LANZHOU－A video clip of Zhang Huiyu, a visually impaired Chinese girl passionately reciting Ode to the Yellow River, recently attracted a flurry of attention online.
The 16-year-old is a seventh grade student in Tianshui Special Education School in the city of Tianshui in Northwest China's Gansu province. Suffering from congenital cataracts, Zhang confronts huge challenges while learning.
"We didn't know there was a special education school for those with vision impairment until Tianshui disabled persons' federation contacted us. We sent her to the school after we visited it," says Zhang's grandfather.
"When I was in an ordinary primary school, I had a hard time studying and I couldn't read the papers clearly in exams. But when I came to the special education school, I even found a teacher who is completely blind, which inspires me to work hard to become a special education teacher in the future," Zhang says.
Opened in 1986, Tianshui Special Education School now has 38 classes and 430 students. The school has departments for intelligence training, hearing impairment and visual impairment, as well as a vocational high school.
In the department of intelligence training, students learn life skills, labor habits, along with some basic language and math knowledge, while also receiving rehabilitation training.
For the hearing-impaired students, after completing nine years of compulsory education, they can enter the vocational high school and then take gaokao, the national college entrance exam, that is adapted for hearing-impaired students.
"In the past two years, 57 students from our vocational high school have participated in gaokao, and 34 of them have been admitted to colleges and universities," says Dong Wuyan, principal of Tianshui Special Education School.
For the students in the visual impairment department, after receiving a nine-year compulsory education, they will either go to high school or integrate into society with their acquired vocational skills.
China's regulation on education for the disabled requires access to the nine-year compulsory education for all school-age children and adolescents with disabilities. No school is allowed to decline their appeal for schooling. The requirement was simplified as "full coverage and zero rejection".
"From 2016-20, we implemented two special education upgrade plans, setting up special education schools in all counties and districts with a population of more than 300,000," says Shen Jianling, director of the Tianshui municipal education bureau.
By the end of 2020, the enrollment rate to compulsory education for children and adolescents with disabilities in Gansu reached 96.81 percent, and there were 44 special education schools for compulsory education.
In January, China's Ministry of Education, together with relevant authorities, released an action plan to boost the development of special needs education, with the aim of reaching a 97 percent enrollment rate for school-age minors with disabilities in compulsory education by 2025.