Following is a question by the Hon Charles Peter Mok and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (December 10):
When meeting with deputations earlier, I and several other Legislative Council Members learned that children with special educational needs (SEN) and their parents had encountered many difficulties, including the excessively long waiting time for subsidised SEN assessment services (assessment services) and rehabilitation services. In order not to delay the learning progress of their children, quite a number of parents have turned to the private sector for such assessment and rehabilitation services, but the high charges for such services are hardly affordable to grass-roots families. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has considered increasing the amounts of various allowances for SEN children and the number of places under Individual Education Plans, and stepping up assistance for SEN children in learning the application of information technology; if it has, of the details;
(2) of the names of those subvented organisations, apart from public bodies, currently providing assessment services for children; the respective numbers of children aged zero to two, three to five, six to eight as well as nine to 11 for whom relevant assessments were conducted by public and subvented organisations in the past three years, as well as the respective average waiting time for the children concerned to receive such services; whether it has plans to recruit additional medical professionals to strengthen the assessment services; if it has such plans, of the details; whether it has considered providing training for the staff of schools and subvented organisations to enhance their ability in identifying and assisting SEN children; if it has considered, of the details; and
(3) whether it knows how many children on the waiting list for subsidised assessment services received assessment services from the private sector in the past three years; whether it has considered providing subsidies for grass-roots families using private assessment services; if it has considered, of the details?
The question raised by the Hon Charles Peter Mok is related to the policy ambits of the Education Bureau, Labour and Welfare Bureau and Food and Health Bureau. After consulting the other two Bureaux, I now answer the three parts of the question raised as follows:
(1) For pre-school services, the Community Care Fund launched a programme in December 2011 to provide a training subsidy to children in need of rehabilitation services from low-income families, so as to enable them to receive timely pre-school rehabilitation services provided by non-governmental organisations while waiting for subvented services. Considering the effectiveness of the programme, the Government has regularised the programme starting from October this year, and increased the level of subsidy. A maximum subsidy of $3,867 per month is provided to each eligible child who is waitlisting for Special Child Care Centre or Residential Special Child Care Centre. A maximum subsidy of $2,763 per month is provided to each eligible child who is waitlisting for Early Education and Training Centre or Integrated Programme for Disabled Children in Kindergarten-cum-Child Care Centre.
As for secondary and primary schools, the Education Bureau (EDB) has been providing public sector schools with additional resources, professional support and teacher training to help them cater for the students with special educational need (SEN). Starting from the 2013/14 school year, we have increased the ceiling of the Learning Support Grant (LSG) for each school to $1.5 million per annum, and increased the grant rates of the LSG by 30% in the 2014/15 school year.
Currently, schools have to draw up individual education plans (IEP) for each student with persistent and severe learning difficulties, and regularly review their progress for appropriate adjustment of the level of support. As such, the number of students receiving support through IEP in schools may change according to the changing needs of the students. The EDB will not and does not consider it necessary to set the number of places under IEP.
From the 2008/09 school year, the EDB has increased the provision and relaxed the usage of the Composite Information Technology Grant. Schools can deploy the resources as appropriate to meet their operational needs, such as upgrading and replacement of school’s information technology (IT) facilities, purchase of digital resource materials for learning and teaching, hire of technical support services, etc.
In January 2014, the EDB launched the Support Scheme on e-Learning in Schools to enhance the IT infrastructure of 100 schools. These schools will have WiFi access in all classrooms and acquire sufficient mobile computing devices for using e-textbooks and e-learning resources. EDB will consider extending the Scheme through IT in education 4 to the remaining public sector schools. The special schools also benefit from the above Scheme.
(2) The Government has all along been committed to providing early identification and assessment of children with developmental disorders through the collaborated efforts of various Government departments, including the Department of Health (DH), Hospital Authority, Social Welfare Department (SWD) and EDB. Efforts have been made to refer and arrange these children to receive appropriate services.
The DH, EDB and SWD jointly produced in 2008 the “Pre-primary Children Development and Behaviour Management – Teacher Resource Kit”, which was distributed to all pre-primary institutions in Hong Kong, with a view to helping the teachers identify children in need of assessment and treatment, and to make referrals as soon as possible. The DH does not subsidise any organisation for providing assessment services to children.
In the past three years, the number of new cases referred to the Child Assessment Service under the DH, which amount to about 8 500 to 8 800 cases per year, has been steady as a whole. The detailed figures are contained in the Annex.
In the above period, nearly all new cases were seen within three weeks. Assessments for nearly 90% of newly registered cases were completed within six months. The actual time for assessment depends on the complexity of individual cases. The DH will closely monitor the demand for service and arrange redeployment of resources as appropriate.
In primary schools, currently all public sector primary schools in Hong Kong implement the Early Identification and Intervention of Learning Difficulties Programme for Primary One Pupils according to the guidelines issued by the EDB. Schools will arrange for early intervention for the students identified with learning difficulties. Students who still have obvious or persistent learning difficulties after receiving the intervention will be referred to educational psychologists (EPs) or medical professionals for assessment and follow up.
In the past two years, about 80% of the cases referred to the EPs were assessed within two months and about 90% of them were assessed within five months. The remaining cases with a longer waiting time for assessment were due to some specific circumstances, such as cases where parents requested to defer the assessment, or the assessment had to be held up pending the students’ medical treatment.
To enhance the professional capacity of school teachers in identifying and supporting students with SEN, starting from the 2007/08 school year, the EDB has launched in-service teacher training courses on catering for students with SEN pitched at basic, advance and thematic level and set targets. The EDB also provides training courses for school heads, school management and teaching assistants. Moreover, teacher education institutions have included modules on special education and support for students with diverse learning needs in their pre-service teacher training programmes to enhance prospective teachers’ knowledge in this area.
(3) As regards the number of children on the waiting list for subsidised assessment services who received assessment services from the private sector, the DH does not have statistics in this respect.
Ends/Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Issued at HKT 12:33