Ineffective integration is no help to special needs students in Hong Kong
It was good to hear Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor talking about the importance of integrated education in her first Q&A session in Legco. I hope this means that the new government is determined to enhance integrated education schemes in mainstream schools which have been criticised for not being effective.
Helping special-educational needs (SEN) pupils to integrate into mainstream schools takes a lot of effort from personnel, including teachers, educational psychologists and fellow students. However, most teachers in Hong Kong have had insufficient training and there are not enough educational psychologists.
Currently, it is stipulated that at least 10 per cent of teachers in a school should have taken a five-day intensive course in handling SEN students. However, covering multiple common SEN topics in such a short period does not enable teachers to cope with SEN students. They lack the necessary experience to take care of them. More importantly, as so much time is taken up with ordinary teaching and administrative work, they are unable to give SEN students the constant and in-depth care they badly need.
Educational psychologists have the expertise needed to assess SEN students’ adaptability to and progress in mainstream schools. They can devise an individual education plan for each of these students. But because there is a shortage of these experts, SEN pupils are deprived of the frequent professional assistance they need in their formative years.
It is therefore clear that the main problem in dealing with SEN students lies in the quality and quantity of personnel. Monetary investment certainly helps, but it needs to be spent in the right way.
Subsidies must be offered to schools so they can hire suitably-qualified educational psychologists. These experts can closely monitor SEN students and help relieve the pressure on teachers who struggle to find the time needed to care for these youngsters.
Also, schools must be flexible and willing to adjust the curriculum and exams to cater to the needs of SEN students.
Dickie Lai, North Point