Special needs children require tailor-made support: educators

Educators say extra funding will help, but what pupils require most is an individual approach and teachers who are sensitive to their needs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 4:09am

Additional public money will be spent on special education in the coming academic year but educators are calling for more specific measures to ensure individual students' needs are effectively met.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his policy address last week that from the next school year, the Education Bureau would raise the ceiling of the annual Learning Support Grant from HK$1 million to HK$1.5 million per school to strengthen support for schools with disabled students. The increase is in line with the government's policy to integrate disabled children into mainstream education.

He also announced a one-off grant for aided special schools to buy technological devices to assist students with severe or multiple disabilities.

While welcoming the offers, educators claim that what the students need most is tailor-made support.

"It means little if the extra money is not spent where it is most needed," said Maria Wong Yuen-ping, a former special school principal who is now a consultant for students with physical and multiple challenges.

Wong and other parents supported the provision of individual education plans for each special-needs child to make sure teachers were sensitive to the student's needs.

She also stressed the importance of changing the current funding mode by which each school is given the Learning Support Grant relative to its number of special-needs students.

The maximum per capita subsidy is HK$20,000, depending on the severity of a student's disability.

"Schools with a small number of SEN [special educational needs] students won't get much," Wong said.

Legislative councillors will discuss funding and other integrated education issues at a meeting of the newly set-up Legislative Council subcommittee in March. Subcommittee chairman Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung calls the HK$1.5 million plan a mere "numbers game".

"A school that gets the full subsidy may have admitted more than 100 students, more than the usual enrolment at a special school. Its teachers may not be able to handle them all," he said.

He supports the idea of individual educational plans and pairing special-needs students with teaching assistants.

"It is important to help schools develop expertise in teaching SEN students," he said.

Ho Fuk-chuen, director of the Hong Kong Institute of Education's Centre for Special Needs and Studies in Inclusive Education, supports the growth of networks of schools with such students to promote sharing of resources and expertise, and an increase in the per-capita subsidy.

"Some schools make the equipment they need themselves instead of ordering it from overseas because the price is too high," Ho said.

"Not many teachers are trained in special education, and schools tend not to put experienced staff in charge of support teams for SEN students, which may comprise parents, social workers, teachers, educational psychologists or others.

"The problem in Hong Kong is that parents will not send their children without disabilities to schools well-known for educating SEN students."

In his address, Leung also announced an extension of the school-based educational psychology service to make it available in all public secondary and primary schools by the 2016-17 school year.