The parents of over a quarter of Chinese students with disabilities have – at some point – been asked to pull their students out of mainstream schools, a new survey has found.

The survey was released in early March at an event organised by Inclusion China – a non-profit which supports the parents of children with mental disabilities – and international NGO Save the Children.

It found that 27 per cent of the parents of children with disabilities who enrolled in regular schools said that they have previously been asked to withdraw their children. The survey, conducted in conjunction with Beijing Normal University and Beijing Union University, included responses from 2,366 parents across seven locations, including Beijing and Guangzhou.

education china school students
Elementary school classroom in Xinjiang, China. Photo: Flickr/Peter Morgan.

Lack of training

According to state outlet China Daily, the survey found that a lack of trained teachers is a core obstacle to developing inclusive education. It said that 77 per cent of teachers have, or are currently teaching, students with special needs, yet 60 per cent said they have never received training for it. Less than 30 per cent said they have received sporadic training.

The most recent statistics released by the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) in 2014 said that, in 2013, 72.7 per cent of children with disabilities from ages six to 14 received compulsory education, compared with the government’s claim that nearly all children without disabilities receive compulsory education. The government set a goal in 2014 to raise the ratio to 90 per cent and above within three years.

Parallel system 

Currently, China has two parallel systems of education – special education schools where students are segregated according to their disabilities, and mainstream schools for students without disabilities. International standards call for an inclusive education system at all levels, which means that students with disabilities learn alongside students in their local schools and are given support to learn and participate.

A 2013 report from US-based NGO Human Rights Watch found that discrimination against those with disabilities exists at all levels of education in the mainstream system.

“Schools sometimes deny enrollment outright, but they are often more subtle, convincing the parents to take their children out of the schools with a variety of arguments. Schools sometimes place conditions on parents, such as requiring that they accompany their children to and in school every day, before they allow their children to study in the schools,” it said.

In one recent incident in December, parents at an elementary school in Beijing protested with banners against the inclusion of disabled children and pulled their children out of class for three days “for their safety.” They called upon the school to take action over a student whom they claimed had autism and was disrupting the class. They also asked for her to be moved to a different school, according to k618, an official news outlet focused on education.

New rules on education for people with disabilities were passed in January to replace previous regulations from 1994. The government says they will promote inclusive education and prevent discrimination during school admissions, but they are unlikely to substantially change the current environment in which mainstream schools only admit children with physical or mild forms of disabilities and exclude others, New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch said.

Bo Shaoye, a member of China’s top political advisory body and an official at the China Foundation for Disabled Persons, called for “zero rejections” of students with disabilities, according to state newspaper the People’s Daily.

He said that human resources are the key to promoting inclusive education and called for inclusive education training for teachers. He also called upon government’s education departments to increase the role of special education schools in developing the standardised admissions system for students with disabilities, and to combine training for special education teachers and teachers in the mainstream system.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.