By Karen KWOK (ELED Year 3, 2013-2014)
The pilot scheme on integrated education has been launched in Hong Kong since 1997. The White Paper, a key document issued by the government, reinforces the rights of the disabled (Hong Kong Government, 1995). This laid the ground for integrated education in Hong Kong. With the objective of “catering for student differences” (Education Bureau, 2008, p. 2), mainstream schools are now open to children identified with special educational needs (SEN). It is a big step towards achieving social integration, but not an easy move. Integrated education is not simply about providing an opportunity for SEN students to participate fully in educational activities (Leung & Mak, 2010). It requires full support from different stakeholders, including the government, schools, teachers and parents. Most importantly, a comprehensive education reform is essential. However, numerous obstacles have emerged. Teacher training for integrated education is insufficient, and the idea of integrated education still lacks public acceptance. This article will discuss the difficulties with relevant references.
Teachers play a critical role in the success of integrated education (Leung & Mak, 2010). They stand in the frontline and facilitate inclusion in schools. On the other hand, teachers’ lack of preparedness for integrated education may hinder the implementation. Recently, a student identified with ADHD and dyslexia was physically punished for his misbehavior in school (Sing Tao Daily, 2013). While the public put all the blame on the teacher involved, the current education system should also take part of the responsibility for the misfortune. Even though training programs for teachers have improved (Forlin, 2010), only one institute in Hong Kong (HKIEd) offers an undergraduate program in special education. Mainstream teachers only possess basic knowledge of educating SEN students from their education degree. They may also choose to complete the Basic Course on Catering for Diverse Learning Needs (Forlin, 2010), which is open to formal teachers. The effectiveness for either option, however, is questionable.
Undergraduate programs in Education normally require 4 years of study, or even 5 under the NSS curriculum. During the entire study period, undergraduates only need to take one required course about educating SEN students. As for the Basic Course, it is not compulsory to all mainstream teachers. The five-year teacher professional development framework on integrated education (Education Bureau, 2009) shows that only 1 in every 10 teachers in each school is required to complete the basic training. Even fewer are required to complete the advanced course about specific types of special educational needs. With limited knowledge and practice, it is likely that teachers will misinterpret the behaviors of SEN students and simply label them as naughty or lazy. Besides, the large class size in Hong Kong makes integrated education difficult even for trained teaches. Harriott (2004) suggests that there should be no more than 20 students in each inclusive classroom, which is not always feasible in Hong Kong. With too much to manage in the classroom, teachers may not be able to provide the best education to students.
Miss Law is a teaching assistant in a mainstream school, which recently enrolled 29 students diagnosed with learning disabilities. Her duties are to ensure the SEN students can learn properly in class and to keep track of their learning. Although she is in favor of the rationale of integrated education, she contends that it is not for all SEN students. She finds that those with severe disabilities can hardly benefit from the integrated environment. Her opinions correspond to literature as well. According to Frank (2005), some SEN students need a highly stable environment, where one-to-one direct instructions from professionals (e.g. physiotherapists, speech therapists and psychologists) are possible. Miss Law has seen such cases first-hand. One of her students diagnosed with autism had to change school mid-way through his study, for his involuntary behaviours hindered his own learning and the learning of his classmates. At the end the student was transferred to a special school. This case reflects a major limitation of integrated education. The harmonious environment promoted by the government may be too idealized after all.
For integrated education to be successful, the public’s perception of educating SEN children needs to be turned around. Educational equality is about promoting equal rights in education for all children, exceptional or not. A survey conducted by Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong reveals that 15% of the mainstream students are reluctant to make friends with SEN students (Wenweipo, 2011). Some interviewees show dissatisfaction with how their school makes adjustments to meet the needs of SEN students. According to COM (2002), parents are also concerned that integrated education will hamper the learning of their non-exceptional children. When it comes to choosing a school, schools with many SEN students are deemed the less preferable alternatives. Their prejudice against SEN children may directly influence how their children perceive their exceptional peers.
The development of integrated education in Hong Kong is still at a fairly premature stage. Pedagogically, teachers are not fully equipped with the knowledge and expertise necessary for the practice. Without greater public acceptance, it is unlikely that the implementation could reach further. The government needs to address the above issues accordingly, or the idea of integrated education would only remain an ideal.
Education Bureau. (2008). Catering for Student Differences – Indicators for Inclusion: A tool for school self-evaluation and school development. Hong Kong: The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Education Bureau. (2009). Teacher Professional Development on Catering for Students with Special Educational Needs (Education Bureau Circular No. 8/2012). Hong Kong: The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Forlin, C. (2010). Developing and implementing quality inclusive education in Hong Kong: implications for teacher education. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 10(1), 177–184.
Frank, B. (2005). Making Inclusion Work. Merrill Education: Prentice Hall.
Harriott, W.A. (2004). Inclusion of children with disabilities in general education classrooms. In Alexander, K., & Hunter, R. C. (Ed.), Administering special education: In pursuit of dignity and autonomy (pp. 135-166). Bradford: Emerald Group Publishing.
Hong Kong Wenweipo. (2011, Mar 7). 15%學生敵視融合生「融合教育」未見效. Hong Kong Wenweipo. Retrieved from paper.wenweipo.com/2011/03/07/ED1103070069.htm
Hong Kong Government. (1995). White paper on Rehabilitation: Equal opportunities and full participation: A better tomorrow for all. Hong Kong: Government Printer.
Leung, C.H., & Mak, K.Y. (2010). Training, understanding and the attitudes of primary school teachers regarding inclusive education in Hong Kong. International Journal of Inclusive Education,14(8), 829-842.
School of Journalism and Communication (COM). (2002, Dec). 融合教育 大同理想 長路漫漫不易走. Ubeat. Retrieved from com.cuhk.edu.hk/ubeat_past/021253/cobine.htm
Sing Tao Daily. (2013, October 30). 小學教師涉體罰學生被捕. Sing Tao Daily. Retrieved from hk.news.yahoo.com/%E5%B0%8F%E5%AD%B8%E6%95%99%E5%B8%AB%E6%B6%89%E9%AB%94%E7%BD%B0%E5%AD%B8%E7%94%9F%E8%A2%AB%E6%8D%95-214734646.html