Support for special needs is dire, say educators

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 April, 2006, 12:00am

Survey shows 62pc of respondents to be unhappy with aid

Educators have criticised the government for giving too little support for children with special educational needs who are integrated into mainstream schools.

Their comments follow complaints from the primary sector about inadequate aid in a survey.

According to a Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers survey on inclusive education, 62.4 per cent of 316 primary educators - 206 teachers and 110 principals - considered government support, including the provision of educational psychologists and hearing specialists, to be of little use.

Shin Kei-lit, chairman of the Sha Tin Primary School Heads' Association, said the new subsidy system introduced in 2003, which entitled each child with special needs to an annual $20,000, fell short of need.

'Injecting a little money doesn't help. Previously an extra teacher was provided to five children and one teaching assistant would be available for eight children. But nowadays schools can't even afford one extra teacher,' he said.

He said the new scheme benefited only prestigious schools with few children with special needs.

He suggested schools try reducing the number of students per class and form links with and seek professional support from schools for special needs children.

The survey also listed obstacles that primary educators faced in implementing inclusive education.

More than half - 51.9 per cent - said the curriculum did not cater for diversity, and 51.3 per cent said it was difficult for schools to take care of different needs. Other hurdles included inadequate government resources and disruptions that special needs children caused in class.

Tsoi Kai-chun, chairman of the Subsidised Primary Schools Council, said untrained teachers did not know the causes of special conditions and how to help. Teachers felt 'helpless' and the government offered too little professional help.

Cheung Chi-hung, chairman of the Aided Primary Schools Heads' Association, said the government should commit more to inclusive education if the public agreed that it was the right way to go. 'The government must help schools to help students,' he said.

Lam Nga-fong, leader of the student support team at Yau Ma Ti Catholic Primary School (Hoi Wang Road), also said government training was inadequate. Now enrolled on a one-year training course offered by the government, Ms Lam said most schools sent one teacher but very rarely two.

Leung Pik-lin, vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Childhood Educators' Association, said assistance in the form of an extra teacher for every six preschool children with special needs and 'very little' subsidy for their activities was far from enough.

Yuen Man-tak, associate professor in learning, development and diversity at the University of Hong Kong, said the student-educational psychologist ratio was worse than in Britain or the US.

But government-initiated educational psychologists' support for schools for three consecutive years was bearing fruit, with the capacity of schools to deal with special needs children having improved.