Critics say proposals won't prepare the handicapped for life after school Concern groups and legislators yesterday attacked the government for selling short the needs of mentally and physically handicapped students in proposals for changing the set-up of special schools. The Education and Manpower Bureau's proposals - published in a consultation document in January - extend the provision for students with special needs by giving them the option of attending the full three years of senior secondary education. At present, special-needs students are only offered nine years of basic education, extended by an extra year for physically disabled students, or those with hearing or vision impairment. If adopted, the changes would come into force in 2009 when schools adopt the '3+3+4' academic structure, consisting of three years of junior secondary, three of senior secondary and four years at university. But critics at a meeting of a Legislative Council subcommittee yesterday argued the proposals would not effectively prepare students for life after school, either in terms of job opportunities or the chance for post-secondary education. They also expressed concerns about tuition fees at senior secondary level and the suggestion to increase boarding charges for students living in school dormitories. Subcommittee chairman Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said he was 'very frustrated' with the EMB's response to feedback, particularly at what he saw as an attempt to push students into mainstream schools. 'Education is not just about public exams,' Dr Cheung said. 'You need to have an alternative track for weaker students to take.' He said the focus of the curriculum was too vocationally oriented, and the core aim of all students being self-reliant when they left school was flawed. 'Many of these students have severe disabilities. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to be self-reliant.' As there were few employment opportunities for the handicapped, they should be given the chance to attend four years of post-secondary education, as set out by the '3+3+4' structure, Dr Cheung said. 'This would not need to be for a qualification. They should be given the opportunity to enjoy their life after secondary school.' Deputy secretary for education and manpower Chris Wardlaw said the bureau would continue to investigate how best to prepare students for 'all-exit pathways' from secondary school. Nam Suk-yee, vice-chairwoman of the Association for Parents of Persons with Physical Disabilities, said parents were concerned about the prospect of school or boarding fees being raised. According to the consultation document, monthly boarding fees for special-school dormitories are currently about $440, much lower than the $1,600 to $1,800 charged at Social Welfare Department hostels, suggesting there was 'scope for an increase'. 'The report doesn't say exactly what they mean,' Ms Nam said. 'But we fear fees might be raised to that level over one or two years. That would be a heavy burden to many parents.' Principal assistant secretary for education and manpower Betty Ip Tsang Chui-hing said the bureau had yet to reach a decision on fees.