Supports for Pre-Compulsory School Age Children and Families
Hong Kong has dramatically expanded the preschool sector in the jurisdiction over the last decade, and has prioritized low-income children in this expansion. The government provided vouchers to cover fees in kindergartens, which serve children ages 3 to 6, through the Pre-Primary Education Voucher Scheme from 2007 to 2017. In 2017-18, the Free Quality Kindergarten Education Scheme began providing subsidies on a per-pupil basis to kindergartens, so half-day kindergarten is now tuition-free. Low-income families receive subsidies for extended day programs. Additionally, the government has built kindergarten facilities in public housing to ensure access to these programs.
There are also special supports for young children learning Chinese as a second language. As part of the Free Quality Kindergarten Education Scheme, an additional grant is given to any kindergarten with eight or more non-Chinese speaking students. This grant may be used to hire instructional staff to support students’ language development or for other services, including teacher training or improved communication with families. Professional development in Chinese language instruction is available even in kindergartens that do not enroll enough non-Chinese speaking students to meet the grant threshold, and the EDB plans to continue improving this training. Other areas that the EDB has targeted for improved professional development include working with students with special needs or developmental delays.
Hong Kong also provides wraparound supports for young children with special needs and their families. Currently the Labour and Welfare Bureau Pilot Scheme on On-site Preschool Rehabilitation Services, which will become a permanent program as of 2018-19, offers supports in kindergartens from “multi-disciplinary service teams” including social workers; speech, occupational, and physical therapists; and psychologists. These service teams also work with teachers and parents to guide them in supporting children with special needs. This program may help increase early access to supports, as one concern has been long waiting lists for special needs student support services at designated centers.
Supports for Disadvantaged Populations
Hong Kong also offers supports for disadvantaged students in primary and secondary schools. This funding is provided directly to students, to schools to support programs for these students and their families, and to service providers that operate outside schools.
Government supports for low-income students include the School Textbook Assistance Scheme, which provides funding for textbooks and other school expenses, and the Student Travel Subsidy Scheme, which provides funding for students to take public transportation to school. Schools are also given grants for extracurricular activities and after-school learning and support programs for disadvantaged students. Hong Kong also funds programs to educate parents about the importance of their role in their child’s education, promoting physical well-being and intervening in troubled situations. In addition to the ongoing support measures, the 2018-19 budget includes specific one-time funding commitments. The government will provide grants of HK$2,000 (US$256) directly to economically disadvantaged students to support their learning in the 2018-19 school year. The government will also cover the exam fees for all students taking the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination, the secondary school leaving assessment, in 2019. It is possible that future budgets will extend these commitments if funding is available.
For non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students who are new to Hong Kong, the government funds a six-month full-time initiation program to support the development of both students’ Chinese language and English language and other skills before school enrollment. A 60-hour orientation program provides additional support during the transition to school enrollment. The government provides supplemental funding ranging from about US$100,000-200,000 for schools enrolling 10 or more NCS students. Funding increases with the number of NCS students. In addition, the government operates a Summer Bridging Program, which serves primary school NCS students and their parents, and has designated approximately 20 Chinese Language Learning Support Centers, which provide Chinese classes and other outreach. A parent information package detailing these and other support services for NCS students is available in seven languages in addition to Chinese.
Supports for Struggling Students
In primary schools, students who are struggling academically and those identified as having mild to moderate special needs receive overlapping supports. Struggling students are defined as those who are two or more years behind in at least two of the following three subjects: Chinese, English and mathematics. Identification of struggling students is done by teachers using the Learning Achievement Measurement Kit developed by the EDB. Students with special needs are identified through a separate screening process, often in the first year of primary school. Both groups of students are eligible for supports through Learning Support Grants and the Intensive Remedial Teaching Program, described below.
Primary schools receive Learning Support Grants (LSGs) from the EDB based on the number of struggling students and special needs students enrolled and the level of support each student needs. LSGs fund supports ranging from small group learning and pull-out programs to intensive individualized interventions. These supports are organized into a Three-Tier Intervention Model so that students’ needs can be matched to the appropriate tier of support. The Intensive Remedial Teaching Program (IRTP) provides resources for teachers to support groups of eight to 15 students. These resource teachers may co-teach in the regular classroom or work with students in small group settings. The IRTP typically begins in grade 2 with the goal of helping students make sufficient progress to exit the program by grade 5.
In secondary schools, struggling students are no longer eligible for these supports. Instead, the EDB provides additional teachers to schools with high populations of academically low-achieving students. At this level, low-achieving students are identified during the secondary school admissions process based on their scores on internal school assessments taken in the final two years of primary school. These internal assessment scores are placed on a common scale so they can be compared territory-wide. The number of extra teachers secondary schools receive depends on the number of students they enroll from the bottom 10 percent and bottom third of each cohort. In 2011-12, secondary schools meeting these criteria received between one and seven additional teachers.
The Early Identification and Intervention of Learning Difficulties Programme for Primary One Pupils helps ensure that students with special educational needs are identified early. Through this program, teachers observe the learning and social adjustment of all students for the first few months of primary school and then administer the Observation Checklist for Teachers for any student suspected of having special needs. There are different screening assessments for secondary school teachers, such as the Teachers’ Observation Checklist for Identifying Speech and Language Impaired Students in Secondary Schools. Based on the results of these teacher-administered screening assessments, both primary and secondary students can receive follow-up assessment and diagnosis by educational psychologists or specialists.
Students with special educational needs can receive special education services at one of 61 special schools for children with severe or multiple special needs, or in mainstream schools. Mainstream schools have Special Educational Needs Coordinators to serve as advocates for special needs students. The EDB also operates two Special Education Services Centers and provides resources for teachers and administrators in mainstream schools to help them serve this population. In 2008, Hong Kong developed a professional development framework – including basic, advanced and thematic courses – for teachers to learn more about educating students with special needs. The EDB has set goals for the number of teachers per school completing each of these course types by the end of the 2019-20 school year.
As of 2016-17, about 9 percent of students in the Hong Kong public school system were enrolled in special education. This includes students receiving special education services in mainstream schools (8 percent) and students enrolled in special schools (1 percent).
A special circumstance in Hong Kong involves migrant children from China. Between 2001 and 2012, there was an influx of mainland Chinese mothers to Hong Kong to give birth in order for their children to become Hong Kong permanent residents who are entitled to right of abode in Hong Kong. This has now been stopped by the Hong Kong government, but more than 200,000 children were born in these circumstances. Many of these children now live in Shenzhen, China, across the border, but these children are not registered as Chinese residents, and hence are not entitled to attend public schools in China, but as Hong Kong permanent residents they are permitted to enroll in Hong Kong schools. Thousands of children travel, sometimes for up to five hours daily through border control checkpoints, to attend schools in the outlying regions of Hong Kong. This has led to intense competition between mainland Chinese and Hong Kong students for school places, and contention because local parents feel that Mainland Chinese children, whose parents are not paying Hong Kong taxes, should not be entitled to compete for places with local children. To respond to the influx of cross-border students, which is expected to peak in 2018-19, the Education Bureau has revised the process for allocating primary school places to better accommodate both Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong students and taken steps to temporarily increase the number of available school places. Schools that increase their capacity receive additional resources to support instructional quality. Beginning in September 2017, the Shenzhen Education Bureau has allowed Hong Kong-born children without a mainland Chinese registration to attend publicly funded primary school schools in Shenzhen.