Alumni Connect – Alumni Sharing Forum Series
Perspectives on Special Education • Alumna Ho How Sim, Ada

It was only a short walk across the road from the Fanling Station of East Rail Line to HHCKLA Buddhist Po Kwong School.  Standing in front of a special school which takes in 27 classes of six to eighteen-year-old children with mild to moderate learning disabilities, my previous imagination was immediately swept away.  What caught my eyes was the first pleasant surprise of the day: a spacious and beautiful campus, green and environmental, colorful and full of the joys of life.  Apart from fitness area, basketball court, jogging trail which would also be present in any other schools, there was also a traffic safety practice area, the Great Wall of bicycle trail, adventure climbing frames and a small amphitheatre.  Everywhere on campus, there was a glimpse of the school’s ambition and purpose: "Nurturing students with intellectual disability to realize their potential, to enhance their ability in becoming independent and integrating into the mainstream society." The second surprise arrived as I came to realize that the former principal behind the efforts of this modern Buddhist school campus – alumna Ho How Sim, Ada – turned out to be a Christian.  From 1994, Alumna Ho took over the reconstruction project of Po Kwong School in her capacity as principal.  Through the twenty-one years in managing a special school, she was diagnosed with cancer disease twice, but as an unbreakable fighter she is now still serving as the school's advisor.  Alumna Ho expressed her appreciation for a Buddhist sponsoring body’s accommodation in letting a baptized Christian remain in her position as school principal for so many years.

What made Alumna Ho hold on to her thirty years of career in special education was her belief to fall in love with her work.  In this manner, work would naturally turn into fertile soils to provide an endless supply of nutrients for meeting daily challenges and pursuing excellence in performance.  Having worked with her successor and the team closely together for two decades in good team spirit, she was full of confidence in the future of the school after handing over the baton.  She hoped that teachers, parents and students would continue with their never-ending willpower to learn and move ahead, get rid of the mundane vision, not impose self limitations, build up confidence and stimulate their inherent potential to seek a breakthrough in life and the pursuit of excellence.  As for the future of HKIEd, she admitted that social recognition was important.  To her, it was more significant for the Institute to understand its own role – the cradle for so many local teachers of quality, indisputably.

When asked about her advice for students and educators choosing to work for special education, she pointed out with directness the need not to feel proud of their own loving heart, to avoid complacency, explaining that the job required immense patience – not only to be able to identify the needs of students with intellectual disability, but also to be able to seek self-improvement unfailingly.  A loving heart was the entry ticket, perhaps not the energy for a protracted battle.  So if after persisting for years and energy became unsustainable, when there was only pressure left to be faced in life, wisdom and courage would have to be exercised to find a new life elsewhere.

Alumna Ho thought highly of the concept of inclusive education, explaining that it was not as simple as integrating special education into the mainstream education system.  It was important not to judge the so-called alternative education and alternative students with a different set of standards.  It was also important to enhance the educational concept of a progressive society by breaking the limits and re-positioning its concept of education.  When taking into account the individual needs of students and their difference in learning pace, we should realize that they still deserve the same courses for the opportunity of learning the same experiences.  Otherwise, special education would exist more in the "care" component, and less in the "education" aspect; focus must therefore be put on "people", so that students with intellectual disability would also have the right and opportunity to receive quality education.  She pointed out that genuine inclusive education did not come out of pity or social welfare, but that the government and the public should be able to accept the fact that people with different abilities belonged to the same community, living together and learning together.  Understanding this, then we would be able to understand the meaning behind fighting on behalf of students with intellectual disability for the opportunity to extend schooling period so that they could complete senior secondary school.  By the same token, in this affluent community with adequate resources, fighting continues on behalf of students with mild intellectual disability for the Native-speaking English Teacher Scheme (NET), which has been implemented in mainstream schools for nearly twenty years.  Such considerations were based on identification of basic needs and the commitment to equal opportunity in education.  Apart from self management training, there was a concern for the need to broaden their language skills and job opportunities in an international city, thereby achieving the goal of fostering self-reliance.

Only when deep-rooted cultural changes occur in the society, with progress in social civilization and enhancement in personal value and the value of caring for the disabled, will students with intellectual disability become an asset rather than a burden to the society.  Ultimately, the benefit will be great for the society as a whole.

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