28 October 2016
Tung Wan Mok Law Shui Wah School, previously a dormitory, is over 50 years old and is falling apart due to the lack of proper maintenance. Photo:
Tung Wan Mok Law Shui Wah School, previously a dormitory, is over 50 years old and is falling apart due to the lack of proper maintenance. Photo:

The glass is half full for special needs schools

For years there has been a kind of educational institution in our city known as “Schools for Social Development” (SSDs).

These are publicly funded schools run by non-governmental organizations that specialize in taking care of students with behavioral or emotional issues, or those coming from troubled families.

Things have been going pretty smoothly for the SSDs until recently, when the principal of a secondary school in Tuen Mun wrote an open letter to the Legislative Council opposing the government’s plan to relocate the Tung Wan Mok Law Shui Wah School, an SSD that is currently operating on Lantau Island, to a site next to his school.

The principal came under fire because in his letter, which received widespread media coverage, he cast students from that SSD in astoundingly negative light and suggested these students be kept away from his neighborhood because, as he put it, they are mostly “problem students” who are often violent, addicted to drugs and promiscuous, and may pose danger to the well-behaved students in his school.

Even though the principal later publicly apologized for his negative portrayal of SSD students, the fact that his words have given the public a wrong impression of SSDs and have deeply hurt the feelings of students, alumni, their parents and staff of SSDs is irreversible.

As an educator myself, I am also deeply saddened by the widespread misconception in society about SSDs and their students.

As far as I know, this largely stems from a wrong notion of the kind of students that SSDs take.

In fact, almost all SSD students come from mainstream schools. They are students with special needs who have difficulties adapting to the curriculum of mainstream schools.

There is a well-established and long-standing mechanism to help these students.

For example, after thorough and careful assessment, some of them may be referred to SSDs by either professional social workers, educational psychologists or clinical psychiatrists.

Some of them could be suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism or post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of physical abuse, or might have problems fitting in with other students in mainstream schools.

In other words, these students might have behavioral or emotional issues, but they are actually innocent kids that need help and special care, and by no means should they be labeled as trouble-makers or even criminals.

The relocation controversy may have upset a lot of students of SSDs and their parents, but it may also have a silver lining: the previously little-known SSDs have now come under the spotlight, and perhaps it may present a good opportunity to bring public attention to the situation of students with special needs, and hopefully it may lead to more public resources being diverted into helping them.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 12.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member from the education sector

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