Special education | Parents left with few options

Parents of children with special needs – particularly English- speaking children – are left with very few options when their children do not meet the acceptance criteria of the inclusive education system, according to Eliana Calderon, president of the Macau Child Development Association.

According to Calderon, there are still a number of cases where children with special needs are rejected after undergoing evaluation at private schools with inclusive education, leaving parents trapped as their only option is to send their children to government schools.

This option remains a challenge as the official languages in public schools are Portuguese and Chinese, forcing these children to learn in a language alien to them.

Speaking to the Times, Calderon admitted that there is still a long way to go for the city’s inclusive education to meet international standards and processes.

“There are many cases [where] after the child [finishes] the evaluation, the parents are trapped because [private] schools still have the right to say no,” explained Calderon. “When a child cannot go to private schools, they must go to government schools [and are] forced to learn in Portuguese and Chinese.”

She shared that she had stopped sending her son to a local private school that provides inclusive education, explaining that children with special needs must pass the same evaluations given to students with no learning difficulties.

For Calderon, it is not enough just to provide equal services and learning opportunities, as children with learning difficulties are in need of more resources and time.

“We’re doing the best we can with the few professional resources that we have. In order to [provide] proper inclusive [education], it’s not just about giving equal opportunities,” she said. “Children with special needs need a bit more in order to be equal.”

According to data provided by the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau, there were nine school units providing special education classes and small special education classes with 142 teaching staff and 821 students in the academic year 2018/2019.

Fifty-three school units were also participating in the inclusive education program, with 251 resource teachers who specially provide learning support to 1,480 students at a 1:5 or 1:6 teacher-to-student ratio.

When the Times asked whether there are private or public schools that reject these students from attending, the bureau revealed that these schools can make admission arrangements according to the actual conditions and ability of the schools.

“Some schools are limited by various objective factors, such as their own ability and school places, so they cannot fully satisfy the demands for admission of all students, including inclusive students,” the bureau admitted.

The education bureau also noted that it has offered the “service of consultation and arrangement of school places” to provide assistance and support related to school admissions for students in need.

The Times also contacted private schools providing inclusive education, including the School of the Nations (SON) and the Macau Anglican College (MAC), inquiring about the percentage of inclusive education students the schools accepted. No official data regarding the rate was provided by press time.

MAC replied, “students need to complete DSEJ assessment procedures in order to be included in the Inclusive Education Unit and receive program support.”

The private school added that all students “have equal opportunities [getting] into MAC provided the school is able to cater to their individualized educational plan.”

SON did not reply by press time.

Meanwhile, another matter that Calderon raised was the banning of the use of technology in these classrooms.

She argued that there are instances where these children need more time and effort to understand teachers’ instructions, noting that taking a photo of what is written on the board helps children with writing difficulties cope.

“Technology is not allowed and I think this not yet in the area of inclusive education,” she said.

Commenting on the support and therapists available for these children, Calderon remarked, “unfortunately, the government is trying to create a new system because they want the resources to be distributed evenly, so what they do is [change so that] many children with two sessions before only have one now and it is not fair.”

As professional speech therapists and occupational therapists are still lacking in the SAR, Calderon implied that it is still challenging to find an effective learning atmosphere for these students.

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