A 15-year-old policy aimed at bringing special-needs pupils into mainstream schools is failing because of a lack of government support, the equality watchdog says.
As a result, Hong Kong is trailing other developed economies in providing equal opportunities to disabled students, despite having operated the integrated education policy since 1997, it says.
"Generally speaking, integrated education in Hong Kong is lagging behind [in terms of] training of educators and policy implementation," convenor of the Equal Opportunities Commission's policy and research committee Dr John Tse Wing-ling said yesterday. "[Education Bureau] officials have not fulfilled their duties well."
Tse was speaking after the release of a study that showed up to 43 per cent of teachers remained unwilling to accept students with special education needs, while two-thirds of teachers and more than half of principals did not see excluding such students as discriminatory.
In the study, conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Education's Centre for Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Education, some 5,136 respondents from 230 schools were questioned from September 2010 to November last year.
Tse said the key to integrated education was giving all students, including those with special needs, the right to study in regular classes.
He said the underlying problems were mainly inadequate resources, training and support from the government.
Only a quarter of principals and half of teachers had attended special education training courses or training in inclusive education, and only about 2 per cent had a professional diploma or degree in special education.
The commission's head of policy and research, Dr Ferrick Chu Chung-man, said that after "more than 10 years" of the policy, "parents, teachers and principals do not even understand its concept".
"There are still teachers and parents of regular students who think that students with special education needs should not go to regular schools … and some parents of students with special education needs think that special schools may be better for their children," Chu said.
The study also shows that nearly half of the students with special education needs thought their examination results were unsatisfactory.
About a third indicated that they had been teased and just over a quarter said they had been bullied compared to 24 per cent and 18 per cent for regular students.
The assessment of pupils with special education needs was also criticised as sloppy and too simple. For example, a parent said it took only half an hour for her child to be diagnosed as autistic.
The Education Bureau said it would provide additional resources to teachers to enable them to teach students with special needs.