Thursday, 30 December 2010

World Congress Take-away – 4

Time to go and have a Tsin Tao

Something sinister  and a nice excursion

I had previously been to Hong Kong two years ago. While there I had made a small purchase at the North Point branch of Toys 'Я' Us where a very helpful saleslady suggested that I should get a generous deduction if I signed on for a loyalty card – which I did. On getting back to the UK I saw that my card was valid only for in the Pacific Region of Toys 'Я' Us.

My card remained unused in my wallet, amongst all the other unused loyalty cards accumulated over time.

A day after my arrival in Hong Kong at the beginning of this month I received a cheery email from Toys 'Я' Us (Pacific Region) saying that it had not heard from me for some time and I should get round to one of its shops before my card expires.

No sweat. It useful reminder, giving me pretext to take a lovely Sunday morning tram-ride in the rain to a mall by Causeway Bay MTR station. Once out of the tram I had to stumble through one of the truly amazing sites of Hong Kong, the weekly Sunday picnic and mass get-together of Hong Kong's Indonesian maids, thousands and thousands and thousands of them covering every square foot of public space in the public areas around the station. This is of course a very Muslim gathering, specialised shops and take-aways have sprung up to deal with this it, and the air was alive with the most wonderful smells.

There is a similar Sunday gathering towards the other end of the tram-line, this comprising Catholic Philippina maids. Together, what a wonderfull labour pool if anyone takes forward the very obvious notion of training 'conductive maids'.)

Neither of these gatherings was of course in any way sinister. What I did find somewhat creepy, however, was that Toys 'Я' Us should know that I was back in Hong Kong. Ah, the wonders of the Internet! Who else knows what?

I did find the Toys 'Я' Us store, with lots of unfamiliar and interesting Japanese stuff (much of it made in China, of course, like almost everything else in this world) but there was nothing there for me to use my card on. The mall included a coffee bar provided by the Pacific Coffee Company (q.v.), altogether up to standard, and some fascinating and (to me unique) boutique shops.

So, with the bonus of all those cheery Indonesian ladies, thank you to the Pacific Region of Toys 'Я' Us – even if your 'knowing' that I was back in town does rather give me the creeps.

CE's 'wetware problem'

'Wetware' is Nerdspeak for the human factor in communication, neither hardware nor softwear but something even less reliable. I have also heard it described as that part of the system between the keyboard and the seat. If you like to think of it as 'the human factor', this gives an altogether new slant to Mária Hári's little essay.

The wetware problem was graphically illustrated in the World Congress's Social Networking Platform.

The idea for this was originally suggested by Norman Perrin and excellently provided by SAHK. It was a social-networking site for people intending to attend the World Congress. Everyone who registered for the Congress was invited to join, begin discussion of relevant topics, contact other participants etc. It is a common-enough mechanism in other spheres.

I thought that it was a terrific idea and wrote an enthusiatic posting in Conductive World, in which I saw this facilitly rather like the opportunities posed by turning up early for a party:

Unfortunately, the great majority of those who registered for the Congress (more that four-hundred in all, I believe) failed to join up to the Social Networking Platform.

Of those who did, some tried to get 'conversations' going, or joined in ones that they found there, but all too often these were familiar voices (nothing wrong with that, but here was an opportunity for new people to make themselves heard and visible).

I am afraid that my vision of a party was very over-optimistic. People drifted in, found that it was all rather flat, and drifted out again. I am afraid that in the end, for all my initial enthusiasm, I too tip-toed away, a little embarrasses. I know that I was not the only one. Indeed, as the Congress approached, the platform just died.

Why did it fall so flat? Of course language would be a problem for some. I believe that the system used does not support Chinese characters, which eliminated many participants from the word 'go'. And maybe many speakers of Latin-script languages believe themselves obliged to write in English in an 'international' context. They are not. If they do believe this, then they should disembarress themselves immediately of the idea, and post the language of their choice, wherever it may be.

I suspect that this is part of a more fundamental problem, the conference-naivity of so many pf those involved (not their fault, merely an empirical fact):

Perhaps they do not appreciate that a Congress is not just for two or three days, preferably somewhere 'exotic', but a component episode on a continuous process in developing and challenging our collective knowledge. I suspect that the IPA shares this state of bliss – how else, for example, to explain the lack of follow-over from one Congress to the next?

More generally, here as everywhere else, most people in CE do not seem to like expressing (and exposing) themselves and their opinions in a public forum. Why could that be – and what could be done to combat this tendency?

