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Schooling of Special Needs Students in Hong Kong


For a good understanding of this paper it will be imperative to define what special education is, here we shall define special education as a form of education and social service that is offered by schools to students or individuals with special educational needs and are in the age range of three to twenty one years (Chen, 2008). The purpose of designing programs for students with special educational needs is to ensure that a conducive atmosphere is provided for the students, to enable them learn effectively. Some of the disabilities that qualify an individual for special education are either physical or medical.

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Developed nations in the past couple of decades, have been making serious efforts towards encouraging mainstream schools in accepting students with special educational needs, Instead of separating them in the so called special schools where they are isolated from the general public or their peers. These ideal has been referred to many in various ways, some refer to it as integration, others call it mainstreaming, and in the recent years, inclusion has been employed. A critical look at the terms integration and that of mainstreaming , one will observe that no difference exist between the two terms, what they mean is that the students with learning problems or special educational needs will be placed in mainstream schools without altering the teaching condition to suit their special needs. The students with special educational needs are usually given additional attention to enable them learn, the ideal behind the concept is to make the students blend in to the program, and not designing the program such that it will suit the students. Inclusion, is a more thorough approach, it entails that; the curriculum used in teaching, the adopted teaching methods, and the resources are modified in such a manner that irrespective of the student’s disability, they can partake in the main stream education effectively.

Presently, schools in Hong Kong are also moving in this direction of integration and inclusive education. Studies in recent times show that the performance of students with special needs in mainstream schools is dependent to a great extent upon the positive approach of the teachers. This study examined the approach of teachers towards inclusive education in a characteristic secondary school in Hong Kong.

Findings are suggestive that, the attitudes of most of the teachers towards inclusive educational policies are not favorable. While most thought that every child has the right to be educated in a regular class room, some doubted the workability of such placements. The concern of most of the teachers was hinged on the practicability of including students whose problems were behavioral, and those with severe hearing problems and other complicated health issues. Positive attitudes were observed when it came to the integration of those students whose disabilities were physical and those with mild health implications or conditions. Comparing teachers who had training in handling students with special needs with those who had not, those who had the training were more disposed towards the ideal. Cigman (2007) posits that,” it is unwise at this time to expect mainstream schools in Hong Kong to be able to meet these special needs fully, particularly when class sizes are large and teachers appear to lack the necessary expertise or motivation for implementing appropriate in class remedial intervention”.

As it is obtainable in other countries of the world, the attitude of teachers are diverse towards students with special needs. The type and the degree to which the students with special educational needs are affected is a determinant factor in the teacher’s response. If teachers are expected to change in their attitudes then, workable techniques as regards the development strategies of the teaching staff in other countries will have to be adopted in Hong Kong schools. Also of great importance will be the adoption of education commission recommendations, which focuses on making the teachers from special schools resources in the main stream schools. Visits aimed at observing the practices in mainstream schools will also help in a great deal, and finally the organization of workshops and exchange programs between mainstream schools and special schools will be great moves towards successful implementation of integration and inclusion program in this schools.

Special Educational Needs Policies

Most of the schools in Hong Kong seem to have similar policies on integration. What they do is to set up committees, whose functions are to identify areas students with special educational needs need attention; and to deploy resources made available by the Education Bureau for main stream schools to meet such needs. In some instances, after school classes are organized for students with special educational needs. In TWGHs Yau Tze Tin Memorial College, it was observed that guidelines were not clearly stated as to whether the teachers should use academic materials that are less challenging to cater for the disability demands of the students who have special needs. In other schools that were considered, students with special needs were separated from the others during language classes. Both policies have their unique merits, but a critical look at the methods of implementation , it will be observed that hardly will any of the two produce result that will impact greatly on the lives of those students who have special educational needs. For instance in the case of TWGHs Yau Tze Tin Memorial College where they are no laid down guidelines for the teachers to follow, the students are left in the hands of the teacher. If the teacher in question is the type that has a positive attitude towards integration of students with special needs in mainstream schools, then the students in his class are likely to receive the best from him. But the reverse will be the case if students who have special educational needs are placed in the class of a teacher whose disposition towards integration is negative the students will get virtually nothing. What the government in conjunction with the schools should do, if they want the policies of integration and inclusion to be implemented effectively is to ensure that strict guidelines are clearly stated and every teacher should be made to understand the repercussion of not implementing it as stated. Making the academic work less challenging on the other hand for the students who have special needs is to indirectly say these students are half human or better still they reason below average. Suffice it to say that all humans are not equal, but every human being has the potential of doing virtually everything that can be done by man, what the policy makers need to do is to design the specific task to suit the needs of such an individual or student, and provide the right atmosphere for learning. Designing the curriculum to suit the needs of the diversity of the students will surely be the best for all concerned. In another vain the students who have this special needs are humans , making the learning process less challenging in the name of catering for their needs will sure make them feel dehumanized and there is no way this students will be comfortable with such an arrangement. The direct implication of their emotional feeling is that such a move will hardly yield any result.

