Ever since I became a lawmaker, improving the learning environment and conditions of students with special education needs, or SEN students, has been on top of my agenda.
As Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is set to deliver her policy address on Oct. 10, one of my proposals to the administration is to divert extra resources into providing occupational and speech therapy services for SEN students in our mainstream schools.
More and more SEN students are being admitted to mainstream schools under the Education Bureau’s integrated education policy, which the government started to implement in 1997.
As such, there is a growing demand for occupational and speech therapists, who are instrumental in improving SEN students’ sensory integration ability and enhancing their abilities to express themselves in speech.
At present, the overwhelming majority of local schools don’t have their own on-site and in-house occupational or speech therapists. Consequently, they often have to hire these specialists using additional school resources, a situation which is not as good as expected.
To address the issue, I strongly suggest that the Education Bureau provide occupational and speech therapy services for our mainstream schools, first on a district-based fashion, and then in the long run, on a school-based manner, with the target of setting the ratio of therapists to mainstream schools ratio at 1:4 (i.e., one therapist will be taking care of students from four schools).
In order to achieve that, we must first boost the numbers of qualified speech and occupational therapists in Hong Kong.
Currently, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) is the only institution under the University Grants Committee (UGC) that offers a full-time undergraduate program in occupational therapy, while the University of Hong Kong (HKU) is the only place that provides a full-time bachelor’s degree program in speech therapy in the city.
There are also master’s degree programs in speech therapy provided by both PolyU and the Education University of Hong Kong.
The number of speech and occupational therapy graduates turned out by both PolyU and HKU can hardly meet the rapidly rising demand among local SEN students.
Therefore, I strongly suggest that the administration substantially increase the number of places available in the undergraduate degree programs in speech and occupational therapies provided by HKU and PolyU.
The unit cost for each student in these UGC-funded speech and occupational therapy degree programs stands at around HK$268,000. So it would require an extra HK$26.8 million in annual funding to provide an additional 100 places in the two existing undergraduate courses provided by the PolyU and HKU, and some HK$214 million to provide a total of 800 places in the two undergraduate courses.
As more support had been given to SEN students when Lam was still serving as chief secretary in the last administration, it is, therefore, reasonable for the education sector, SEN students and their parents to expect her to deliver more in this regard in her upcoming policy address.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 26
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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