Local resident Greg Holmes, trying to help a Sai Kung child, has found a distressing lack of school places for special education needs kids. Greg said there are only 287 places for special needs youngsters in all of Hong Kong although the estimated demand is 46,000. He quotes SEN Rights Association, which campaigns for greater support for children who have minor learning difficulties, perhaps caused by attention deficit disorder, autism, asperger’s syndrome or a disturbed upbringing.
The Canadian technology entrepreneur, who is a regular man about town in his black t-shirts, has been legal guardian for six months of an eight-year-old girl we shall call Kitty. “It weighs heavily on my heart,” Greg said, referring to his inability so far to find Kitty the tutoring she needs in maths and English.
“The Government is shirking its responsibility,” Greg said, echoing SEN Rights Association. With billions in reserves and up to $100 million set aside for special needs education, Government sits on its hands. Greg said in seeking a place for Kitty he has spoken to the admissions staff at 10 schools. Each is supposed to provide a few special needs places, but only 119 schools and community centres do so and the total available is just 287. The Education Department’s own estimate was that 6.2 per cent of Hong Kong kids have special education needs. Such cases can have serious consequences: a grandmother was arrested some months ago after the death of her six-year-old grandson, suspected to have a hyperactivity disorder.
SEN Rights Association said the burdens fall hardest on the poor. With little or no Government support, low-income people pay out of their own pockets for tuition for special needs kids, sometimes as much as $800 a session.