Teachers’ Role in Guidance in Hong Kong Schools

In most of the schools, it was observed that because of the improper or lack of training of the teachers, instead of redesigning the curriculum to fit the needs of the students with special need, they tend to lower the standards for them. The direct implication of this is that the students will graduate half baked as compared to their counterparts. The development of skills in guidance and cancelling by teachers in mainstream schools will facilitate a change of attitude toward students with special needs; this will go a long way in enhancing the integration and inclusion policies. Some schools in Hong Kong, invest resources in the employment of guidance personnel, the staff are meant to offer specific support services to those who have various learning and emotional problems. In some other schools, some staff are trained specially and tagged guidance teachers, the functions of the guidance teachers is to plan, design and develop guidance programs and offer guidance services. But for the successful implementation of integration programs in main stream schools, all the teachers to a great extent need to partake in the guidance work. This approach of getting the whole school involved will create a supportive atmosphere for the easy implementation of integration and inclusion policies.

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Even though every teacher is expected to have some form of guidance training, it seems many of the teachers in the schools under study had little or no training at all. As compensation courses and seminars are been organized by the educational department to make up for the deficiencies. Higher institutions of learning also run programs which if tapped into will develop the guidance and counseling skills of the teachers (Hua, 2009).

If any relationship , thus exist at all between the attitudes of teachers towards integration and their training or the absence of skills in guidance, then it is very achievable to tackle it in Hong Kong schools. Some teachers have indeed undergone training in the area of the principles of guidance and some are yet to, a possibility thus exist to be able to evaluate the resultant effect such education has on those teachers that have a positive disposition towards integration and its derivable benefits. Until the teachers in mainstream schools acquire the desired education the general attitude of the teachers towards integration of students with special educational needs will remain the same.

Curriculum and Students Diversity: Demands on Teachers

For the successful implementation of integration and inclusion, the method adopted by the teachers in teaching and the curriculum will be altered to to contain the diversity of the students that will be handled in an average classroom. Certain reforms have been proposed by the Educational commission in this direction, one of such is that all students , including those with special needs will stand to profit from a move towards teaching techniques that are students centered and a flexibility in the planning and the design of the curriculum. If this is successfully implemented, students who have special needs will now be entitled to education that will be directed towards their abilities. This also will greatly be dependent on the teachers. Vianne (2009) observed that “policies of inclusion rely on teachers’ acceptance of them, belief in their worth, and an ability to cope”. In other words, the possibility and effectiveness of integration and inclusion policies in Hong Kong secondary schools will be determined very much by teachers’ viewpoints.

Academic Self-concept of SEN Students

Generally it was observed that the academic self concept of students with special educational needs was on the low side. This is an indication that a lot still has to be done for the policy of inclusion to be a reality. The result were not surprising, since they are no clear cut guidelines and monitoring activities to assess the degree of adherence to the execution of the policy of integration and inclusion. A lot of reasons can be attributed for the low self concept of students with special educational needs, one of such is the feeling of relegation. Separating this students and keeping them in a separate class will surely make them feel segregated, the questions on their minds will be why are we kept away from the other students? Why are we treated differently? You will notice generally that people who have special needs hate to be treated as such; they want to feel like every other human being, treating them with care makes them feel intimidated (Gao, Cao, and Cai, 2004). Let’s look at a simple case of someone with speech inhibition, when conversing with such an individual, whenever you try to complete a statement for them it makes them feel irritated and you will notice that they always go ahead and complete whatever they want to say. This is to tell you that they want you to treat them like normal human and not to be sympathized with. Live them in the same class, lower the demand on them or the standard you are still going to get the same result of low self concept, the reason being that they will not be comfortable with the special attention that will be given to them and often haven taken note of what was delivered to their colleague they ask certain questions within themselves which never allow them benefit from the good intentions the teachers and the designers of such a policy might intend (Hannel, 2007). A method of inclusive education I will suggest will be that of inclusion and not segregation nick named integration. What I mean by this is that as the government and schools are moving gradually towards inclusive education, the students who have special educational needs should be made to study in groups with those who don’t have these needs. This will be achieved through the orientation of the whole school, students inclusive on the need to live together as one. Secondly during classes the teachers should understand that not every student in the class is reasoning at the same level and therefore he should endure to carry the whole class along, instead of holding after school classes for the students who have special educational needs, the teachers should give the students assignments in groups. That is to say the students who have special educational needs should be mixed with those who don’t have challenges, and the teacher should encourage every student to participate (Chan, 1998). Doing this will give the students who have challenges a feeling of belonging and they will want to contribute to assignment sessions. Subsequently it will be observed that the students with special needs after contributing in small groups will want to partake in class discussion, a result of which will be a change in their self concept. They will believe more in themselves and this will be reflected in their academic performance. Finally For an effective implementation of diversity in education, policy makers will have to deliberate attempts to respond to the needs of students with disability. Priority is placed by most schools on knowledge acquisition, but hardly do they make provisions for those things that are meant to advance socio -affective growth of students with special educational needs. This also needs to be critically looked into to succeed in the implementation of integration and inclusion policy in mainstream schools.

