Parents of disabled Hong Kong teens voice fears over job training school Shine Skills Centre being replaced by other institutions
- Concerns centre on Kwun Tong facility set to be demolished for a civil service college, and future of two sister schools
- Scepticism raised over relevance of alternative centres for training such teens
A controversial plan to shut down a job training centre for disabled teens in Hong Kong has sparked fears its sister institutions could also close, leaving more than 500 young people with special needs without suitable education opportunities.
The concerns raised centred on a plan announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her policy address earlier this month, to redevelop a 118,000 sq ft site in Kwun Tong on which the Shine Skills Centre sits. In its place would be a civil service college featuring upgraded facilities for staff training.
The Kowloon school, which offers around 300 places for students, is set to be demolished in 2021.
Operated by the Vocational Training Council, Shine provides training programmes for people aged 15 or above with disabilities.
It also has two other campuses in Pok Fu Lam on Hong Kong Island and Tuen Mun in the New Territories.
Wallace Lau, who has a son with autism and mild intellectual disability, said the boy would graduate from secondary school soon and the family was considering Shine in Kwun Tong as one of their options.
“Autistic children are stubborn and struggle to adapt, and having them travel all the way to Pok Fu Lam or Tuen Mun may drain them of energy for classes,” the father, who stays in Wong Tai Sin said.
Parents such as Lau also feared Shine’s two other campuses might close down.
Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who is helping distressed parents, said: “Our understanding is that there will not be an increase in places for students in the Pok Fu Lam and Tuen Mun campuses. Teachers there have told us they are worried they will be facing the cut.”
Both the Kwun Tong and Pok Fu Lam campuses were oversubscribed by about 10 to 20 places each, while the Tuen Mun branch still has available slots among its 200 places.
A VTC spokeswoman said operations of the Tuen Mun and Pok Fu Lam campuses will remain unaffected under the present plan.
This failed to soothe the worries of parents, however, as Cheung pointed out that the Pok Fu Lam campus cut its student vacancy by more than half to 60 a few years ago.
The lawmaker said a new integrated vocational rehabilitation services centre (IVRSC) was also set to be built in Tuen Mun in two years, offering the same number of places as the Shine campus there. Cheung said the new complex would teach simpler courses that were less education-based, such as packaging, but there were concerns authorities intended to phase out schools like Shine in place of IVRSCs.
He explained that teens aged above 15 with disabilities but are capable of working typically get training from IVRSCs, integrated vocational training centres (IVTCs) or Shine.
Fears that Shine schools may be replaced by the other two types of institutions rose last week when Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said the government was looking at identifying a site in a more central location in Kowloon for a new IVTC. Parents questioned the suitability of replacing Shine campuses with IVTCs.
Cheung said two existing IVTCs, operated separately by NGOs Hong Kong Caritas and Hong Chi Association, were more suited for intellectually disabled teens. He added that both centres, with student places of 220 and 233 respectively, often faced a higher demand than supply.
The Vocational Training Council spokeswoman said the new IVTC would be operated by an NGO that was assisted by the Social Welfare Department, and expected to commence operations in September 2021.
“The government should complete the construction [of the Kowloon IVTC] before tearing down Shine in Kwun Tong,” said a woman surnamed Ng, whose son, 12, has autistic tendencies, mild intellectual disability and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Cheung said: “We are worried that with a competitive labour market, the government may feel there is no use in giving special needs children more education. Instead, it may just focus on providing welfare support.”
Another mother, who preferred only to be known by her husband’s surname Woo, said she would want her son, 16, with autism and intellectual disability, to receive more training and become independent.
“As much as possible, I would not like to depend on government resources,” she said.