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Dreams and realities about China's special education

Updated: 2014-10-14 11:10
By Chen Bei (chinadaily.com.cn)

Dreams and realities about China's special education

One of the students appears distracted while waiting for a ceremony, marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Pengcheng Special Educational School in Xuzhou, East China's Jiangsu province, to begin, Sept 18, 2014.[Photo by Chen Bei/chinadaily.com.cn] 

Although greatly improved in recent years, a lack of special education teachers and schools leaves some mentally disabled children left behind.

Luo Jing has been haunted for many years by dreams about her son. The dreams always end in one of two ways.

Pengcheng Special Education School: profile of compassion

Dreams and realities about China's special education

It is a sunny autumn morning in Xuzhou and Doreen Chin-Huang is crossing the former Jiangsu province coal city in a taxi after spending more than seven hours on a train from Beijing.

The former UNESCO officer's destination is Pengcheng Special Education School, the city's only private school for students with intellectual disabilities.

I n one dream, the mother and child are walking through an open field. The son suddenly runs away without a word and finally disappears out of sight before she can catch him.

"I am almost a stranger to him in the dream," Luo said.

For Luo, a 39-year-old screenwriter and millions of parents like her, the reality of raising a special needs child can be as frustrating as her heartbreaking dream.

In 2008, her son, then three years old, was diagnosed with autism – a neurological disorder marked by impaired communication skills and repetitive patterns of behavior, according to health experts.

"My baby seems to have no idea about verbal communication and, when asking for something, he will prefer to use his hands to point to it," said Luo with a sad smile during an interview at Pengcheng Special Education School in Xuzhou city, East China's Jiangsu province.

A 2012 report by China Philanthropy Research Institute found there is an estimated 1.64 million autistic children in China, or one out of every 166. The rate in the US is approximately one in 68, according to 2014 figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The issue of caring for special needs children has been increasingly discussed as China embarks on sweeping educational reforms. By law, all children are entitled to basic education through public and special schools.

Implementing this law for special needs children has been a challenge, a range of experts explained, citing lack of funding, social stigmas and the small number of teachers trained in special education.

In fact, many of the children at Pengcheng School are there because they were turned away from other public and private schools, parents told China Daily Online.

"'Inclusive education' that recognizes and meets the learning needs of all students in all schools should be the main theme running through China's education system in years to come," said Xu Jiacheng, dean of the School of Special Education at Beijing Union University.

The government is working to reach that goal. By the end of 2012, the ratio of China's disabled children accessing compulsory education had reached nearly 72 percent, statistics from the Ministry of Education showed. The figure was 10 percentages higher than in 2008.

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