James Madison University

CSD Professor Journeys to China to Lend Advice, Expertise

By: Sydney Palese
Posted: April 7, 2014

PHOTO: Vicki Reed in China
At the 2013 Guangzhou International Symposium of Special Education in Guangzhou, China, Dr. Vicki Reed, a professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, shared important information about students with disabilities with teachers who, prior to the conference, received minimal training on how to properly support children with special education needs.

Dr. Reed’s participation as a visiting expert at the symposium allowed her 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.”

According to Reed, 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 two universities in the country.  

Dr. Reed also mentioned that the one-child per family policy in China has been a major influence on the cultural acceptance of children with disabilities. When families are only allowed one child, they often abandon or adopt out children born with disabilities. Reed noted that this practice may be changing as  China eases this policy.

The symposium grew out of a 10-year plan developed by the Chinese government for medium and long-term education reform and development. A key tenet of the plan was to make special education a priority, and to 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 local governments to sponsor teacher improvement projects. As a result, the Guangzhou Bureau of Education reached out to find experts who could provide a three-day-long intensive program to enhance the skills of teachers of children who have 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.

The language barrier was one of the most challenging aspects of the trip. “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,” Reed said.

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, in December 2013 and provided training for another 300 teachers.

Reflecting on the first trip, Reed said, “The Chinese language is quite different from English language.  In Chinese tonal quality plays a greater role than segmental phonemes, where as 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. Compared to English-speaking children, Chinese children develop writing and reading skills differently because of such differences.  During her presentation, Dr. Reed says she needed to draw parallels between the two languages to explain children’s language and literacy acquisition that the teachers could apply in their classes for the children with disabilities.  She says that this was quite a challenge.

For the second symposium, Reed said she was able to revise her presentations because she gained a better understanding of the language, culture, and level of teachers’ preparation. She and her colleagues also allotted more time for questions and answers for the panel, which they found was very beneficial to the teachers during the first trip.

Reed was able to enjoy the culture of China while in Guangzhou. She said that the visiting experts experienced 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, Reed said she is now more acutely aware of challenges facing people in China as they attempt to prepare professionals to provide special education and speech-language services for children.