Impact Story – Lighting Up SEN Community with Technology and Compassion to Make an Inclusive Society a Reality, Not a Fiction

Statistics from The Legislative Council revealed a total of 67,269 students with Special Educational Needs (“SEN”) in Hong Kong for the 2021/22 academic year. In public sector ordinary schools, the proportion of SEN students has increased from 4.4% in the 2011/12 academic year to 11.0%. The rise in SEN students numbers inevitably raises social issues concerning the investment and allocation of educational resources. In an interview with LBS, we spoke with the two founders of Snaildy Education (“Snaildy”), who shed light on this phenomenon.

Founded in 2019 by Patrick Lau, a graduate in social work, Snaildy emerged from Patrick’s experience as the sole school social worker in a secondary school. His time was consumed by demanding yet necessary administrative tasks, unintentionally overshadowing the voices of students seeking help. These administrative duties designed to facilitate students’ growth and well-being ironically hindered these objectives.

The Snaildy SEN School Management System, a brainchild of Patrick and his university junior, Rex Law, represents a significant endeavor to improve the working environment. Venturing into educational technology, their commitment to streamlining administrative tasks through electronic processes empowers SEN teachers to efficiently manage student information and conduct data analysis. This technological solution has garnered praise from partnering schools and teachers, fostering improved collaboration between schools and families and ensuring a more comprehensive support system for students' growth. When technology and social consciousness converge, their determination to bring about meaningful change in both small and significant ways becomes a reality.

Founders of Snaildy: Rex Law (left) and Patrick Lau (right)

In addition to its technological applications, Snaildy focuses on providing on-campus services. This includes a diverse range of activities tailored to meet the unique needs of schools and students. These activities, ranging from therapeutic activities and group training to parent seminars and workshops, were conducted by activity facilitators with a minimum of three years of experience working with individuals with SEN, who clients can review their qualifications anytime. In the 2022/23 academic year, Snaildy's on-campus services reached over 80 schools, serving over four thousand students. The themes of the activities span a wide range of topics, encompassing language, cognition skills, interactive games, LEGO, public speaking, soccer, STEAM, magic, parent-child emotional education, career planning, and many more. These thoughtful and compassionate topics have garnered deep appreciation from educators and parents.

But beyond commercial collaborations, Snaildy is driven by subtle but powerful voices and stories in corners waiting to be heard. A wealth of strength and heartfelt positivity is hidden within every small body.

"Snail Boy" Chan Tsz Kin, diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy at birth, requiring a wheelchair for mobility and only had a short life expectancy of 18 years, has become a beacon of optimism despite the challenges brought by his physical condition. Being surrounded by love from his family and society seldom reveals his frustrations. Even at a young age, confronting the truth of the limited nature of life, he refuses to confine himself within boundaries. Tsz Kin attempts to defy his fate by becoming a YouTuber and taking on the challenge of paragliding, letting the story of "Snail Boy" reach even further. Snaildy hopes to spread real-life stories in our society to invite broader discussions and attention. Rex has previously assisted Tsz Kin in successfully obtaining the "Familations Charity Foundation Scholarship for SEN Students," which undoubtedly serves as another affirmation from society that Tsz Kin should never give up on himself.

Chan Tsz Kin was rewarded with the "Familations Charity Foundation Scholarship for SEN Students".

People with disabilities naturally come to rely more heavily on the comfort created by intimate relationships for granted. Parents, who are SEN children’s primary caregivers, may shoulder the significant weight of financial, physical, and mental pressures but must pay attention to any trivial matter to avoid unforeseen accidents. Patrick has witnessed families demonstrating remarkable resilience in overcoming challenges with the help of teachers and social workers. He shared, “For the entire SEN community, the most difficult role is that of the caregiver.”

Expanding from individual experiences to a broader perspective, the government plays a huge role in dealing with the challenges faced by vulnerable groups. Patrick mentions, "The government is adopting a 'dual-track mode' and promoting inclusive education. 'Inclusion' seems to be a correct and ideal concept, without a doubt. However, as we confront the increasing number of SEN students, a rising rate of teacher attrition, and a lack of correct understanding and empathy among abled children towards various disabilities, actionable measures to optimize the environment become significantly important".

After graduation, SEN students as disabled individuals face challenges in employment. Census and Statistics Department recently reported over 10,000 unemployed disabled individuals aged 15 or above in Hong Kong, contributing to an unemployment rate of 11%[2]. Due to the extensive range of individual variances, establishing targets in this regard poses a significant challenge for the government, and many companies are hesitant due to the expenses associated with talent development. "We have encountered numerous cases where individuals with disabilities aspire to live independently through their own endeavors. They yearn to experience being valued and showcase their worth," Patrick lamented when discussing the challenges faced by marginalized groups. In a vibrant and sustainable metropolis, it is imperative to allow every resident to discover their unique way of life. Should someone persistently pursue self-reliance yet remain unable to achieve self-sufficiency, the concept of inclusion increasingly resembles an idealistic utopia, forever confined within the realm of "idealism."

The construction and operation of an inclusive society necessitate the participation and involvement of diverse parties. Patrick expects to leverage his expertise and Snaildy's services to raise greater awareness for SEN students, providing parents with comprehensive information and positioning themselves as a reliable source of support for this community. Conversely, Rex envisions having more like-minded partners along this challenging journey, where people of varying backgrounds can embrace a shared conviction and contemplate the meaning of social value in the business world.

Snaildy staff members

Howard Ling, currently serving as a member of the advisory team for Social Impact Partner (SIP) and as a board member in multiple primary and secondary schools, has played a pivotal role as an intermediary in recommending Snaildy as a viable investment opportunity for SIP. He has witnessed the immense administrative burden faced by SEN coordinators within schools and recognized the strong alignment between their needs and Snaildy's innovative solution. Consequently, he has adopted the role of a facilitator between these two entities, ensuring the flow of funding resources and information. Howard expressed his expectations for Snaildy, "Inclusive education forms the foundation for fostering community cohesion, and the social needs of the SEN and disabled communities should not be overshadowed by an excessive administrative workload. Looking ahead, I hope its information security standards can become a model in academia and Hong Kong, with its influence extending to mainland China, Southeast Asian countries, and even globally. A truly inclusive society requires technology support and the collective calling of diverse voices".

SIP places equal importance on diverse social issues, recognizing social investment as a means for life to impact life. With the growing number of SEN students in Hong Kong, it is essential to leverage effective resources to enhance work efficiency, and Snaildy has proposed a proven solution. SIP firmly believes that addressing social issues will infuse businesses with greater vitality and opportunities for sustainable development. By making inclusion an unspoken consensus, society will ultimately respond in kind.