With reference to Hong Kong Review of Rehabilitation Programme Plan (1994/95-1998/99) Section 9.1, mentally handicapped children are defined as follows:
Mental handicap (retardation) refers to significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behaviour and manifested during the developmental period. (Grossman V.(Ed.) Classification in Mental Retardation, American Association on Mental Deficiency 1983).
Persons who are mentally handicapped do not develop in childhood as quickly as other children nor attain the full mental capacities of normal adults. The handicap may be slight or severe. In the most severe cases, development does not progress even in adult life beyond the mental capacity of a young child; such severe handicap is much less common than milder degrees of handicap, covering a wide spectrum ranging up to and merging into the ¡¥normal¡¦ (Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped, Department of Health and Social Security, London 1971). Descriptions of the distinctive features of persons with different degrees of mental handicap in accordance to AAMD/DSM-IIIR (Re. Appendix)
2.2.1 Process of Curriculum Development for Mentally Handicapped Children
In Hong Kong, mentally handicapped (MH) children generally go to the following three types of schools: schools for mildly MH children, schools for moderately MH children and schools for severely MH children. The Services Division of the Education Department is responsible for the assessment and placement of these children in the type of schools most suited to their intelligence and learning needs, so that they can develop their potential in an appropriate learning environment.
During the past years, curriculum development for MH children in Hong Kong was undertaken jointly by the Education Department, heads and teachers of schools for MH children and related professionals. A wide range of curriculum outlines, teaching programmes, teachers' handbooks, etc. have been developed for the reference of schools for MH children.
However, curriculum development is a continuous process: what is taught and how it is to be taught are subject to ongoing review. In view of the everchanging needs of society, it is considered necessary that the curriculum for MH children, which includes the aims of the special education curriculum, the curriculum goals, curriculum content, strategies for curriculum implementation, etc. should be reviewed and revised. Some general principles for a broad, balanced curriculum for these children should be formulated and laid down in a guide to provide schools with a general direction for implementation.
2.2.2 Overview of Curriculum Development
The Curriculum Development Council has therefore prepared this Guide to Curriculum For Mentally Handicapped Children to provide schools with a framework of the MH curriculum to help develop the children's potential. Within this framework, the curriculum is subject to adaptations to meet the specific learning needs of individual children.
The curriculum for MH children falls into the following six areas of learning:
(3) Personal and Social Development
(4) Perceptual Motor
(5) Aesthetics and Creativity
(6) Practical Skills
These six areas of learning encompass twelve basic subjects as follows:
(3) Computer Learning
(5) General Studies
(6) Perceptual Motor Training
(7) Physical Education
(9) Art and Craft
(10) Home Economics
(11) Design and Technology
(12) Independent Living Skills
Each of these subjects consists of several modules. Chapter III in the Guide will give a brief description of the combinations and content of the modules in these subjects. A series of twelve syllabuses on the above subjects will be prepared for the reference of schools at a later date. These syllabuses will provide, in practical terms, subject-specific guidelines, including teaching samples, to show how the principles spelt out in the Guide can be put into practice. These twelve syllabuses, together with this Guide to Curriculum for Mentally Handicapped Children, will replace the existing three curriculum guides used with mildly, moderately and severely MH children since 1984.
MH children generally have difficulties in learning and social adjustment. They need educational programmes specially designed to prepare them for living and functioning in their homes, the neighbourhood and the community; to equip them with good work skills and habits and a positive work attitude in preparation for future vocational training. They also need educational programmes to equip them with self-care skills, independent living skills and communication skills so that they can integrate into the community as contributing members.
MH children learn at a slower pace than their peers in mainstream schools. They are likely to experience difficulties in academic subjects requiring abstract thinking and complicated learning strategies. They may have difficulties in language development and motor co-ordination, which may in turn affect their personal and social development. These are areas requiring special attention in designing a curriculum for these children.
The learning characteristics of MH children also have implications on the teaching strategies and approaches. Because of their comparatively short attention span, these children require more structured programmes with tangible targets, interesting to them and related to their daily life experiences. Learning tasks have to be broken down into components so that each component can be learnt in sequence. Thorough practice has to be provided to consolidate the knowledge, skills and attitudes that they have acquired. Besides, these children have difficulties in generalizing acquired information and concepts for use in new situations. They need to be taught how to apply what they have learnt to real life situations.
In fact, the aims of education are basically the same for all children, irrespective of their abilities and learning needs. Therefore, in designing a curriculum for MH children, while their learning characteristics need to be taken into consideration, the general framework of the mainstream curriculum should also be kept in view.
The Target Oriented Curriculum (TOC) is one of the modes of curriculum development presently adopted in Hong Kong. It emphasizes the importance of setting clear learning objectives, on which teaching, learning and assessment can be based; designing learning materials according to learning objectives set; using assessment and records of progress to monitor progress and motivate further learning, etc. In this case, the characteristics of TOC are comparable to those of the MH curriculum. In fact, one could say that the spirit of TOC is embodied in the MH curriculum. The two syllabuses on Chinese Language and Mathematics intended for MH children are being prepared along the same line.
The effective utilization of resources, especially human resources, is another important factor contributing to successful curriculum development and implementation. Current trends in education emphasize the joint involvement of the teaching and specialist staff of the school and parents in curriculum development. This joint involvement would enable the curriculum to be appropriately tailored to meet the abilities and specific learning needs of individual children. The whole-school approach to curriculum development currently adopted in special schools is the manifestation of this spirit of joint involvement.