Student Support Systems
Hong Kong has a range of programs aimed at providing early childhood education and other support to disadvantaged children. Although all kindergartens in Hong Kong are run privately, the government provides vouchers to cover kindergarten school fees for low-income parents. Additionally, the government has built specific kindergarten facilities in public housing estates to ensure access to these programs; these schools are also eligible for government rent discounts. For students at the primary and secondary levels, the government provides school lunch subsidies as well as a Community Care Fund dedicated to creating cross-boundary learning experiences to expand the perspectives of low-income students. Other programs include after-school learning and support classes, the Committee on Home-School Cooperation, the Health School Policy and crisis management guidance. These programs are dedicated to educating parents about the importance of their role in their child’s education, promoting physical wellbeing and intervening in troubled situations.
For students who are new to Hong Kong, the government funds a six-month full-time initiation program in order to help students integrate into their community and education system before being placed in public schools. For students who do not speak Chinese upon arrival, the government has designated 19 primary and 9 secondary schools as Chinese Language Learning Support Centers. These schools have additional curricular resources and run summer bridge programs and after-school Chinese classes.
Hong Kong also recognizes that some students have special needs. Special education in Hong Kong takes place both in mainstream schools and in special school facilities; additionally, there is one hospital school that operates classes at 18 different hospitals. Physicians and specialists measure the nature of each child’s needs or disabilities, and students are placed into the appropriate program based on expert recommendation and with parental consent. The government provides funding for special school as well as special education programs within mainstream schools; the Education Bureau also provides resources for teachers and administrators in mainstream schools to help them serve this population. As of 2008, there is also a five-year professional development program for teachers interested in learning more about educating students with special needs. Hong Kong considers many types of disability, from learning, emotional or behavioral difficulties to physical impairment, to be “special educational needs.”
The Hong Kong Education Bureau’s (EDB) statistics indicate that as of the 2010-2011 school year, 7,803 of 780,849 students in the Hong Kong school system were classified as “special education” – just under 1%.
Because students are able to attend their school of choice if they meet the admissions requirements, there tends to be a divide between these “choice” schools with pre-selected student bodies and the local schools that students attend because they did not or could not choose another school. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these schools are in low-income areas and often near public housing. The government seeks to redress some of these inequalities through the national curriculum guidelines, standardizing classroom content; teacher networking between schools in order to share best practices; an increase in the overall level of education new teachers need in order to become qualified to teach; placement assistance for students and parents navigating the school choice process; and subsidies for students who cannot afford school fees.