Special teachers in demand
The number and variety of programmes catering to children with special educational needs (SEN) have risen significantly in recent years, particularly at international schools.
At King George V School (KGV), for example, special needs education is now offered in two ways. First, by providing individual support for children with attention and general learning-type difficulties, such as dyslexia and Asperger's syndrome. And second, through their on-site Learning Support Centre, which assists those with complex learning and physical disabilities.
All special needs students generally follow KGV's main curriculum but, where necessary, are provided with extra assistance in areas such as literacy and numeracy, explains Carol Saunders, the school's access learning director.
SEN teachers, with the support of an education assistant, ensure that children who require customised learning solutions receive the extra assistance they need, Saunders says, adding that teachers who work with such children should be flexible, patient and 'have a good sense of humour'.
Adaptability, Saunders adds, is particularly important because it is often necessary to change a lesson plan to meet the particular needs of a child at short notice. 'This can happen when a child is struggling with a curriculum topic or distracted by events outside the classroom,' explains Saunders. 'SEN skills are not only about curriculum teaching - they also involve providing social support.'
In terms of the SEN unit's overall standing in the school, 'it is something the KGV senior leadership team views as a priority, and strongly supports through the provision of resources,' says Saunders. The payoff from this investment speaks for itself, she adds, noting that exam results show the programme is clearly having a positive impact on children with individual learning requirements.
KGV currently has eight full-time SEN teachers and 10 education-assistant support staffers, which is quite a force, considering that 10 years ago, the school had just one part-time SEN teacher. Opportunities for advancement are also on the rise, says Saunders, who notes that she is 'very proud of the number of her education assistants who have gone on to become fully qualified teachers.'
SEN teachers typically hold a first degree in teaching and a postgraduate certificate or diploma in education with a SEN specialisation, which provides them with a critical understanding of the teaching and the learning process relating to special needs.
For those interested in acquiring a SEN qualification, the Hong Kong Institute of Education offers a three-year part-time bachelor's of education on the discipline. The Open University of Hong Kong also offers a professional certificate in special needs education for children.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong's (ELCHK) Lutheran Secondary School (LSS), in Yau Ma Tei, also has seen success through the integration of individual education support.
'Students with special needs are encouraged and equipped to take part in diversified school life,' says ELCHK LSS principal Kevin Liang Kwun-fan. 'We try to give students with special needs an inclusive learning environment, and promote whole-person development.'
Teachers, Liang adds, are encouraged to attend courses to further develop their confidence, experience and expertise to assist and instruct visually impaired students within the school. In addition, the school encourages the co-operation and assistance of teachers, students and staff to achieve the objectives of LSS's Inclusive Education Committee.
During the 1980s, LSS became a pioneering institution by providing inclusive education for visually impaired students. 'Under this co-operative environment, our visually impaired students have achieved both academic and extra-curricular success,' says Liang.
LSS's visually impaired students, he notes, have completed university programmes and excelled at sports, such as athletics, swimming and judo - locally and abroad.
Embracing the English Schools Foundation's ethos of inclusive learning, Carol Chapman, head of the individual needs department at South Island School (SIS), says efforts are made to develop the strengths and skills that all students have. 'The goal is always to provide the support that meets the individual needs of each child.'
Among the SIS special needs staff, Chapman notes that teachers have a diverse range of training and qualifications. 'Our teaching staff have the skills and experience to help children with special needs to become confident with who they are, and not just what they can achieve academically,' she says.