The worst kind of discrimination is happening under our noses

Education chief Eddie Ng has come forward to explain a misunderstanding over controversial remarks by a school principal over  students with emotional and behavioral issues. Photos: RTHK, CNSA

Confucius proposed “education for all” 2,000 years ago when only the rich could go to school.

That was one of the earliest attempts to overcome discrimination and prejudice in an important aspect of human development.

So it's ironic that after all those years and countless government programs, we are nowhere near the great philosopher's ideal of mass education.

A case in point is a South Lantau school for boys with emotional and behavioral problems.

It is the target of a concerted effort by some district councilors and local residents to have it removed.

They fear its impact on the neighborhood and on "normal" children.

The school will be relocated to Tuen Mun but the plan is already facing resistance from the principal of another school in the district, evidently for the same reasons.

The principal has apologized for controversial remarks about the boys but gave no indication he will drop his opposition to the relocation plan.

The Education Bureau has had discussions with the school administration since February regarding the move.

But school officials said there ought to be more consultations, adding the relocation should be shelved.

The Education Bureau was caught by surprise.

But it probably never expected to end up as fodder for the principal when he tried to defend his remarks about the students.

He said he was only following the bureau's description of students with emotional and behavioral issues when he linked them to drug users and gangsters.

In fact, the official guidelines regarding such descriptions are widely used in the school system to help teachers identify students with special needs and decide whether they need referral.

The guidelines list all situations including certain extreme behavior but the principal cited only the worst ones.

And to make a bad situation worse, some district councilors are politicizing the issue.

It's clear they're out to curry favor with their constituents by quickly lining up behind them instead of explaining the situation and helping education authorities resolve it. 

The relocation plan was approved by the Tuen Mun district council earlier this year, so it came as a shock when several district councilors changed their minds.

But who is still surprised when Hong Kong schools treat education merely as a business proposition, putting priority on rankings and revenue over learning?

They classify students according to their social and economic backgrounds for revenue-generation purposes, giving scant attention to academic performance.

Most schools persuade students who don't fit in mainstream schools to leave rather than help them cope.

The purpose of special needs schools is to address the issue of problem students. Ironically, that is a favor to mainstream schools.

But instead of seeing it in that context, mainstream schools do their best to put their special needs peers at arm's length. They're even ashamed to be seen near one.

We don’t expect school principals and teachers to be like Confucius but they should at least have the common sense to tell that what they're doing to special needs children is an utter disgrace.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 13 under the pen name Bittermelon.

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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