730 extra teachers to boost special education

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 April, 2006, 12:00am

Package of measures aims to revive faltering integrated school policy

A programme was unveiled yesterday to help the growing numbers of special-needs children in mainstream schools, who education chiefs said were in danger of being marginalised and bullied.

The package of measures, aimed at injecting new life into the government's faltering integrated education policy, won general acceptance but educators and legislators warned it might be going too far, too fast.

The package includes recruitment of 730 extra teachers, training programmes for teachers and parents and a requirement for schools to draw up a policy on special educational needs.

In a paper presented to the Legislative Council's education panel, the Education and Manpower Bureau said schools now tended to provide a separate service for children with special needs rather than include them in mainstream classes, due to their 'heavy emphasis on academic achievement'.

In some schools, such students were at risk of being marginalised and becoming victims of bullying.

'We have done some work on creating a more inclusive education for children with special educational needs. But it takes work to change the culture - and hard work from all the parties,' the bureau's principal assistant secretary for school administration and support, Betty Ip, said. 'Teachers who are in contact with students should be able to know the special needs of their students.'

Parents and teachers from several concern groups expressed fears that the integrated education policy was moving too fast and special-school closures would leave no alternative for children who could not cope in the mainstream.

'What we need to consider now is whether the pace of integrated education is too fast and whether there can be various forms of integrated education,' Special Education Society of Hong Kong chairman Andrew Tse Chung-yee said.

The extra teachers will be recruited in phases from September and will help mainstream teachers in schools that have classes with large numbers of Band Three students, who often include those with special needs.

'We will provide more teachers so that teachers can undertake systematic training,' Mrs Ip said. 'We hope that teachers can take classes once a week. We will regularly review the policies and also there will be a mid-year review.'

General programmes of 30 hours and in-depth programmes of 90 hours will be offered to classroom teachers, while training will be offered to key staff working with special needs children.

The bureau will mount a programme of 50 workshops over the next four months to hear the problems of the schools involved.

Education sector legislator and Professional Teachers' Union head Cheung Man-kwong backed integrated education but said bullying was a worrying trend. 'We need to provide a mechanism for students who are discriminated [against] to go back to special schools.'

Legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said the bureau should set up a research centre to prepare materials that were in Chinese and suited to the Hong Kong context for teaching children with special needs.