Supporting students with special educational needs requires training and experience

Supporting students with special educational needs requires training and experience

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Dr Poon Chung-yee (left) was inspired to begin a career in special needs education by one of his past students.
Photo: The Education University of Hong Kong

Students with visual or hearing disabilities, or other physical or intellectual disabilities need to learn in different ways. Dr Poon Chung-yee, Lecturer in the Department of Special Education and Counselling at The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK), talks about his personal experience with students with special education needs and about the only full-time bachelor’s programme in special education available in Hong Kong. 

“When I was a primary school teacher, I found that some of my students were not learning well in class,” Dr Poon says. “So I went back to school myself to do a Bachelor of Education (Honours) in Special Needs in 2005, when inclusive education was introduced in local schools. I helped pioneer the implementation of the whole school approach into mainstream practice and showed how it catered for diverse learning needs at many schools and universities. However, it was one of my students who influenced me to actually become a special education practitioner.” 

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That student, Oscar, had been diagnosed with autism. His parents, with some initial trepidation, enrolled him in a mainstream school, where Dr Poon was teaching. Although Oscar found the transition difficult at first, Dr Poon’s support and guidance helped him adapt to school life. By applying the strategies he learned from his background in special education, Dr Poon helped Oscar set and follow his own rules, which allowed him to integrate better into mainstream society. 

As the Practicum Coordinator of the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Special Education (BA (SE)) programme, Dr Poon works closely with local special schools and community centres to maximise undergraduates’ exposure to students with special educational needs. In addition to the practicum offered in the programme, students can take part in a Special School Placement Scheme. This gives them direct experience and helps to “build positive attitudes toward students with special educational needs and accept diversity,” according to Dr Poon.

Becoming a special education practitioner requires practical training and experience.
Photo: The Education University of Hong Kong

Another student, Jedidiah, had been diagnosed as dyslexic. A gifted child with an IQ of 140, “Jedi” had difficulty with reading and writing. After meeting the family, Dr Poon suggested that Jedi be assessed for ADHD, which was then confirmed and treated with medication. Before this diagnosis and treatment, Jedi’s ambition had been to work at McDonald’s. Instead, he went on to take pre-university courses in Australia for a year and returned to Hong Kong as a confident young man, who enjoyed reading and had career aspirations to be a researcher after graduation.

“Removing the barriers to learning allows students to flourish,” Dr Poon says. “I teach [at EdUHK] so that others can teach.”

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The BA (SE) is a four-year undergraduate programme, whose aim is to develop skilled practitioners committed to the well-being of individuals with special needs. There is particular emphasis on areas related to education and community empowerment. Holders of an associate degree or higher diploma may also choose to take the programme as senior year entrants.

BA (SE) students gain practical work experience and hands-on training, which prepares them for real-world situations. After completing the programme, they can go on to postgraduate studies. Or they can extend their career horizons to become teaching professionals, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, social workers, job placement specialists, or consultants in the field of inclusive and special education. 

Find out more about the programmes on offer at

Edited by John Cremer


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