Bill Gates and other ed. reformers praise China, Singapore and Korea as having the highest test scores in the world, of course, better than the United States they will tell you.
What they fail to say is that in America, public schools teach everyone—students with disabilities too. Students who come to school with learning disabilities wind up in classrooms with everyone else. Sometimes they get special assistance and sometimes they don’t. Certainly all is not perfect. But the point is, America’s schools do address special education. They have for a long time.
What must be mentioned, is that when a variety of students with different skills are all in one kind of class, it changes the dynamics of how and what is taught. When students are in a homogenous class, where students learn like material, teaching is much easier.
China, or should I say Shanghai (all of China is not tested), does not embrace inclusion. They might do well in raising reading scores of their students, but they do not include students with disabilities. In fact, one in four of their students with special needs are not in school at all. Only those with mild disabilities who can adapt can attend class.
According to Human Rights Watch, in China: “Students with disabilities have repeatedly tried to access mainstream education, but these efforts have largely ended in disappointment. They are turned away from mainstream schools because they ‘may affect other children’ or they ‘can’t learn.’ Even if they are initially admitted, some are later dismissed from the schools after a few months.”
Migrant children have trouble accessing school too. China has what is called a “hukou” system which makes it difficult for migrant families to obtain residency and public services. Think about America which opens its school doors to the influx of students who come from other countries with second languages.
And according to Lara Farrar in a 2014 New York Times report, at the end of 2012 more than 90,000 of China’s students with disabilities had no access to school.
Teachers get little training to work with students with disabilities who do get mainstreamed classes in China. Nor do students in special ed. classes have access to teachers with special training. And while they have invested in special education buildings for some, the disability areas are segregated and so specified many students are turned away.
Someday, perhaps China will open its doors to all students. The indication is that right now they are like we were in this country before laws went into place for special ed. There are signs they might be trying to work on it, and show that they can raise the scores of everyone, but, for now, few students with disabilities are served.
Singapore and Korea might be better with their special education programming. They certainly have special education programs in place, and they do definitely speak of inclusion.
Mr. Gates and all the other school reformers who praise China need to pay attention. All is not what it seems when it comes to China and student success. Or maybe it is just a matter of what the reformers call success.