A Support Model for Inclusion Approach Sustainability

This model offers some of the ways of facing the challenges encountered in the process of attempting the implementation of integration and inclusion, and enabling the partnership of both the teachers and the parents or community in making sure that the policies succeeds. Cigman (2007) suggested that, “If we are going to establish inclusive school communities, the we need an appropriate support model that will allow us to implement inclusive practices and, most importantly, one that would allow us to sustain them”.

A workable model will have to be based on collaborative efforts and on an approach that will be hinged on consultation, which will guarantee that both the government and schools work collectively in deciding on integration challenges.


A lot of hurdles still lie ahead of the government of Hong Kong as it continues to preach integration and inclusion. I do not believe this will last to impact to a great extent on educational decisions, regarding the planning and development of mainstream schools for years to come. As the government is making moves towards integration and inclusion, it will be reasonable for all concerned to reflect on the changes already in the pipeline in Hong Kong to assist in the evaluation of this shift in education and to give a thought to these questions. (a) Are we making available opportunities for all our children to acquire education? (b) Are support structures made available? (c) Are resources made available? Etc. If mainstream schools are allowed to make the necessary alterations to enhance their move towards integration and it sustainability, then certain structures will need to be put in place. Taking a giant step in education such as that of implementing integration policies in schools will require foundations that are clearly and properly articulated before mainstream schools in Hong Kong will commit with a clear mind to the essential alterations that need to be made. An evaluation of the existing situation in the schools in Hong Kong indicates that, the model for maintaining the approach to integration that require the whole school as it is been suggested here, will provide the platform for a reasonable take off. This approach is based on certain fundamentals. Issues that are focus on the students are based on the premise that, all students are capable of succeeding when favorable conditions are put in place. in addition, To achieve the dream of inclusive educational program, Systematic structures and support structures that are school based need to be properly conceived with the right vision and a curriculum designed such that the teacher can use it to meet the needs of a variety of students. Even though the current efforts that are been made have yielded no serious result to ride home with, the most important thing is that awareness is being created and people are getting better educated and seen more reason while students who have special educational needs should be enrolled into mainstream schools. It is my believe that as we learn from the mistakes of the past, corrections will be made which will better position the policy of integration and inclusion on the path of success.

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Cigman, R. (2007). Included or excluded? The challenge of the mainstream for some SEN children. New York: Routledge.

Chan, D. W. (1998). Education reform and special education in Hong Kong. In D. W. Chan (Ed.), Helping students with learning difficulties (pp. 3–19). Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.

Chen, B. (2006). Cultural differences in smiling. US-China Foreign Language, 4(7), 15–18.

Deng, M. (2004a). Reflection on the continuum of special education services, inclusive Education and Chinese special education development model. Chinese Journal of Special Education, 4, 1–7. (In Chinese).

Department of Education of Luotian County (1999). Theory and practice of integrated education in Luotian County. Department of Education of Luotian County, Unpublished document.

Education, Cambridge. (2004). Training material for special educational needs. Gansu: Gansu People’s publishing House.

Gao, X. G., Cao, Z. Q., & Cai, M. S. (2004). Construction and operation of support system for children with special educational needs in general classrooms. Chinese Journal of Special Education, 4, 1–4. (in Chinese).

Hannell, G. (2007). The teacher’s guide to intervention and inclusive education: 1000+ Strategies to help all students succeed. Minnetonka, MN: Peytral Publications.

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Hua, G. D. (2001). An experimental study on mathematics teaching for learning in Regular Classrooms programs. In S. S. Liu (Ed.), Theory and practice for integrated education in China. Wuhan: Wuhan Publishing Company. (In Chinese).

Vianne, M. A. (2009). Inclusive education across cultures: crossing boundaries, sharing Ideas. Los Angeles: Sage.

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