Talent supply and on-campus support systems are crucial to bolstering the presence of disabled students on mainstream campuses as China steps up efforts to make regular classes more inclusive, an expert said.
Last year, the Ministry of Education rolled out a campaign to improve inclusiveness in regular schools nationwide, which are known for their packed schedules and marathon cramming sessions.
"Better support is central to greater inclusiveness," said Deng Meng, a researcher and professor of integrated education at Beijing Normal University, China's top teacher training college.
He said the support system includes: regional special education centers that offer guidance to mainstream schools within their jurisdiction; a "resource classroom" on campus staffed by special education professionals and rehabilitation therapists; and a teaching community trained to work in integrated classrooms.
Support has been in short supply on regular campuses for decades, leaving inexperienced teachers scrambling to cope with the surging number of disabled children.
Deng noted that qualified teachers are the key to success, saying breakthroughs have recently been made to boost the supply of educators trained to work with special needs students.
Last year, Central China Normal University, a leading teacher training college in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, established the country's first bachelor's program on integrated education.
Despite that, Deng said more efforts are needed, and he advocated the inclusion of special education content in degree programs for all teachers in the country.
"Some of the teaching methods for special needs kids can also be applied to regular students, such as helping them release emotional pressure," he said.
"That would help improve the overall quality of education."
Inclusive regular classes have long been promoted as a way of ensuring disabled children in the country have access to education.
The pro-inclusiveness campaign, which started more than 30 years ago, gained new momentum after the anti-poverty drive was ramped up in 2012, with a baseline requirement of providing universal access to compulsory schooling, especially among disabled children.
Some experts have called for "scientific assessments" so all eligible students can be enrolled.
Deng said the aim of such assessments would be to ensure applicants can get individual plans that better serve their condition.
"The assessment process should not be used as an excuse to refuse eligible applicants," he said, adding that it is essential to create expert committees to ensure assessments are not biased.
Deng said special schools have played an invaluable role in curbing illiteracy among the disabled and have become a significant part of the country's strategy to educate such students.
"Special schools will become the most reliable source of support for their mainstream counterparts," he said.