Government must step up support for SEN students

September 10, 2018 12:04
The government and local business enterprises must take the lead in providing more job opportunities for SEN graduates. Photo: HKEJ

I just would like to let readers know that I myself used to be a student with special education needs (SEN): I had a stuttering problem when I was a child.

I always chose to remain silent in school. I knew the world was cruel – so cruel that it wouldn’t even go easy on a primary school student suffering from a speech impediment like myself.

Decades later, I was invited to the launching ceremony of a painting exhibition held at the Education University of Hong Kong, which featured 14 works by SEN students and their parents.

Among all the paintings, the one that struck me was a piece depicting a fearsome devil inside a darkly-toned school building.

The painting was done by a Primary 4 pupil, with the help of her mother. I saw it as a form of silent protest in the face of constant bullying by her classmates and her teachers’ indifference and lack of understanding of her situation.

I spoke with the mother, and before I left, I gave her my business card and told her that I wanted to help her child.

I am perfectly aware that there are a lot of other women and children like her daughter who also need assistance, but, of course, I cannot help each and every one of them on my own.

True, the government has shown cognizance of the issue of SEN students. In her 2017 policy address, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor allocated an extra HK$600 million for primary and secondary schools in the public sector to enable them to hire special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs). So far, of the city’s 844 schools, 244 have already recruited their own SENCOs.

To a certain extent, SENCOs have addressed the issue of uncoordinated and piecemeal services for SEN students. However, I have found that they do have their limitations when it comes to defining the overall development needs of SEN children, providing student counseling and enhancing SEN students’ sense of empowerment.

In particular, I am most concerned about the sustainable personal development of SEN teenagers. My main concerns include:

1. The realization of their potential 

As we all know, Hong Kong’s mainstream education system has been placing an overwhelming emphasis on academic results.

Our schools’ obsession with their students’ IQ has virtually made it the only criterion for judging whether a child or a teen is gifted or not.

As a consequence, a lot of other “raw talents” of SEN students, such as in sports, painting or dancing, are often neglected.

And does the Education Bureau (EDB) have any policy direction on how to help gifted SEN students develop their talents?

2. Life planning and career guidance for SEN students

Although under our 12-year compulsory education system, most SEN teens are able to finish senior secondary school, either in mainstream schools or special schools, I believe the government could have done substantially more for them.

For example, the EDB should place new focus on life planning when it comes to SEN education. This means shift the paradigm from providing simple assessment of skills and basic training to carrying out new initiatives to broaden SEN students’ horizons, ignite their interest in different fields, help them set goals, nurture their talents and enable them to experience learning.

Quite a number of studies have indicated that by helping SEN students fulfill their potential through community support, we can substantially facilitate their integration into society and the job market in the long run.

3. Continued learning

Given that only a small number of SEN students are able to pursue further study after they have graduated from secondary school, I suggest the government divert additional resources to welfare non-governmental organizations and universities in order to allow them to form partnerships in providing special learning programs for these kids.

At present, there are several learning programs available to specific groups in society, such as the Capacity Building Mileage Programme for women and the Elder Academy for seniors.

I hope the government can also provide a tertiary education learning program that is tailor-made for SEN students as well.

4. Supported employment service for SENs

Last but not least, the current job seeker service provided by the Labour Department can hardly meet the needs of SENs in terms of vocational training and their special employment needs.

What SEN teens really need is a form of one-stop employment counseling service that will allow them to have the opportunity to set their own future career goals, and participate in vocational training programs or internship programs either before or after their graduation from secondary school.

In the meantime, I want to make it clear once again that the government and our local business enterprises should take the lead in providing more job opportunities for SEN graduates.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 31

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member