It has been a month since our last day at HSSS. It has provided ample time for retrospection and thus, this blog post was made.
Albeit a misrepresentation of all kids, it is heartening to see the community that had formed at Hu Shu Special School, with themes that can form the bedrock of a utopian place, if not for the fact that the nature of formation for such a community was for the precise fact that the world we live in now wants to shun them.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons that I can see why a special school exists:
-For the sake of efficiency of the public education system, such that the classes can follow the pace of a ‘normal’ student, instead of tailoring to the vast discrepancies of learning pace of the special needs students.
-For logistics. In a special school, special arrangements or facilities are required. For example, in HSSS, there is a physiotherapy room for those with muscular or movement issues like muscular dystrophy. Building and maintaining special facilities would tax the funds of a normal school if only a portion of its students require such facilities.
-For the safety of the special needs students, lest they be bullied by other kids for being different. This would in turn cause them to form a negative outlook on life, especially during their formative years, which will then have a lasting effect on their lives. Of course, they will eventually have to be put out into the real world, but hopefully by then, they would have had transitioned out of being a kid and have become more mature and accepting.
-For the growth of the ‘normal’ kids. Linked to the above point, if the school had both special and ‘normal’ kids, the latter may feel that they are better/smarter/more able than the special kids. This is a precursor to a superiority complex or arrogance that may develop.
-On a positive side, by grouping the special needs children together, they know that they are not alone in this world, that there are others that are like them.
-Special employment. When employing workers or teachers, they are specially selected/chose the job knowing the nature of its special requirements, and being flexible to the varied issues of different children. Trust me, it is not for the faint hearted. On one occasion, one of the students attempted suicide just because his classmate did not allow him to stand in line.
So, special schools were formed. Nonetheless, what we experienced in HSSS was something very different. For starters, their curriculum had less emphasis on grades. If the student got it, then bravo. If not, it was still fine and no one was going to berate you on not achieving your As. Fortunately, this unexpectedly formed learning beyond a structured system. In part, this is how I had learnt and am still learning:through curiousity, rather than having information shoved down your throat. Whilst teaching them simple English words, they were easily distracted by our teaching tools (the 50+inch smartTV in their classes we used to search for images/videos). On hindsight, I realised that instead of being a distraction, this was part of their learning. Much too often in the system in which we live now, distractions in class will cost us (our grades, or a scolding by a teacher) and thus we will try to avoid them unless it serves another justifiable reason (maybe texting a girl that will someday become your wife?). In this aspect, we may be attaining more knowledge, but they may very well be learning about life itself, albeit at a slower pace.
For a very long time, I have been interested in understanding how a child thinks. Many people would call them ‘innocent’. The reason for such a label is because they have had little to no influence from the outside world (which includes their daily experiences, the media and societal expectations), that would mar or shape the way in which they think. The nature of such an institution creates a closed environment-not perfect, but good enough-for the children to bask in their innocence and understand the world plenarily. How ironic then, that they require volunteers but the volunteers themselves bring with them a part of the outside world which will inadvertently taint the innocence of the kid, following which, their ‘guided’ understanding of the world.
To instill a sense of responsibility and ownership, the teachers appointed the more sensible/older ones to assist them in duties. During the 10 minute break between classes, one of my students would walk out with a file in hand. Whilst the rest were playing around, walking to other classes to talk to their friends, he was taking attendance for a few classes at once. When he returned, he appeared slightly spent physically from the labours of the stairs, but that did nothing to diminish his enthusiasm for learning. That is how a responsibility should be taken; it should not feel like a chore.
Because of the nature of their special needs, students actually take the initiative to assist each other because they do not view others as a liability, but rather, as a friend in need of assistance. This is heartening to say the least, because even if they themselves require special attention, they still look out for others. This serves as encouragement and akin to what I would imagine in an ideal society, devoid of selfishness.
It seems then, although they had less, they had more.
Auspicium Melioris Aevi
and therefore to make it a reality,
A Better World By Design