Hong Kong’s education minister has said there is no need for a new law to help special education needs (SEN) students, dismissing a member’s bill proposed by two lawmakers.

At a Legislative Council meeting on Friday, pro-democracy lawmakers Fernando Cheung and Dennis Kwok proposed a bill that would expand the coverage of Hong Kong’s SEN education policy, as well as mandate an “Individual Education Plan” for each SEN student.

“The most important goal for this bill is to give SEN students an equal right to education, and to protect this right using the law,” Kwok said, adding that mainland China and Macau both have laws for special needs education, but Hong Kong does not.

Fernando Cheung and Dennis Kwok. Photo: handout.

Cheung said a dedicated law can help to clarify the duties of the Education Bureau and to affirm the role of professional carers within the school system.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said the government would spend HK$800 million each year to support SEN students, but legislation was not the way to go.

“We believe that there are a lot of areas of improvement – such as teachers’ training and children’s ‘golden period’ for development… but we would rather devote our effort, resources and time to integration education, rather than the legislative process,” Yeung said.

In their bill, Cheung and Kwok suggested that Hong Kong should expand its current SEN categories to include “mental impairment” and “other impairments.” Yeung replied saying that the eight categories currently in use followed international standards, and the idea of expansion required more study.

Education chief Kevin Yeung. File Photo: GovHK.

The lawmakers also called for tailor-made education by way of an “Individual Education Plan.” Yeung replied saying that not every SEN student needs a very detailed study plan, so it may be counterproductive to require schools to implement the idea. It may result in teachers being burdened with paperwork and neglecting their students, he added.

The bill had previously been tabled in 2016, but the government disallowed it claiming that it would increase annual spending by HK$2.5 billion. Basic Law Article 74 forbids lawmakers to propose any bill requiring public expenditure.

At an earlier rally in support of the bill, NGOs representing the deaf community also expressed concern about the Education Bureau being unable to procure hearing aids. Last year, the tender process for hearing aids failed twice due to the lack of bids.

At the Friday meeting, Cheung and Kwok proposed non-binding motions calling on the government to cater to the needs of SEN students, both of which were passed.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.