd IELTS with the British Council, and armed with her assessment she was able to secure extra time and use of her laptop (she wasn’t allowed to use spell check, though and this is one of her major weaknesses) – 9.0 reading, 8.0 listening, 8.5 writing, 8.5 speaking COMPARED with her 1st IELTS 6.0 reading, 6.5 writing, 8.0 listening, 8.5 speaking. Of course, when marking the listening paper, the assessors have to consider spelling errors, and Ksenia is pretty sure that this accounted for loss of marks.
The point here is that because she had a diagnosis, she was able to negotiate a ‘fairer’ assessment with the British Council. We could argue that time has passed or she was more mature and better prepared to take the IELTS, but Ksenia and I both know that it’s because she had been diagnosed with dyslexia and had a very clear understanding of her particular situation, and how she processes information.
Ksenia and Tu are not the only students on campus that may need extra support. If a person has a physical impairment, it is generally more obvious to people, but a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) isn’t, not in the mother tongue or a second language. We are now at the point where we need to be able to discuss how we are going to meet the needs of our many diverse learners, using language that places the emphasis on the learner, rather than ‘their problem’, as well as developing an awareness of our own perceptions around disabilities.
Tu’s presence on campus has enabled RMIT to start looking at policies/systems that need to be in place in order to give opportunities to the students who need more support – where feasible. The Learning Skills Unit and Well Being and Counselling Services have recently engaged in dialogue with two very good organisations in Ho Chi Minh. The first one is the Disability Resource and Development centre (DRD) in Ho Chi Minh City. Established in 2005, and funded by the Ford Foundation, people with disabilities (PWD’s) and members of the HCMC Open University Sociology Department are collaborating to ‘enhance the full participation of and equal opportunities for PWD’s by raising awareness and capacity building’ www.drdvietnam.com.
Huynh Ngoc Bich and Nguyen Thanh Tung from DRD visited HCM campus and gave a presentation to over 50 faculty members on issues affecting people with disabilities, along with advice and recommendations. It is hoped that DRD will be able to provide training to all levels of staff at RMIT to ensure a commitment to inclusive practice, equality and diversity. It is also a valuable opportunity to for RMIT to create a new, rich, network of links and friendships within the community.
The second organisation is Learning Strategies based in Ho Chi Minh, which provides assessments and individualised intervention programmes for children and adolescents experiencing academic, social, language, or behavioural difficulties as well as children with autism and related developmental delays (Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD, Down’s Syndrome, ADD, AD/HD). It is hoped that we can gain support to develop services and support for SpLD’s, in particular dyslexia. www.learning-strategies.org
Tu and Ksenia have given a brief set of recommendations below as to how the university could help them transition more smoothly and ensure their needs are being met in a fair way.
Lessons learned so far:
- Talk to me, not my disability!
- Use appropriate language to describe my situation
- Have a point of contact – an individual on campus with training to support needs
- Help with orientation on campus. Learning how to get around the campus takes time and needs to be done before the semester begins
- Need longer to read materials
- Need particular software such as ZoomText
- Need assistance with library searches
- Need to record lectures
- Need screening facilities for SpLD
How can lecturers help?
- Identify core readings before the beginning of the semester/help students identify key chapters
- Give lecture notes/slides in advance
- Email writing feedback
- Be mindful of dynamics in group work
- Provide more time in exams
- Allow students with dyslexia to use laptops to type essay questions
- Provide fair and appropriate assessments with clear criteria
Tags: assessment accommodation, Carol, education, empowering student learning, fairness in learning, learning disabilities, physical impairment, social inclusion, social justice, student perspective, student wellbeing, support for students with disability, teaching resources, teaching resources for students with disability, transnational universities, useful sites for teaching, Vietnam, Vietnam tertiary study, vietnamese students
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