LCQ14: taking care of children's learning diversity
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     Following is a question by the Hon Starry Lee Wai-king and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (March 3, 2010):

Question:

     Focusing on the situation of special pre-primary education (learner diversity education) in Hong Kong, a political party invited academics to conduct a questionnaire survey with kindergarten teachers in 2009.  The outcome indicated that there might be as high as 70% of the kindergartens in Hong Kong which had children with various types of special needs and about 50% of the teachers surveyed considered that there might be as many as 10 children or more with learner diversity needs (children with learner diversity) in their school, reflecting the keen demand for special pre-primary education.  The survey also found that recognition and acceptance of the teaching staff towards children with learner diversity were merely of medium level, which reflected that the actual number of children with learner diversity was larger than that indicated in the survey; and parents in Hong Kong generally knew very little about children with learner diversity, which warrants concern.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the current number of school children in Hong Kong with problems of learner diversity;

(b) in order to facilitate early identification of and assist children with learner diversity so as to reduce their difficulties in learning at primary levels, whether the authorities will review the present practice of systematic identification of children with learner diversity needs starting only from the primary levels, including whether they will advance the screening process to pre-primary stage; if they will conduct such a review, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) what support is provided by the authorities at present to kindergarten teachers to assist them in early identification of children with learner diversity problems and in helping such children, including what designs of teaching kits and guidelines on teaching method have been provided; of the basis on which such guidelines were formulated by the authorities, and whether they have assessed if such guidelines are sufficiently specific and adequate, and how they monitor whether the mainstream kindergartens have provided assistance to children with learner diversity and their parents in accordance with such guidelines;

(d) focusing on parents' inadequate awareness of children with learner diversity, and the situation where some parents are aware of their children's difficulties but do not know how to help them, what assistance is provided by the Government at present; and

(e) of the measures/strategies adopted by the Government on public education to make the public understand and accept the situation and needs of children with learner diversity, and provide a positive environment for these children to grow up in?

Reply:

President,

(a) Early identification and early support are the Government's fundamental strategies in taking care of children with special needs.  Through the Developmental Surveillance Scheme, Maternal and Child Health Centres (MCHCs) of the Department of Health (DH) conduct interviews with parents at specific ages of their children and observe the children's development in various aspects.  If necessary, referrals to the Child Assessment Service (CAS) for follow-up and assessment will be arranged.  According to the needs of individual children and the situation of their families, rehabilitation services, as well as services for pre-school disabled children subsidised by the Social Welfare Department (SWD), will be arranged and co-ordinated by CAS, thereby improving their opportunities for admission to ordinary schools and participating in daily life activities and helping their families meet their special needs. Under these support strategies, about 8,900 children had been assessed as needing services for pre-school disabled children as at the end of 2009.  For kindergarten children in general, the speed of their development varies, and differences in their interests and capabilities are normally expected.  Although these children sometimes encounter difficulties in learning, the problems may be transitory.  We believe that it is neither necessary nor desirable to label these children at so early a stage as having special education needs.  Therefore, the Education Bureau (EDB) does not collect the statistics in question from kindergartens. Pre-primary education emphasises the balanced and comprehensive development of children in ethical, intellectual, physical, social and aesthetic aspects.  Kindergartens should set learning objectives in line with the development process and learning needs of children, and design for them a variety of games and learning activities.  Kindergartens should also adjust their learning and teaching strategies and provide suitable guidance and support for their students in the light of their interests and capabilities.  For children showing slower development in individual aspects, most of them are able to gradually develop the capabilities at their own pace through personal growth and development under proper guidance.  Over-emphasising or expecting standard performance in all aspects from all children in early childhood is prone to produce the negative effect of resistance to learning.  Quality pre-primary education should be child-centred.  Under the major premise of understanding and respecting children, we should help them develop their potential and lead them to a healthy life. By developing good habits and interest in learning, children will be well prepared for life-long learning.  For those less capable, we should be reasonable in our demands and expectations so as to give them suitable and enough room to achieve healthy physical and mental development in all aspects.

