Extra funds help Hong Kong schools cater to pupils with special needs
Initiative sees schools able to hire full-time special education needs coordinators
It sounds like a luxury that a teacher can spend 70 per cent of her working time taking care of her pupils’ special needs, but this is precisely what is happening to Chan Hiu Ngai this school term.
The opportunity came after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced in July that an additional HK$3.6 billion per year would be spent on education. One of the initiatives allows schools with pupils with special needs to hire a full-time teacher to offer the children support.
Chan, teaching at G.C.C.I.T.K.D. Cheong Wong Wai Primary School in Sha Tin, said she was now spending less time on teaching compared with previous years. Since last month, she devotes at least 70 per cent of her time to arranging speech therapy, counselling, and psychiatrist meetings for pupils with special education needs (SEN).
She has put on a new hat as a special education needs coordinator, or SENCO. In the newly established positions, coordinators provide support for pupils with SEN in addition to teaching classes. In the case of the school in Sha Tin, a new subject teacher was hired to share Chan’s workload.
Over 10 per cent of the some 630 pupils in Chan’s school have special education needs ranging from autism to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. They have been integrated with other pupils in class so teachers tailor-make curriculums for different abilities, with help from the coordinator.
The coordinator position was first introduced in 2015 through an Education Bureau pilot scheme. It granted HK$451,440 to HK$HK517,620 per year non-recurrently to participating schools to recruit one new teacher on a contract basis.
But the passage of HK$3.6 billion recurrent budget in the legislature on September 16, which formed part of Lam’s election pledge of HK$5 billion additional education spending, has made the position permanent.
So far, 224 primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong have recruited coordinators.
“Before we had a coordinator, different subject teachers had their own strategies in teaching pupils different abilities,” school principal Ricky Leung Wai-kay said. “Now we have a more centralised and systematic way of teaching … It’s definitely more efficient.”
The school adopted a three-tier teaching system where all pupils are classified into high, medium and low learning abilities. All main subjects have homework and teaching materials at three levels of difficulty for the corresponding pupils.
Leung added that the coordinator was also responsible for communicating with parents to share information on how pupils fared at school and behaved at home.
Godwin Lai Kam-tong, principal assistant secretary for the Education Bureau, said to qualify to be a coordinator, a teacher must have completed around 100 hours of professional training in teaching special education needs pupils.
He said an evaluation of the effectiveness of the position and Hong Kong’s inclusive education were under way. The finding is expected to come out late next year.