Sunday, 4 January 2009


Food for thought

Sheer scale

The statistics for disability on China are awesome. The following appears to cover the five years 2001-7 
5835 rehabilitation training services centers for people with physical disabilities were set up. Trainings were provided to 88,000 physically disabled persons. 26,000 children with intellectual disabilities ranging from zero to 14 got services in 2,229 centers.
(Chinese Federation for Disabled Persons, 2008)
I have no idea of who comprise the populations referred to here, nor of the nature of the institutions referred to or their actual rehabilitative activities. I do know (Sutton, 1976) that would be foolish to project Western concepts uncritically on to what these figures represent. All I can tell for certain from them is that over the first few years of this century, at breakneck speed, the world’s most populous country is trying to establish acceptable standards of basic service for disabled people.

And ‘Conductive Education’, whatever that means, is being provided, developed and researched on a corresponding scale. Google the Chinese expression that is conventionally translated as Conductive Education, “引导式教育”, and search in Simplified Chinese pages. You get (today, early 2009) more that eleven thousand hits. By comparison, “Conductive Education” in English-only presently gets some fifty-seven thousand hits. Here’s a crude comparative index that will merit revisiting over future months and years. One might even produce a quotient…

Through a glass darkly

That glass is the Chinese language (languages actually). I peer through this into the Internet, with the help of machine translation and some of my own creative translator’s licence. What I can look at is restricted to summaries, and even so it takes a long time, this is hardly my prime interest in life so I am not going to devote enormous time to this.

Even such a cursory glance, however, makes it clear that there is an awful lot going on under the rubric of 引导式教育. What though? My present impression, derived to no small part from my visit to Hong Kong a few months back, is that whatever this might be represents a palimpsest of Ester Cotton’s techniques and traditional Chinese understandings of bringing up and educating children, not least the prime importance of the formation of character. I could be very wrong but Cotton's methods seem to have little actual relevance to the goals of the children's upbringing. Of the two, I suspect that the fundamental, active ingredient behind any positive effect achieved boils down to the nature of the upbringing, in the family, in the classroom, in society at large, rather than to the particular 'techniques' and 'methods' involved, wch are of being of secondary importance.

A practical textbook
Tang Jiu-lai (2007) Cerebral Palsy: Conductive Education Therapy. Beijing People’s Health Publishing House
An extensive overview of the implementation of Conductive Education (published at the end of 2007)which it describes as an ‘internationally recognized treatment of children with cerebral palsy‘ The book's blurb describes it as:
Truly comprehensive, concise and simple terms, the aid of diagrams. Useful for rehabilitation physicians, therapists, paediatricians, neurologists, child protection doctors, special education teachers and  welfare staff too, at the same time suitable for parents in the home rehabilitation training, for student rehabilitation professionals, undergraduates, postgraduates, doctoral teaching materials and reference books.
Precisely what is actually involved in practice will take a Chinese reader to divine. As a possible short cut, though, it would be wonderful to see a copy of its reference pages.

This book is extensively advertised through booksellers (try Googling its Chinese title): 小儿脑瘫引导式教育疗法

I have no idea of course how influential this book is or what other books there are for the hundreds (thousands?) of practitioners already involved in China to get  information on what to do.


In my own (solely Western) experience, research studies in education of any kind (and probably rehabilitation too) are but the froth on the top of practice, the  bulk of which goes unanalysed unreported. I guess that it is the same in China.

Here are a couple of examples of the Chinese 'froth'…
Li Yangping (2006) Exercise therapy plus Conductive Education for children with cerebral palsy rehabilitation, Journal of Shenyang Medical School, vol. 8, no 2
76 children with cerebral palsy, three- to six-years-old, were randomly divided into two groups for two years of clinical observation, exercise therapy versus exercise therapy plus Conductive Education.

Results: Physical therapy: total effective rate, 52.63%; exercise therapy plus Conductive Education, 86.84%. effect.

Had Aizhen (2007) The effects of early intervention Conductive Education on children with cerebral palsy children, Journal of Nanhua University (Medical Edition), vol. 35, no 3
An intervention group of 48 children (Conductive Education) was compared with a control group of 50 (usual treatment). After Conductive Education of children with cerebral palsy, in a cognitive, language development index and in the total development indices, the differences between the Conductive Education group and control group  was significant (P <001 span="">).

A few observations upon such research:
  • look at those population sizes involved (surely a sine quâ non in China):
  • look at the research model and (at least in the summaries that I have so far skimmed)
  • consider the implications of their medical-rehabilitation orientation
  • puzzle over what the children actually experience
I cannot comment upon the methodological soundness of these studies without accessing the complete reports. I leave that to the research reviewers who must surely by now be wholly fed up with chewing over the same Western gristle again and again. Surely by now they should have the intellectual curiosity and integrity to look outside the English-language ‘literature’.

I do, however, suspect that by now the Chinese evaluative-research output into programs that they style 引导式教育 (conventionally rendered into English as Conductive Education) is by now greater than that of all the English-speaking countries and Germany combined. I also suspect that the theory, and practice base of the programs studied may be at least as problematical as most of those evaluated in the West (perhaps more so), and the research methodologies adopted as at least as irrelevant to the pedagogic nature of Conductive Education.

Never mind the quality, however, feel the width. Chinese academic researchers are looking at Conductive Education wholesale, and deeming it a good thing. This has considerable implications for further uptake of this approach in their own country… and maybe elsewhere too.

The zone of next development

Even so, in the scramble to evaluate the outcomes of what is already being done (at Conductive Education's present or actual level of development) the same opportunities may be missed as were in the lamentable scramble to 'research Conductive Education' in the West a professional generation ago. 

The central question, vital for the future of practice and training alike (Conductive Education's potential level of development), will remain unaddressed until researchers and practitioners start examining actual social-psychological processes. This is as true for whatever is happening in China as for Conductive Education as a whole (including its most venerable techniques and methods passed down through the generations).

It is less that two years now… the VII. Conductive Education Congress, in Hong Kong. Enough said?

Other references

Chinese Federation for Disabled Persons (2008) Statistical communique on development of work with persons with disabilities in 2007

Sutton, A. (1977) Acupuncture and deaf-mutism – an essay in cross-cultural defectology, Educational Studies, vol. 3, no 1 , pp. 1-10

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