Can extra HK$5 billion lead to greater inclusion in Hong Kong schools?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 10:48pm

As a researcher at Cambridge University’s education faculty, I have been following the heated debate on how an additional annual HK$5 billion shall be spent on the education sector.

Regardless of the intention of this new funding plan, which to some is political rather than educational, such a proposal to increase spending on teachers – and thereby investment on students – is widely welcomed.

Most agree that local subsidised schools are generally under-resourced. Hopefully, additional financial commitments by the new administration can alleviate some existing problems. Among its quality initiatives is the establishment of a regular special educational needs coordinator (Senco) in each public sector primary and secondary school.

Since the launch of the Whole School Approach to Integrated Education in 1999, mainstream schools in Hong Kong have been encouraged to admit a greater diversity of learners.

They include, for example, children identified with different categorical learning needs (for example, autism spectrum disorders), newly arrived children from the mainland, and recently those learning Chinese as a second language. Although the integration policy has been in place for nearly two decades, local teachers only tend to support it from an ethical standpoint.

Pedagogically, many of them question their capacity to support the learning of all students, not least where educational achievement is largely confined to students’ performance in high-stakes assessments like the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education. It is not uncommon for practitioners to struggle between satisfying the emerging systemic demand for accommodating learner differences and the prevalent cultural expectation of academic excellence.

It is good to see the enlistment of some 800 designated teachers as Sencos in an otherwise shrinking teaching workforce.

Nonetheless, it remains in doubt whether this measure alone can ultimately enhance the quality of education for all learners. Despite its potential impact on coordinating school-based support, a major drawback of employing these additional resources concerns the discourse of constructing learner diversity as an administrative duty of some, rather than reaffirming it as a professional challenge for all stakeholders in the “whole school approach”.

Given this discrepancy between our integration policy and its implementation, I have to wonder to what extent the new Sencos will facilitate greater inclusion through and with the majority of their colleagues?

Eddy Li, Cambridge, England