Here's to the next time. SAHK has been keen to maintain this forum on line to provide for some carry-over. I see that this social-networking forum is indeed still up there, but has now been renamed as 'The Post-Congress Social Networting Platform':

If there is indeed to be another World Congress, presently promised to occur in Munich in 2013, then here is a useful mechanism to develop wider consultation, positive criticism and discussion. Starting now.

I see that the German consortium intending to arrange the Eigth Congress has yet to address this matter.

So, ever the optimist, I shall post something SAHK's Post-Congress Social Networking Site, and wait for others to do the same. I shall start with notification of this present post, and hope that this site does not stand thereafter forlorn and unvisited, gathering dust and cobwebs, like Miss Haversham's mansion.

And talking about things German...

Before going to Hong Kong I had been tickled to hear that there would be a German Christmas Market there:

There were lots of Christmas decorations in evidence in Hong Kong but when I tried to find a Christmas Marketi no one had heard of it, and it seemed to have vanished froim the Internet.

I should have thought to consult the URL given in July in Conductive World, which had it pinpointed, and according to which it is still going on!


Why has what goes under the rubric of Conductive Education apparently been so successful in Hong Kong – and now the Mainland? What is it behind the practice in Hong Kong.

'It's the culture' comes the easy reply. You can apparently explain a lot with the phrase 'It's the culture', without really pinpointing what precisely you mean. This is all to easy for the casual visitor to China (and to Hungary, and anyhere else for that matter...). To my shame I wrote it here on Conductive World a few days ago, though I did at least put it in inverted commas to indicate that I was being ironic.

But which culture? 'The Chinese cuture, of course,' comes the reply. But is really it as simple as that? Without denying the possible force of this reply, might there not other cultures at work here too?

So, what other cultures might have been at work in the development of SAHK's system, quite alien to the development of anything that calls itself Conductive Education in the Western world, cultures so established and pervasive that the people in SAHK barely see them as worthy of remark, they are just part of the furniture, yet so unprecedented in the rest of the world of Conductive Education as to be outside many visitors' previous experience?

I refer partiularly to the conjoined cultures of social work and social policy. In my office for years has hung a banner from the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, presented to me in one of those little Chinese ceremonies by a party of visitors from SAHK (there was a time when a such a party came each year, so actually I have more than one of these banners). In Hong Kong, social workers are an important part of SAHK's multidisciplinary staff, and they are represented right to the top of its hierarchy and amonsgt its top advisors. It is hard to think of SAHK's professional compliment without expecting attention to family, family functioning, family welfare and family dynamics.

I also suspect too, from what little I have seen and heard, that a thread that can be traced right back to Marion Fang's time at the London Institute of Eduation, bequeathing a persiting special-education tradition of a kind now extirpated in some parts of the world (in England, for example, the course that Marion attended in London has been long closed, an early casualty of the new ideology. This is not to deny school teachers' involvement in CE programmes in a number of schools and centres across the Western world, but schoolteachers do not equal special education. I am sure that there must be examples of CE's keying into local special education traditions and institutions elsewhere in the world but I have never seen this described. SAHK is, as I understand it, increasingly pressing such integration at the level of training.

And (dare I breathe this?) SAHK has its own psychological service...

It will be fascinating to see how aspects of the Chinese way of life are interwoven with the practice and its provision of upbringing under the auspices of SAHK. But let us not forget that other, professional cultures are also involved, cultures that are rather broader – and more psycho-social – than the usual range of people that might be found dealing together with disabled children and their families in the West.

The Abstract Book

I was going to write some things abouit the Congress's Abstract Book, all 434 pages of it, but Conductive World's sand is fast running out.

I understand that SAHK will not be retaining a stock of these books for sale. I note that the Abstract Book is indeed Supplement no 7 of the Occasional Papers of the International Pető Association. If you want one, I suggest that you write to:

By the way, I see that the IPA is promising a report on the Congress over the course of January:


Conductive World's time is just about up in its preent form. It would be nice perhaps to write about lessons learned, to mention the sheer exuberence and life of Hong Kong society (and of SAHK), and the food and other joys.

And to bemoan that Ivan Sue's post-Congress workshop was not in fact the Congress's opening Plenary Address. I know that he regards himself as a small potato in the great scheme of things (one, I suspect, without whom the Seventh Congress would not have happened as it did). His presentation reviewing what SAHK does is masterful in delivery (not just verbally and visually, but also in how he integtrates the two) – and its content is as gobsmacking as one's first view of the city itself. This was what was needed to kick-start a proper condideration of West meets East.

This is Conductive World's last Chinese take-away. I suppose that it is just about possible that some time there just may some cold left-overs...



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