Hong Kong school woes: children mistaken for having developmental problems, when the high-pressure school system is to blame

Paediatrician says more pupils fail to meet school requirements as focus of developmental cases shifts to poor learning abilities

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 April, 2016, 10:13pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 April, 2016, 1:14am

Hong Kong’s high-pressure education system is leading children who are considered to be “underperforming” to be mistaken for having developmental problems, parents and child health workers say.

Developmental-behavioural paediatrician Dr Fanny Lam Wai-fan said the major types of child developmental cases had shifted from hearing or visual impairment to poor learning abilities in the past 20 years.

Hong Kong parents’ soaring demand for learning disability tests

“There are more cases [of pupils] who could not meet a school’s requirement,” she said.

She cited one case where a young girl was brought to see her to take developmental tests following concerns about her performance at school.

“I had an eight-year-old client who studied in an elite school and was forced to memorise texts until 2am as she could not master the last paragraph well ,” she said.

“The girl was absolutely normal after assessment ... It was just the immense pressure of studying in an elite school.”

Mrs Chan took her son, who was then six-years-old, to receive developmental tests after she learned from a teacher that her son was having ‘problems’ in classes.

“They said he couldn’t collect his meal during lunchtime on his own, and he tended to be slower when he marked homework in his handbook ... He was also not attentive during classes,” she said.

Outside school, he was not actively socialising with other children and was reluctant to do homework at home.

While Chan believed the developmental progress of each child was different, she took the teachers’ advice and had her son receive assessments.

“Teachers have seen much more children than I do. If my son was really having problems I don’t want to miss the chance to cure him,” she said. But it turned out that her son was fine.

Hong Kong parents’ soaring demand for learning disability tests

“The private clinical psychologist said he was bright after seeing him. He might just not be suitable for the moulding system in Hong Kong,” she said.

Another assessor in a public hospital said Chan’s son was on the border of having an attention deficiency, but it was not severe enough to require treatment.

“He’s not one of those who can sit in a classroom attentively for 35 minutes,” she said.

Chan handled the situation by bringing her son to summer classes to help train his memory, without pushing him to receive more tests.