Face off: Should the government spend more on creating classrooms or schools for students with disabilities?

Face off: Should the government spend more on creating classrooms or schools for students with disabilities?

Each week, our two teenagers will debate a hot topic. This week ...

Sweetie Lui, 18, Hong Kong Polytechnic University  

Students with disabilities are as entitled to a proper education as any other student in Hong Kong. One may even go as far as to say that education means more to disabled students, as it is their best way to become independent and self-reliant. But does that necessarily mean more should be spent on them? No.

According to government data from last September, there are only about 60 special schools catering to students with visual, hearing, physical or cognitive impairments or disabilities. Even though some complain that financial assistance for students with disabilities is far from enough, Hong Kong lawmakers, as well as non-governmental organisations, have more urgent matters to attend to.

The problem is that many existing special schools are severely understaffed, which adds to the teachers' workloads and affects their performance. But there are alternatives to recruiting more teachers, which require more spending, so special needs students get more attention and help.

Helping special needs students feel included and to learn to the best of their abilities shouldn't be a pricy thing. Teachers can encourage other students to help their disabled classmates when they need it. This will also promote compassion and a better relationship between the two groups of students.

Perhaps a buddy system could be introduced. Not only will this help special needs students get the help they need, it will also ease the stigma surrounding disability. It's also a good chance for their peers to learn about what it takes to care for someone with special needs.

The idea of spending more on creating classrooms or schools for students with disabilities is well-intentioned, but it is just not the right answer - there are many other alternatives that need to be considered.

Daniel Cheng, 19, Macquarie University 

We are all very proud of Hong Kong being an inclusive society with tolerance and diversity, so we should do our utmost to help minorities fit in. But as we try to help them, we must be aware that some people need more assistance or resources than others.

According to a Special Educational Needs (SEN) Report published by the Equal Opportunities Commission, around 40 per cent of mainstream local primary and secondary schools said that they welcome students with special needs. But only 5 per cent of the entire teaching staff in Hong Kong has received proper SEN training. SEN students are generally placed in mainstream schools in line with the Education Bureau's Inclusive Education learning schemes. As a result, it is quite common for students with disabilities to be placed in a normal classroom without adequate support.

It is crucial for schools to have facilities which make life easier for disabled students, such as ramps, escalators, and visual-aid facilities, as well as teachers who are trained in providing special needs education. But, according to the article "Inclusive classroom must embrace children with special education needs" ( SCMP, January 3, 2014), 60 per cent of principals felt that schools do not receive enough government resources to implement inclusive education. They have difficulties upgrading and installing facilities to create a welcoming learning environment for SEN students.

The system is only fair to disabled students if they can receive the same education, in an appropriate manner. Schools are supposed to create chances, not extra challenges. It is obvious that students with disabilities require more facilities than mainstream students, so the government should spend more on creating classrooms or schools for students with disabilities.

If you're interested in debating for Face Off, email Heidi with "Face Off application" in the subject at heidi.yeung@scmp.com

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Should the government spend more on creating classrooms or schools for students with disabilities?


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