Special needs education lesson for all
The report ("Lack of support for special needs students", November 23) showed there is a pathetic lack of public concern and government commitment for the disabled.
Integrated education caters to students with special education needs, such as those with physical handicaps, hearing and visual impairment, and mild mental retardation, who are integrated into mainstream schools. In 1997, the Education Bureau launched a pilot integrated education scheme with nine participating schools which were given resource teachers with special training.
Just as the scheme was making headway, in 2003 the bureau decided all primary and secondary schools should accept and teach special needs students, and more limited resources were provided. A Hong Kong Institute of Education survey has revealed that only about 2 per cent of teachers had a professional diploma or degree in special education. In some cases, it took bureau staff nine months to assess students with special needs and grant financial aid. Without adequate support, some 22,000 special needs students in ordinary schools face many obstacles, and many have opted to return to special schools for disabled children.
Parents of other children think students with special needs have a negative impact on their children and should be segregated. Even teachers and principals do not understand the integrated education concept - some 43 per cent of surveyed teachers were unwilling to accept special needs students. Inadequate government guidance has turned integrated education into mere window dressing.
This form of education gives special needs students the sort of preparation for life in this competitive society they will never get from special schools. Teachers of the pilot scheme, confirmed students' increased confidence, social skills and higher academic levels. Through integrated education ordinary students are motivated by the determination and efforts of classmates less fortunate than themselves.
It is the most effective way of combating discrimination and building an inclusive society. It is about equal opportunities and human rights; how much we respect human differences as a part of humanity; how much we value children in our society; and how much we are willing to spend on changing attitudes through teacher training and public education, for which resources are urgently needed.
The bureau's slow progress in integrated education must be replaced with conviction, professional services and vigour in order to do justice to the thousands of special needs students now struggling for survival in mainstream schools.
Patsy Leung, Mid-Levels