Let down by integrated education

Students with special education needs struggle to learn in mainstream schools

Ah Tim, a 25-year-old blind musician, will not forget the time when he was teased at school, where he was put in a class of students with no disabilities.

"My teachers sometimes intentionally or unintentionally hurt my self-esteem," he recalled. "I was often bullied by fellow students. The teachers had no idea how to handle that."

Ah Tim is one of many students with special education needs who are unhappy with being forced to learn alongside normal students under the so-called integrated education policy.

The chairman of the Association for the Rights of Hearing Impaired Students, Mr Lau King-tak, said his niece was another victim.

She could understand only about 50 per cent of what was taught in class as the pace of the class and the speed of the teachers' speech were too fast for hearing impaired children, he said. As a result, he had to spend hours tutoring her at home every day.

Indeed, more than ten years since 1997, when the policy of placing students with special educational needs in mainstream schools was introduced, complaints over the merits of integrated education have failed to subside and teachers are often the focus of criticisms.

Currently 15 per cent of primary and secondary school teachers in Hong Kong have received special education training at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. But most of them have only completed a basic course which lasts for 30 hours.

According to Professor SinKuen-fung, director of Centre for Special
Educational Needs and Inclusive Education at HKIEd, the basic course includes an overview of all eight types of special educational needs along with the support needed by special educational needs students.

He explains that the basic course may not be sufficient inequipping teachers with the skills to handle students with special education needs, "The five-day course is too rush," he said.

Currently, about 72,000 students with special education needs are studying in mainstream schools in Hong Kong and among them about half are in primary school.

In order to encourage more teachers to take the basic and advanced courses, government grants trainees a paid study leave. Schools are provided with supply teachers or subsidies to pay for supply teachers'salaries.

Principal David Yu Tai-wai at Yan Chai Hospital No. 2 Secondary School said that he encouraged his teachers to attend the courses, but every year the number of teachers both willing and available to be trained still failed to match the school's needs.

"Some teachers are reluctant to leave their classes behind. And it can be very troublesome to take over work from supply teachers,"Principal Yu said.

Presently, the school has a total of 15 teachers who have gone through the training, but this number accounts for only 19 per cent of the school's teaching staff. Since special education needs students are scattered in different classes, there is no guarantee they can be taught by trained teachers.

Prof Sin believes that the addition of a special education needs coordinator at each school would greatly enhance the efficiency in training teachers.

He added that these coordinators could be more professionally trained to a bachelor's degree level so that they could launch staff development training programmes within the schools.

Principal Yu agrees that the coordinators may be better at handling diverse situations and helping different types of students, but he doubts the idea of peer training.

"Now there are few special education experts in Hong Kong,"he said. "If a coordinator himself is a teacher who is still learning, it remains a question whether he can train other teachers."

To Prof Sin, another solution  lies in strengthening training in special education cultivating our future teachers.

Presently, aspiring teachers who want to obtain a diploma in education in Hong Kong are required to complete a core course in special education.

However, according to Prof Sin, this course, which lasts for 39 hours, is very superficial because it includes no
hands-on practice or in-depth exposure.

"HKIEd should provide more training courses," he said. "If we can launch a master's programme in special
education, we can attract more teachers to come to learn as the degree will benefit their career development."

According to a study by the Equal Opportunities Commission in 2012, 30 per cent of special education needs students cannot grasp a range of learning skills compared to 17 per cent of regular students.

Among the parents of special education needs students, 46 per cent
indicate that the academic performance of their children does not meet their expectations.

Mr Lau thinks the current system of integrated education has a lot of problems. "Besides the experts who make the policies, the government should listen to parents' advice more," he said.

Undersecretary for Education, Ms Betty Ip Tsang Chui-hing said in a Legco meeting that the Education Bureau would send people to mainstream schools to evaluate the effectiveness of special education training of teacher.

 

Reported by Viola Zhou

Edited by Lokie Wong

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