Ombudsman provides hope to parents of children with dyslexia
A report by the Ombudsman that education chiefs may be underestimating the prevalence of learning difficulties has struck a strong chord with the parents of dyslexic children.
Albert Chan has two sons, aged eight and 11, who suffer from dyslexia - which causes difficulty in reading and writing. He said it took far too long for their problems to be recognised and for help to be offered.
'I knew nothing about learning difficulties before. What has the Education Bureau done [to publicise it]?
'I just do my own research and attend seminars to find out more about it,' said Mr Chan, a social worker who quit his job two years ago to help his sons prepare for their exams.
Judy Poon Wai-ha, whose seven-year-old son waited a year for a Department of Health dyslexia assessment, echoed Mr Chan. 'One year is too long. Childhood is a golden learning period,' she said.
The Ombudsman reported that the Education and Manpower Bureau figure for the number of children with learning difficulties - 0.43 per cent of the student population - was well below figures elsewhere.
Mr Chan has now gone back to work, but is still occupied with his children's studies most of the time. 'My younger son in Primary Two doesn't know what teachers say in school, so I have to read the text [to him] every night so that he can understand more.'
The father also complained that most local teachers had little knowledge of learning difficulties and gave inadequate support to students in need of special care.
'When my elder son was in Primary One, he scored very low marks in most subjects. In some he even got zero marks. After the exams, his class teacher just blamed us for not paying enough attention to our kid,' he said.
Ultimately, his son was asked to repeat a school year
He suggested the Department of Health handle all assessments while the bureau follows students' academic progress. 'The bureau can see if they need a special syllabus,' he said. 'They should also give teachers more training and teach the students in small classes.
'As Hong Kong provides special education for the mentally challenged, why can't they offer special classes to those with learning difficulties? I don't mind my sons being labelled for their own sake,' he said.
But Ms Poon, who also has two dyslexic sons, disagreed, saying: 'Inclusive education is now the main trend. I hope all schools can learn to teach these children in an innovative way.' She also called on the bureau to provide more funding to schools to help with special needs education.
Iris Ngan Keung Wai-lin, the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Association for Specific Learning Disabilities, said many dyslexic children had difficulty finding a secondary school. '[The schools] turn down their applications once they know the kid's problem,' she said.
The number of children recorded by the Health Department as having learning difficulties last year: 1,128