Should special needs students be integrated into regular classes?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2008, 12:00am

Each week our two teenagers debate a hot topic. This week...

Jeffrey Wong, 19, Diocesan Boys' School

What kind of society do we want? That is the foundation of this debate. Education is a means of socialisation. An ideal city should be pluralistic, tolerant and harmonious. How can we convey these values to the next generation? Integrated education is definitely a step in the right direction.

I think special needs students should be integrated into regular classes. The term 'special needs students' should refer to the physically- and mentally-challenged, as well as those with a learning incapability like dyslexia.

In the first place, special needs students can get used to society through integrated education.

School is a microcosm of society. Students with special needs can learn what to expect in the wider world through school.

Learning from others is effective. Why shouldn't special needs students be allowed to do so?

Secondly, all students will benefit from the policy. Education is not only about gaining knowledge, it also involves acquiring inter-personal skills. It is essential for students nowadays to learn to care and share. They should reach out to the needy and assist them in their learning.

They will in turn learn to interact with special needs students and become more tolerant and patient.

Integrated education will go a long way towards making our society more harmonious and pluralistic.

Claudia Yip, 17, Shun Lee Catholic Secondary School

In theory, integrated education puts regular and special needs students in the same school. However, many think it is idealistic and impractical.

There are problems associated with integrated education that are often overlooked.

Firstly, many teachers haven't received proper training. If an autistic student, for example, loses control in class, the untrained teacher won't know what to do.

A problem like that can hinder progress and drag the whole class behind. It is unfair because teachers may spend more time with the special needs students. It would add to the teachers' heavy workload and students may not be able to meet exam requirements.

Secondly, are these students actually ready to study together? Regular students may not be willing to understand the newcomers and that negative impression may remain, even after they have left school.

Similarly, special needs students may not benefit from integration. Unless extra resources and training are introduced, the facilities and curriculum may be unsuitable.

Moreover, teasing can be very damaging. Young minds are vulnerable and growing up with discrimination and disrespect may have long-term effects.

Finally, not all special needs students are the same. Who will be responsible for deciding which one goes to which school and what are the criteria used to make that decision? One mistake could ruin the future of a young child.