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Dr. Vicki Reed Journeys to China to Lend Advice, Expertise
By Sydney Palese
At the 2013 Guangzhou International Symposium of Special Education in Guangzhou, China, Dr. Vicki Reed, professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at JMU, shared important information about students with disabilities. Dr. Reed spoke with teachers who, prior to the conference, received minimal training on how to properly support children with special education needs.
By participating as a visiting expert at the symposium, Dr. Reed was afforded the opportunity to gain a firsthand look at the state of speech-language pathology and special education in China.
“The teachers, like most teachers elsewhere, are committed to trying to help all of their students, including those with disabilities, but experience frustration because of their limited preparation,” Reed said. “As a result, they were truly appreciative of the help, and hungry for the information we were able to provide.”
As Dr. Reed noted, China has had a 40 year history of educating children with special needs in mainstream classrooms. Teachers have children in their classroom with special needs but there is not much support of specialists like speech-language pathologists. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing-Association (ASHA), China only has roughly 1,000 speech-language pathologists compared to the 126,000 in the United States, and many receive their degrees from only two universities in the country.
The one-child per family policy in China has been a major influence on the cultural acceptance of children with disabilities, mentions Dr. Reed. When families are only allowed one child, they often abandon or adopt out children born with disabilities. However, this practice may be changing as China eases the policy.
The Guangzhou international symposium grew out of a 10-year plan developed by the Chinese government for medium and long-term education reform. A key tenet of the plan was to make special education a priority and improve teachers’ competencies to provide effective education to students with special needs.
To put the initiative in motion, the Chinese government developed incentives that encouraged the local governments to sponsor teacher improvement projects. As a result, the Guangzhou Bureau of Education reached out to experts who could provide a three-day-long intensive program to enhance the skills of teachers who work with children with special needs, including those with speech-language impairments.
Because of her reputation in the field of child and adolescent language disorders, and implications for literacy, Dr. Reed was asked to serve as one of seven international experts in the area of exceptional children and speech-language pathology. Only two of these panelists were from the United States. “It would have been much easier for the Guangzhou Bureau of Education to have exclusively dealt with Chinese-speaking experts, but I don’t think easy was what they were looking for – they were looking for expertise and international perspectives,” commented Dr. Reed, who believes that the language barrier was one of the most challenging aspects of the trip.
During the first trip in June 2013, Dr. Reed and her colleagues were able to provide training for 300 teachers. The Guangzhou Bureau of Education was so pleased with the results that they invited the panel back for a second symposium, held in December 2013, when Dr. Reed and others provided training for another 300 teachers.
Thinking of her first trip, Dr. Reed reflects, “The Chinese language is quite different from English language. In Chinese, tonal quality plays a greater role than segmental phonemes, whereas in English, segmental phonemes play a greater role in conveying meaning, for example, ‘dog’ and ‘dot.’ The Chinese written representation of the language is also more iconic in nature compared to English, which has a more speech-to-letter correspondence.” Because of such differences, English-speaking and Chinese-speaking children develop writing and reading skills differently. During her presentation, Dr. Reed says she needed to draw parallels between English and Chinese to explain children’s language and literacy acquisition so that the teachers could apply this knowledge when working with children with disabilities, which was quite a challenge.
After gaining a better understanding of the language, culture and level of teachers’ preparation, Dr. Reed was able to revise her presentations. Additionally on the panel, she and her colleagues were allotted more time for questions and answers which they found was very beneficial to the teachers during their first trip.
While in Guangzhou, Dr. Reed enjoyed the culture of China. Visiting experts at the symposium were able to experience many culinary delights such as the Emperor’s Banquet – a dinner that consisted of many courses of small servings, such as tiny quail and intricately cut and styled vegetables. She also saw a performance of Bian Lian, a Chinese theater tradition where the performers “change faces” nearly 30 different times within a 30-minute time span.
Following the symposium, Dr. Reed is more acutely aware of the challenges that the Chinese face as they attempt to prepare professionals to provide special education and speech-language services for children.