Severe lack of support services for children with learning difficulties in Hong Kong’s public schools, report finds
Scathing report notes that only 10 per cent of public schools offer educational psychology services for pupils
Lawmakers have expressed serious concerns over the lack of school-based educational psychology services in Hong Kong after it emerged that only one in 10 public schools are equipped with the enhanced service despite a spike in the number of pupils with learning difficulties.
The conclusion from the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee was in response to an earlier Audit Commission report, which also exposed the troubling fact that one in three Hong Kong pupils were only identified as having special educational needs (SEN) for the first time last school year at the age of eight or older, raising concerns that they might have missed the best time to be given support.
Delivering the 12-page report on Wednesday, Public Accounts Committee deputy chairman Kenneth Leung outlined multiple shortfalls in the government’s effort to promote integrated education.
According to the report, 42 of the 844 public schools – or five per cent – received fewer visit days by educational psychologists than required in the last school year.
It was also found that only 21 per cent of the 381 schools which applied for the enhanced school-based educational psychology service had succeeded in their applications. The remaining 764 of the 844 public schools – or 91 per cent – were not provided with the enhanced service, even though 10 per cent of these schools each had more than 80 students with SEN.
“[The committee] urges the Education Bureau to step up measures to ensure that schools receive the required number of visit days by the education psychologists [and to] expedite the liaison with the local tertiary institutions to increase the supply of education psychologists to cater for the long-term manpower needs,” the report read.
A plan should also be formulated to extend the enhanced school-based educational psychology service to all schools as soon as practicable, according to the report.
“There is a lack of supply of educational psychologists as currently only two universities offer the course in an alternate-year basis,” Leung said.
Educational psychologists trained overseas might help to relieve the situation, the lawmaker said, but he also noted that a unified professional qualification for psychologists was not yet in place in Hong Kong.
The Civic Party’s Tanya Chan, another committee member, added: “[The government] should arrange more manpower in this regard as soon as possible to help with the diagnosis and to offer assistance to the students in need.”
The committee also expressed serious concern over the fact that more than 30 per cent of pupils were only diagnosed with SEN after primary three, and that a notable number of parents of students with SEN had still refused to give consent to the primary schools for transferring their child’s information to the recipient secondary schools.
It demanded the government explore the feasibility of adopting an “opt-out mechanism” to facilitate the giving of consent by parents.
The panel also urged the bureau to allocate more resources to improve and expand the coverage of the measures under integrated education, and to consider allocating additional resources to assist students with learning difficulties not only in public schools, but also others such as schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme.
The number of students with SEN has recorded a 37 per cent increase over the past five years. The government has spent more than HK$1.4 billion on integrated education in the last school year, where more than 42,000 students with learning difficulties were studying in mainstream public schools.