Developmental Disabilities in China: Part 10

This is a continued feature multi-part blog post written by our Executive Director, Alanna Hendren. Alanna will be blogging about her recent experience flying off to China as the leader of the People-to-People Psychiatric Services and Developmental Disabilities Delegation. Every Tuesday and Friday, we will be posting about her journey in China, the developmental services offered there, and the people there. To read part 9, click here.

In the afternoon us delegates went to the Peizhi Special School of Lingchuan County and met with Zhu Benzhi, Principal, Wen Shuanling, Vice Principal and Xiong Ying, Vice Principal. The Peizhi School was established in August 2000 for children with developmental disabilities between the ages of 6 and 18. 80% of their students come from rural areas.

The school has 6 classrooms, 4 offices and 4 dormitories. Presently, there are 4 classes of 47 students, 16 of whom live-in, and 12 teachers. It is a ‘training’ school. The goal is to teach the students self-confidence, self-respect, self-reliance, independence and dignity using a developmental approach. The school is across the basketball court from another much larger school that has 1,000 students, aged 6 to 18. Special schools are incorporated into China’s 9-year compulsory education system. They provide handiwork lessons, cooking lessons, gymnastics, painting and exercise. The curriculum also includes math, music, fine arts, Chinese, rehabilitation, life skills and developmental programs. One craft the students have mastered is painting beautiful plates with a unique technique in traditional Chinese patterns.

As with all day programs and schools that we visited, the Special Olympics were a core component of the school’s culture. They emphasize physical activities and showed us several student trophies on display. In the 2002 China Paralympics, 2 students from the school were on the China swim team and won 3 gold and 2 silver medals. The trophies additionally symbolized the efforts of teachers, volunteers and the community, who all worked hard for the students’ success.

Enrollment criteria for the school is based on Guilin Hospital 181 IQ tests. No one is refused admission. Children with mild disabilities are integrated into typical classes. There is no charge for general or special education. Since the play areas are shared with the typical school, children interact during playtimes. All schools also operate summer programs for all kids and these are integrated. The typical and special needs schools also share staff when necessary. Before enrollment, parents present all medical conditions to the school physicians, who then train teachers how to best deal with the child and ensure maximum physical safety and development.

Students were divided into 3 ‘teams’, each with different academic and training objectives. Students with behavioral challenges have one-to-one teachers. In general, school activities are very structured. Although the school was the best in Guilin, they hoped to become more sophisticated like those in Shanghai and Beijing that have special classes for those with autism, Down’s Syndrome and so on. Teachers have general degrees but learn about special needs on the job or through mentoring. They also use university volunteers to help teach communication and social skills. Schools in China are organized and scheduled based on the reality that women work. Classes start at 8:30 and go to 11:30, running every 40 minutes, then there is a lunch and nap break until 2:30, when classes resume until 5 p.m., when mothers line up to pick up their children on their way home from work on foot, by scooter, on bikes and, more rarely with wagons all covered with plastic in the tropical rain.

During the break teachers make sure all students eat, feed those who cannot feed themselves, and lay the children down on mats on the floor, very similar to our toddlers in pre-school. The naps are a great idea, since the children wake up more rested and prepared to learn. Many students live at the school from Monday through Friday, but the parents and school speak regularly. After they graduate, students are referred to a vocational or trade schools if they are capable, or to the China Disabled Federation, who will in turn refer to a rehabilitation center in their area.

There has not been any turnover in teachers at the school since it opened in 2000 because the teachers were selected based on their “love” for special needs people and because their jobs come with an “Iron Rice Bowl”, meaning job security, relatively good wages and benefits. As in Canada, the government funds all education, but the funding is limited so, similar to schools in B.C., they fundraise to buy equipment. As we said good-bye, we presented gifts from all us delegates in addition to a couple of big boxes of P.E. equipment donated by People-to-People in recognition of China’s National Children’s Day. Children’s Day offers kids opportunities to participate in concerts, festivals and be honored by their communities.

Job security for university graduates used to be lifelong, but there are no guarantees any longer. The old days of vicious competition for university entry appear to have become less stressful. While in the past only 4% of high school graduates went on to post-secondary education, today this has increased to 70%. The increase is due to the single-child policy and a rapidly developing advanced education system. The universally improved education of the bulk of the young Chinese population will continue to drive innovation and productivity in the “New China”.

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