(b) Part (a) of this reply has explained that the Government has in place a proven mechanism for medical professionals to work in partnership with parents to monitor the development of children from birth to the age of five.  The aim is to identify possible developmental problems and provide pre-school training for children in need.  To further enhance such service, the Comprehensive Child Development Service has been launched to enable pre-primary educators, with the consent of the parents, to directly refer kindergarten children to the MCHCs of their respective districts for initial assessment.  Where necessary, the children will be subsequently referred to the CAS or specialist units for follow-up to ensure that they receive timely intervention and support.  Comprehensive and integrated support is also provided for parents in need.  When these children having been assessed as with special education needs reach the age to go to Primary One, the relevant information on their assessment will be sent to their primary schools, subject to the consent of their parents, so as to arrange for timely and suitable learning support services for them.  Moreover, each year, the EDB operates the Early Identification and Intervention of Learning Difficulties Programme for Primary One Pupils in all public sector primary schools to facilitate early identification and intervention by teachers for Primary One pupils with learning difficulties or language and speech problems.  Those making unsatisfactory progress in learning despite extra help or having severe difficulties will be referred to educational psychologists for assessment.  The existing mechanism works well in facilitating early identification of students with special education needs for timely and appropriate support.

(c) The Guide to the Pre-primary Curriculum (2006) prepared by the EDB provides information on the developmental characteristics of children aged between two to six to enable kindergarten teachers to gain a better understanding of the major development stages of children in physical, cognitive, language, affective and social aspects.  It also gives advice and guidance on how to cater for learner diversity, including how to identify initially children with special needs, seek professional support, make timely referral and formulate strategies to handle learning differences.  Currently, all recognised training courses for kindergarten teachers cover basic knowledge and skills for identifying, catering for and dealing with children with special needs.  Since 2006, the EDB has commissioned tertiary institutions to run "Curriculum Leaders" training programmes to help schools implement quality pre-primary education curriculum effectively and facilitate the development and learning of children.  In addition to helping curriculum leaders handle individual differences in learning and teaching, these programmes also encourage them to formulate appropriate teaching strategies to meet the development needs of children.  In late 2008, the DH, EDB and SWD jointly produced a Pre-primary Children Development and Behaviour Management íV Teacher Resource Kit, consisting of textual and visual information, to familiarise teachers with the operation of the Comprehensive Child Development Service and the referral mechanism, and raise their awareness of common developmental and learning problems of pre-primary children, so as to facilitate early identification and referral of children in need for assessment and treatment.  Furthermore, every year the EDB runs a series of professional development courses on curriculum development for principals and teachers to enhance their awareness and understanding of overall curriculum development and implementation.  Catering for learner diversity has always been one of our concerns.  A crucial component of the quality review is the assessment of the support provided for children and links with parents.  During the quality review inspection to schools, the EDB will examine how a pre-primary education institution caters for learning differences of children and provides opportunities for their healthy development according to their needs and capabilities.

(d) The government departments concerned have been actively promoting parent education and family health services, including setting up parent resource libraries or kiosks in the MCHCs and Child Assessment Centres and regularly organising parenting talks, workshops and training courses to enhance parents' awareness and understanding of child development and, through practical and effective training, empower parents to help their children overcome difficulties.  In the Guide to the Pre-primary Curriculum íV Parent Booklet published in 2007, the EDB has included a table of "children's behaviours that require concern" to give parents a better understanding of how children learn and how they can help in their children's development.  The DH also published a booklet "Understanding Your Child's Development íV For Parents of Preschool Children" in late 2008 to help parents understand the characteristics of child development and seek appropriate assistance when necessary.  The EDB also collaborates with tertiary institutions and professional bodies to improve and develop assessment tools and teaching resources for teachers and other professionals. An example is the project for dyslexic students entitled "READ & WRITE: A Jockey Club Learning Support Network", which is sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.  These efforts have proved to be effective in enhancing the understanding of special education among parents and members of the public and facilitating early identification of students with special education needs by various stakeholders for timely and appropriate support.  Regarding children assessed as having special needs (including specific learning difficulties), the SWD assists their parents to accept and take care of the disabled children and provides parents with services at Parents/Relatives Resource Centres. Through individual counselling, group discussions, community education and other activities, the SWD aims to enable families with disabled members to care for themselves and help each other, and enhance the understanding and acceptance of persons with disabilities by their parents and other family members with a view to providing better care for them.

(e) The Government has been collaborating with different service providers, including the media, schools, non-profit making organisations and tertiary institutions, to enhance the public's understanding of child development and correct myths.  The CAS of the DH also engages parents to participate in self-help groups to share experience on the frustrations and difficulties faced by families with children with special needs. In addition, the Government helps children overcome development difficulties through healthcare, child care, education and other services.  The relevant support services have been mentioned in part (a) of this reply.  The Government will continue to organise public education and publicity activities to promote social inclusion and encourage all sectors of the community to accept people with disabilities, including children with special needs.

Ends/Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Issued at HKT 15:29

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