Hong Kong’s school system shuts out non-Chinese-speaking special needs children
Shalini Mahtani says Hong Kong has a moral responsibility to support all children – including non-Chinese-speaking special needs youngsters. The Education Bureau must take urgent steps to address the acute shortage of school places for this group
Having a special needs child brings many challenges to parents, not least in terms of education. In Hong Kong, non-Chinese-speaking families have it especially hard. There is little support available, public acceptance is low and there is an extreme shortage of school places.
The majority of special education needs children have mild to moderate needs and can be integrated into mainstream schools. Sadly, most private schools in Hong Kong don’t want them, claiming that they cannot accommodate such needs. Our research shows that many schools filter out these children at the admissions stage. They may require a child to sit still during an hour-long interview or not to shout out answers in a group activity. These are virtually impossible tasks for children who are hyperactive.
Children with mild to moderate needs could be sent to one of 10 English medium of instruction public schools. Here, one of the greatest problems is a lack of skills. Teachers often cannot identify the special need until the child is much older and precious time has lapsed. The waiting time for an assessment can take two to three years.