Special Needs Education
Understand what assistance is available for children with special educational needs in specialist schools in Hong Kong, as well as in mainstream public and private school systems...
The Government encourages integration for children with mild and severe disabilities. Government departments provide support for parents of children with disabilities, and all children are regularly assessed in their early years.
Hong Kong's Disability Discrimination Ordinance is an Equal Opportunities Commission, and provides legislation to protect the disabled.
Special Needs Assessment
The Department of Health via its Child Assessment Service (CAS) assesses and identifies those with special educational needs (SEN) and provides the necessary medical evidence to ensure that children are properly catered for with regard to their educational needs. Parents who suspect a child has a learning difficulty or a physical handicap should approach this organisation.
- Child Assessment Service website
- The Questions and Answers section provides useful quick responses to many basic questions such as how to have a child referred for assessment
Health and Social Welfare
The Social Welfare Department (SWD) is responsible for implementing government policy on social welfare and for developing and co-ordinating services. These include rehabilitation services for people with disabilities, and services for young people as they move from education into the workplace.
- See the SWD site for facilities open to children with disabilities
These services take a variety of forms, from day and residential centres for children to providing social workers who counsel and support families in need. Rehabilitation services are available to those with physical and mental disabilities. They include specialist childcare centres and kindergartens, activity centres, and supported employment. This includes a scheme called Sunnyway – on-the-job training for young people with disabilities.
The SWD is supported by various non-government organisations and provides links to some of these organisations on its website. Contact details for various social work organisations can also be found on the SWD website.
The SWD is also the agency responsible for financial benefits for those with disabilities. State benefits in Hong Kong are not particularly generous, and income is taken into consideration. However, parents with disabled children can approach the SWD for help.
- For details of the country's disability allowances and how to qualify: Click here
Wherever possible, attempts will be made to include children with disabilities in mainstream schools. However, this is not always possible, and Hong Kong does have a number of specialist schools.
Since the secondary education reforms in 2009, students with intellectual disabilities are provided with 12 years of education and the curriculum has been adapted and revised to suit the needs all students.
The SWD has some facilities for pre-school children with disabilities; some are fee-paying.
- For details of costs and how to apply: Click here
The Child Development Centre at Matilda International Hospital is a non-profit organisation providing a programme for children from birth to six years of age with learning difficulties. The Centre is partially subsidised by the SWD, and helps a number of children from English-speaking families.
- At: Matilda International Hospital, 41 Mount Kellett Road, The Peak, Hong Kong
Tel: 2849 6138
Fax: 2849 6900
The Watchdog Early Learning and Development Centre provides programmes for special needs children with cerebral palsy, Down's Syndrome, autism and learning difficulties. They can also help prepare children for entry into regular school.
- At: G/F, East Wing, 12 Borrett Road, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: 2521 7364
Fax: 2522 0734
Once children reach schooling age, the Education Bureau (EDB) largely takes over responsibility for educational services.
The Nesbitt Centre provides programmes in English for children aged 16 and over with learning difficulties and disabilities.
- At: LG/F, Sai Ying Pun Community Complex, 2 High Street, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
Tel: 2813 4550
There are currently over 60 special schools, including a school which operates classes across several hospitals. Places are provided in special schools for those with visual and hearing impairment, physical disabilities, adjustment and behavioural problems. Supervision and support for these schools comes from the Education Bureau (EDB) as with mainstream schools.
These special schools are subsidised by the government but are run on a daily basis by various organisations. Some work in conjunction with mainstream schools which admit children with special needs. Where residential care is also provided this may be reimbursed to those in need.
The class size of special schools is between 8 and 20 pupils, depending on the types of children served, and the staffing ratio is 1:5 teachers per class. Additional teaching and specialist staff also work with individuals or small groups.
Parents who wish to apply for a place in one of these schools should visit the Education Bureau (EDB) website to find out more about individual schools and their facilities. Before a place can be awarded, children must undergo an assessment by the Department of Health. Consult the Child Assessment Service for details. They will ask for reports from a psychologist or other medical practitioner.
Admission to special schools is usually made at age six and children are provided with nine years' education. Some students may be allowed to stay longer at school on the basis of their disability/individual needs. If at all possible, students are transferred from special schools to ordinary schools as soon as they no longer require the special facilities and resources.
English-speaking SEN schools
The English Schools Foundation (ESF) has its own facilities for those with special educational needs. The ESF is supported by the government and charges lower fees than other private sector schools. Essentially, the ESF aims to keep as many children as possible within their mainstream schools, by means of specialist staff and educational assistants. Admission is via the standard procedure, so parents should approach their nearest ESF school and discuss their child's requirements.
Those with more severe learning difficulties or physical disabilities are catered for at learning support centres within all ESF primary and secondary schools. Application forms and procedures for all ESF schools are available via the website.
In addition, there is one purpose-built school, the Jockey Club Sarah Roe School, which caters for those with autism and many physical disabilities, but generally has a waiting list, so cases are prioritised. The school has a capacity of 60 students and a teacher to student ratio of 1:7. The school offers a range of therapy services, including speech therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. A bus service is operated courtesy of the school's PTA, which covers much of Hong Kong.
- Children's Institute of Hong Kong is a specialist school for children with autism related disorders
At: 2nd Floor, Kennedy Town Centre, 23 Belcher’s Street, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong
Tel: 2812 2144
Fax: 2812 2145
Education within mainstream schools
Where possible, children are provided with education which meets their needs within a mainstream school. This includes some kindergartens which support the government's "Integrated Programme." It is likely that children with disorders such as dyslexia and ADD would be helped within a mainstream school. However, as Chinese is becoming the main teaching language, many non-Chinese speakers therefore opt for schools run by the ESF.
- For more information see the Social Welfare Department website
Support within mainstream education is essentially provided via additional specialist help which is supported and funded by the EDB.
- For more information see the EDB website
There are a number of private schools in Hong Kong and some offer facilities for those with disabilities. They are all fee-paying. Links to and reviews of many of these schools can be found on:
Special Needs Associations in Hong Kong
- Dyslexia Association (Hong Kong): This association was created to increase awareness of learning difficulties and provide support to families and people affected by dyslexia
- Rainbow Project: Aims to provide education facilities for children with autism and autism-related disorders. The association runs two autism-specific classrooms in mainstream schools
- The Parents' Association of Pre-School Handicapped Children: The association provides support to parents of newborn children with disabilities, and promotes awareness of the lack of pre-school facilities for children with disabilities
- At: Unit 1-2A, G/F, Tsz Fung House, Fung Tak Estate, Diamond Hill, Kowloon
Tel: 2324 6099
Fax: 2352 4991
- At: Unit 1-2A, G/F, Tsz Fung House, Fung Tak Estate, Diamond Hill, Kowloon
- Hong Kong Society for the Blind
- Hong Kong Downs Syndrome Association