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Student Corner: Arpitha Vasudevamurthy – Connecting Research with Community

student corner

Arpitha Vasudevamurthy, a PhD student in the Faculty of Education and Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme recipient, has been helping children in India with reading and writing problems since she was a teenager.  At the age of 16, she organised summer camps for preschool children. At a graduate school in India, she collaborated in a research project and demonstrated that learning and retention skills in poor readers are influenced by sleep-dependent memory consolidation.

Arpitha is one of the honourees on the 2023 International Literacy Association’s 30 Under 30 list, which recognises the best and brightest emerging leaders in the literacy field who strive to achieve the mission of ‘literacy for every child, everywhere’.

Arpitha is now in her third year of doctoral study at HKU, and her research focuses on implicit learning abilities and difficulties among Hong Kong-based Indian children.  Below, Arpitha shares how she bridges between research and practice in education through a community-based camp activity, connecting her research with her own community and culture.

Despite having dyslexia since childhood, I have thrived to become a professional speech-language pathologist currently working on a PhD project exploring the effective assessment for identifying multilingual children with developmental language disorder (DLD) and developmental dyslexia (DD) in South India. Growing up in a multilingual community, I was expected to be like a typically developing child who can proficiently speak, read, and write in three languages—Kannada, Hindi, and English. These three languages share some similarities in speech sounds or phonemes but differ strikingly in their writing systems. For example, the sound ‘a’ as in aunt is represented as Aksharas ‘ಅ’ in Kannada but ‘अ’ in Hindi. Thus, I was curious whether there is an effective way to better help or ameliorate a child like me who struggles with reading and writing. This seed was deeply planted, and it began to grow strongly when I started graduate school at HKU.

Between April and July 2023, I realised my childhood dream by transforming my PhD study data collection programme into a community-based camp activity to bridge between research and practice in education. Specifically, I set up eight weeks of summer camps and school screening activities in Mysuru, Karnataka state of South India. An overwhelming response was received from my community, and many parents brought their children to the summer camp. To improve children’s reading and writing skills, I designed a variety of reading- and writing-related fine arts and performance arts as camp activities. The activities included but were not limited to the shared story reading and narration by performing a skit and creative drawing in Mandal arts for building awareness on subtle difference of rules in writing different languages. Moreover, I trained a group of research interns and volunteers to conduct school screening to identify children with dyslexia at schools. Teachers and school administrators were impressed with my work. They arranged weekly meeting sessions with parents of children with special education needs to provide counselling on the coping strategies for their academic challenges. Finally, I successfully completed testing of over 200 multilingual Indian children.

This summer-camp PhD project has not only allowed me to discover the language-specific learning difficulties of oral language and reading in multilingual children with and without DLD and DD, but also enabled me to connect my research with my own community and culture and use my knowledge to help those children with special educational needs. This creates new meaning for my graduate research adventure.

The ultimate goal of my project is to inform the community about the most appropriate approach to identify multilingual children with DLD and DD. I am grateful to my supervisor Professor Shelley Xiuli Tong for her support throughout my PhD journey and for encouraging me to pursue community-based research activities and give back our research to the local community.


Arpitha set up eight weeks of summer camps and school screening activities in Mysuru, India, this summer.


Summer camp activities organised by Arpitha in Mysuru in May and June 2023.


School screening activities organised by Arpitha in Mysuru, India, 2023.