SCMP Saturday, November 25, 2000

Change urged in special education


Schools teaching only practical subjects should be abolished, according to the head of a centre helping to include children with special needs into mainstream education.
Nick Crawford, head of the Centre for Special Needs and Studies in Inclusive Education, said non-mainstream schools had worked well but the Government should consider combining the skills of teachers in such schools with mainstream institutions.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the centre, he said: "The Government should have a more long-term vision. These schools have to close but their teachers' skills and knowledge in coping with academically unmotivated students are needed in mainstream schools."
Mr Crawford's centre at the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) in Tai Po, set up with initial funding of $2 million, will help regular schools include students with disabilities or learning difficulties.
However, he stressed that special schools should be removed only if class size was reduced.
Five practical schools serve students more inclined to vocational training than academic development from Secondary One to Three. Another seven skills opportunities schools are run for children in the same age group, who are from the bottom 0.9 per cent of the ability range.
The Education Department has decided to include the mainstream curriculum in addition to its vocational programmes at practical schools from September 2002. Classes will extend to Secondary Five instead of the present Secondary Three.
An Education Department spokeswoman said students with lower academic abilities would still be segregated even after the reforms.
Principal Chan King-lun of Chi Lin Buddhist Secondary School, a skills opportunities school in Wong Tai Sin, said: "I agree to integrated education. But until the regular schools are ready to take on these students, our schools should remain this way."
The new centre at the HKIEd has been launched to support "inclusive" practice in education, whereby children with special needs, from the disabled to those with learning difficulties, are taught within the mainstream.
The centre will act as a resource for teaching, research, publishing and supporting those pushing for greater inclusion.
Once the centre has raised more funds it will offer workshops to teachers, principals, parents, and management committees of schools as well as students, said Mr Crawford.
It is also conducting research on policy and regulatory issues, as well as monitoring how well children with special needs are being integrated in mainstream schools.
The centre has begun a two-year project, funded by the Quality Education Fund, to develop information technology for special needs teaching.
Earlier this month the Education Department opened the Special Education Resource Centre (SERC), located within the Special Education Services Centre in Homantin, as a resource for teachers, parents, students and specialists who work with children with special needs.
The $2.1 million centre, opened at the beginning of this month, was built following a proposal by the Sub-committee on Special Education of the Education Department.
Raymond Ho Chi-keun, inspector of the special education support and placement section, said: "There has always been the need for a resource centre. Australia has already got a couple. But we are not too late."
The centre provides teachers with reference materials, books, and samples of school-based projects.
During the first phase IT facilities are also being installed and later teachers will be able to borrow materials.
"The success of SERC strongly depends on the schools' willingness to contribute information and material," said Mr Ho.