Learning is a lifelong activity. As individuals, we all learn differently. But we all want to learn well, regardless of why we learn, what we learn, and how we learn. Temasek Foundation Innovates’s interest in this area is focused on learning which brings about lifelong skills, and learning in special situations where there may be some specific difficulties. More recently, from our 9th grant call, we have also encouraged research in early childhood development; especially in language acquisition which is a critical skill underpinning many areas of subsequent learning.

Innovating novel approaches for children with learning difficulties

Design and develop a tool to support in-situ language learning for children with dyslexia

Associate Professor Yow Wei Quin, Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS), Singapore University of Technology and Design
Start Date: 1 September 2017
Status: Ongoing

Dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. In Singapore, about 20,000 primary and secondary school students are dyslexic. They are commonly diagnosed when they begin to learn to read and write.

The research team is working with teachers, therapists and children at Woodlands Ring Primary School to understand the language learning process of children with dyslexia. The team aims to use the findings to design and develop a wearable tool that utilizes the natural scanning motion of the fingers to aid in understanding a piece of plain text, which would be an effective reading assistance and a teaching aid. The effectiveness of the tool will be evaluated based on the combination of behavioral, performance and physiological data.

Phase 1: Effective Interaction designs in a multi-touch tabletop and portable computing device – Development of i-Tile

Phases 2 & 3: Think on your feet: Learning through purposeful collaborative play and movement – Further trialing and scaling up of i-Tile to more schools

By Associate Professor Goh Wooi Boon, School of Computer Science and Engineering, Nanyang Technological University
Start Date: 31 October 2015 [Booster Grant commenced 1 October 2019]
Status: Ongoing

Associate Professor Goh Wooi Boon observed that most children seem to be more engaged and energetic when they are moving around and playing with their friends, and wondered if appropriate technologies could be developed to allow teachers to conduct lessons in a similar manner, with the goal of improving the engagement levels and motivation of students. This inspired Associate Professor Goh and his team to develop technologies that aims to make learning more engaging for children.

The first project, which started in 2011 and concluded in 2014, was on the development of a multi-touch tabletop and portable computing device for children with special needs. The objective of the project was to develop technological tools that encourages play, movement and collaboration in learning. This research led to the development of the i-Tiles, accompanied with lesson designs that aimed to improve learning outcomes, sustain engagement and increase social interaction among children with special needs.

The second project, which commenced in 2015, is a follow-up research study that saw enhancements being made to the i-Tile technology and lesson designs, as well as a successful trial at MINDS Fernvale Garden School in 2018. In addition to the i-Tile, Prof Goh and his research team have also developed the Spatial Awareness Mobile Device (SAMD) system. The research team is currently piloting the i-Tile and SAMD learning technologies and actitivites at MINDS Fernvale Gardens School.

A/Prof Goh Wooi Boon has received Booster Funding from Temasek Foundation in 2019, to further refine the i-Tile learning system. His research team will also look into deploying the i-Tile learning designs to more classes within MINDS Fernvale Garden School, as well as to other MINDS-affiliated schools.

Read how the i-Tile has benefited students at MINDS Fernvale Gardens School.

Virtual Pink Dolphins-Assisted Therapy for Children with Autism

By Associate Professor Cai Yiyu, School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang Technological University
Status: Completed in 2016

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often experience sensory processing challenges and attention malfunctions, which predispose them to process information differently and with more difficulty than children without ASD. Over the years, extensive research has demonstrated that dolphins can help children with ASD improve their social interaction and communication skills. However, pink dolphins are endangered species, and placing children in contact with them may not be safe.

For this reason, Associate Professor Cai Yiyu and his team developed virtual pink dolphins as an alternative and safe way to support children with ASD. Students with ASD undergo interactive game play with the virtual dolphins (such as acting as the dolphin’s trainer), which helps them pick up communication skills while improving their alertness.

With technical support from the research team, the Asia Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA) school has set up a 3D Dolphin Lab to assist their students with learning and social communication difficulties. Over 300 AWWA students have benefited thus far. The research team has also introduced the technology to a special needs school in Suzhou, China.

A similar dolphin lab has been set-up by Associate Professor Cai at Nanyang Technological University. Parties interested in the usage of the virtual pink dolphins lab, or for further information may contact Associate Professor Cai directly.

Brain wave driven computer game: A pedagogical tool for children diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

By *Associate Professor Vinod Prasad, Nanyang Technological University
Status: Completed in 2014

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) leads to academic underachievement, low self-esteem, work difficulty and social rejection. In Singapore, ADHD ranks as one of the highest causes of disease burden in youths below the age of 14. As alternative methodologies are needed to complement conventional ADHD treatment, Associate Professor Vinod Prasad and his team developed a brain-wave driven computer game to enhance children’s attention skills.

Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) establishes a direct communication channel between the brain and the computer, bypassing the brain’s normal communication pathway of nerves and muscle. Electroencephalogram (EEG) is the most commonly adopted non-invasive method in BCI because of its ease of use, low cost and portability. The research team developed an EEG-based game that allowed an individual to directly employ his attention-related brain signal to control the game. For instance, one of the activities requires the player to memorize a set of numbers in a matrix, and then re-fill the blank matrix with the correct numbers using his attention. This is successfully done when the player concentrates and selects targets using his attention-based EEG signals.

The research team evaluated the performance of healthy individuals across a number of game sessions. The evaluation showed that their attention skills improved by playing the game – proving that BCI is promising in boosting the cognitive skills of healthy people. This game has the potential to improve the concentration abilities of children diagnosed with ADHD.

* Associate Professor Vinod Prasad is now with the India Institute of Technology.