Alumni Connect Alumni Sharing Forum Series
Perspectives on Special Education • Alumnus Chan Kwok Kuen

The Lutheran School for the Deaf which is a short distance away from the Kwai Tsing Theatre, is a Christian special school for Primary one to Secondary six hearing-impaired children.  Former principal – alumnus Chan Kwok Kuen – borrowed the words of the deaf and blind author, Helen Keller, to express the plight of people with hearing impairment, "Blindness separates people and things; deafness separates people from people." He also pointed out that the hearing-impaired were not disabled people, but belonged to a language (spoken language, sign language) minority.  His views on special education echoed that expressed by alumna Ada Ho.

Alumnus Chan published an article in 2005, pointing out that special education in the minds of ordinary people was specifically designed as rehabilitation/education services for the handicapped and disabled, and labeled as "alternative education" or "compensatory education." Ten years on, did this social point of view experience any changes at all? There was progress such as in teacher teaching with the policy stipulating that there was a need to take care of the learning, mental and emotional aspects when dealing with individual special students.  He acknowledged that it was indeed a deepening understanding of teaching needs, but significant changes in the thinking and concept on the part of the society remained to be seen.  Alumnus Chan’s ultimate idealism was: no more classification in terms of education, because education should be for all.  There was no such thing as “special” students, there were only teaching requirements responding to the different needs of individual students.

He mentioned that although the pilot project in inclusive education was formally implemented in 1997, the concept had actually been introduced to Hong Kong as early as the 1970s.  For many years the failure to implement the policy was due to the practical reality in the existence of dozens of special schools.  In the late 1990s, the joint efforts of parents and councillors elicited a turnaround.  Since then for a long period of time, Hong Kong has enjoyed considerable success in this regard.  More than a decade ago, Hong Kong was listed right behind Japan in achievements in the Southeast Asian region, bringing in many countries to come and learn from us.  Then, the pace of progress slowed down.  He felt that there should be a trade-off between special education and inclusive education.  However, implementation would be met with challenges owing to major issues such as school restructuring.  At present, the two modes are running on parallel tracks, and resources for special education have actually been increased.

Alumnus Chan pointed out that in the European and American culture, a pluralistic society has allowed the hearing-impaired community to choose between spoken or sign language as a language to be used in respective sub-community.  As a result, both spoken and sign language sub-communities have existed.  In this regard, the Lutheran School for the Deaf has adopted an open attitude towards education for the hearing-impaired, incorporating spoken language, sign language, written language and hearing training.  This was to ensure that failed efforts in learning spoken language would not have a detrimental effect on the life of young people.  Unfortunately, the local hearing-impaired children, bending under social pressure, policy development and parents’ requirement, were deprived of the right to choose.  They submitted to the reality of having to learn the spoken language in order to fit into the mainstream society.  Although recognition of sign language was enhanced and opportunities to communicate in sign language were also increased, it was still not enough to bring about changes in the overall education policy.  And even though resources such as the dictionary of sign language were made available, sign language training and service was considered totally inadequate.  He also pointed out that among the visually-impaired community, celebrities (such as Chong Chan Yau) were able to voice out for the community, but unfortunately there was a lack of such personality in the hearing-impaired community to fight for their interests.  However, considering the fact that there were more than 9,000 hearing-impaired people who used sign language to communicate, this reality was worthy of attention and discussion as a social issue.

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