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Special Education Schools in Shanghai
    2007-09-30 14:55:30     CRIENGLISH.com
At 7:30 am, I arrive at Luwan Special Education School. Thinking I had arrived early, I am surprised to find it is already full of joyful students, who begin the school day by greeting the teacher at the gate.

Chen Jin is the teacher they are greeting.

"Some students come at 7.15 am and some elder students even come at 7. They are only required to be here by eight, but they do come so early."

I'm about to ask further questions, when a mother arrives pushing her son in a wheelchair. A big lad, he is plagued by severe cerebral palsy. But his mother tells me going to school is the highlight of his day.

"We can't tell him we will take him to school after he gets up every morning, or he will be too anxious to have breakfast."

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The class bell at 8 officially marks the beginning of a school day. I walk into the school and begin my exploration.

Located in central Shanghai's Luwan District, the school is by no means a big one. Two four-storey buildings and a small playground make up the entire area. But with an LCD TV set installed in each classroom, and several computers in the back, the school is clearly well equipped.

The first school to offer free education to city children with intellectual disabilities, Luwan Special Education School now has over 170 students, ranging from 6-months to 21 years old. They are troubled with mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, or even multiple intellectual problems.

Like students in other schools, these children have a nine-year compulsory education program. The school also offers home teaching for pre-school kids or those without easy mobility. For top students, an extra three years of vocational training, after grade nine, is arranged.

"Our major goal is to help them get involved in society and to be able to live on their own"

The school's principal for 13 years, He Jindi dreams of watching every one of her students graduate and find a job. But faced with a cruel job market, and a group of kids with IQs lower than 55, the dream remains just a dream.

Teachers are faced with students who not only have low understanding, but poor memory.

"For example, I teach English"

Xu Qun is the English teacher for grade nine and ten.

"They forget very quickly. They might forget what they just have learned within seconds. So I have to teach the same thing over and over again to make sure they have memorized it. Besides, I need to make various vivid Powerpoint presentations, pictures, and videos, to help them understand."

Today, Xu Qun's plan is to teach the class of nine children a few new words and phrases through a little English song.

After the class, I ask to test their spoken English. The teacher recommends one of the best students in the class.

Boy: how are you? I am fine, thank you.

CRI: What's your name?

Boy: Uh What's your name? I am uh Shao Wanjun.

CRI: How old are you?

Boy:

This question beats him. Finally, I repeat it in Chinese, and he tells me he is 20 years old.

Shao Wanjun was transferred here from a secondary school two years ago. He's quite enjoying his life here..

Boy: In here, I can go anywhere. I also make very good friends, like brothers. I am very happy in this school.

This month, the school designs a series of special courses, preparing its children to welcome the upcoming Special Olympic Games, to be held in Shanghai from October 1st to October 11th.

They have learned some background knowledge about the Games and its theme song: "I know I can".

In addition, the boys and girls are busy practicing a ball exercise, in hopes of performing it in sync for the closing ceremony of the Special Olympics.

While I'm talking with the teacher about the ball-exercise performance, a boy walks straight up to me, indicating that he wants to be interviewed. Amazed at his initiative, I start a conversation.

CRI: What's your name?

Boy: Chen Letian. 12 years old.

CRI: Do you like the ball exercise?

Boy: Yes.

CRI: Why?

Boy: Because it is good The closing ceremony is coming on October 11 We will perform ball exercise.

CRI: Do you want to participate in the closing ceremony?

Boy: I want to! If I perform well, I can go there.

I'm told that Chen Letian is an autistic boy and has been at the school for six years. Compared with his usual performance, he does exceptionally well today in this Q&A.

But, more than just participating in the closing ceremony, some students of the school will also compete, particularly in ping pong.

Wei Dong is coaching his students to play ping pong. He says they have 40 to 50 students each year who can compete in various events.

"I tell my children that every game is a chance for us to show up and gain experience. It doesn't matter whether we can win or not. The point is for them to see the world and be happy."

Having worked in the school for 15 years, the coach has already worn out his throat by over-using it. The enthusiastic teacher tells me that when he first started this job after graduation, he only planned to stay for one year.

"Although these students are not clever, they are sincere to teachers. They are na?ve and lovable, which has touched me deeply. Gradually, I realized the significance of the job and stayed."

Although winning is not the primary goal, Wei Dong's team has already won national gold medals several times. And his students love to take part in sports competition.

"The Special Olympics can help me with my studies and fitness. I love sports."

The noon break offers children a period of leisure time. After lunch, some hang out in the playground, some chat in the hallways, and others play computer games quietly in the classroom. But what they most look forward to is the life-skills and social-practice course.

Today is Outing Day for Grade 9.

Walking with students to a supermarket nearby, I start another conversation.

CRI: Do you like the social practice class?

Girl: Yes. I like it very much!

CRI: What will we do in a while?

Girl: We are gonna shopping in a supermarket.

CRI: Where else have you been in this course?

At this moment, many other students come near me and vie to answer my question.

"Once we went out to eat tasty food. We ate many many yummy stuff. And we learned how to pay."

"We also had lamb kebab!"

Soon we arrive at the supermarket.

After some brief instructions, teacher Ding Hong takes students to a shelf of beverages and checks whether they are able to buy a bottle of iced black tea.

Teacher: You may take your favorite brand.

Girl: This one.

Teacher: I see. Then check the price.

Girl: 2.7 yuan.

Teacher: Okay. If you want to buy it, what else do you need to check?

Girl: Preservation period

Before buying something, check the price first and then see whether the product is within its valid period. Now Ding Hong is sure that her students remember what she has said.

The teacher tells me children begin life-skills classes when they are six years old. At that time, they mainly learn how to eat and dress and do some basic household chores. By the time they are in grade seven, they are expected to get in touch with the outside world and meanwhile, learn how to cook.

Thus, they not only acquire the skills to live on their own, but also have made preparations for learning to make desserts in future vocational training.

After three years' vocational training, students are qualified to graduate, having learned how to make 24 different types of both Chinese and western desserts and obtained a certificate of junior pastry chef.

Every year, the school witnesses the graduation of a dozen students. In the following months, 70 percent of them can be employed by some companies or factories in the service sector.

The class bell at 3.15 pm wraps up my day here.

I stand at the gate with Chen Jin and bid goodbye to these lovable children.

At this moment, I hear a voice saying goodbye to me. "Bye, sister reporter," a boy says. A sensation of warmth and happiness rise within me. It's not only that the boy still remembers me after maybe just one class-time's interaction, but also that he is willing to continue that interaction.

Throughout the day, I have been struck by the kids' enthusiasm to express themselves both in class and to an outsider like me, and by their courage and confidence. This spirit has been shaped not only in the school, where a positive and optimistic way of teaching is provided, but also in a social environment with an increasing number of understanding people.

It is a spirit encapsulated in the words of school principal, He Jindi.

"In the past, people looked down on this group of people. Then their attitude shifted to sympathy. Now people are starting to treat them equally. It's a big change. So I feel very happy now."

In Shanghai, there are in total 19 schools like Luwan Special Education School, taking care of over 10,000 city children with intellectual disabilities.
As I part, I look back at the cheerful students, and wish them a brighter future.

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