By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
The government, particularly the Department of Education (DepEd), was urged to undertake several measures to make education more accessible to children with disabilities or with special needs.
In a statement, Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) identified the lack of transportation, basic facilities, and infrastructures as the major challenges in providing education to children with disabilities.
A study of state think tank authored by Adrian Agbon and Christian Mina revealed the need to provide mobile special education (SPED) schools especially in far-flung areas.
The authors also urged the government to “initiate more activities and programs that will increase awareness about pupils/students with special needs”, to “enhance” the Alternative Learning System or mobile teacher program of the DepEd, and “put up more SPED facilities that cater to all types of disabilities by tapping local government units (LGUs) in providing regular venues for ALS classes.”
Agbon and Mina, who wrote the study while at PIDS as research associates, also suggested to strengthen the training programs specific to handling pupils/students with special needs as part of the retooling of teachers.
Likewise, the authors also proposed the “development of learning modules on basic health care and entrepreneurial skills” – noting that this can be done by DepEd, in partnership with the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) -Area Vocational Training Center, with the help of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
These training, the authors noted, could be “provided to persons with disabilities (PWDs) who have acquired the basic skills for employment as well as to their parents and guardians so they can enhance their livelihood opportunities.”
Meanwhile, a related study of Save the Children Philippines (SCP) also disclosed the barriers that hinder teachers of children with disabilities from using inclusive education strategies in the classroom.
SCP basic education technical adviser Sierra Mae Paraan explained that such barriers included the teachers’ lack of knowledge or proficiency in sign language, inappropriate student group size, poor classroom management manifested through inadequate pacing, inadequate use of materials, lack of instructional dialogue, absence of safe learning environments for children with disabilities, and insufficient budget for inclusive education.
Paraan presented the study at a research forum organized by SCP and PIDS in support of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Conducted as part of SCP’s Kabataang-Aralin Sa Lahat Ay Ibahagi (KASALI) Program, the study included six schools and six Early Childhood Care and Development centers in Metro Manila, with interviews and focus group discussions conducted among teachers, parents, and officials of the schools, Department of Education, and LGUs from June 2017 to January 2018.
Paraan revealed that prior to the training provided by the KASALI Program, teachers who handled children with disabilities were “unaware that some of their practices are considered forms of discrimination” which include “labeling children or grouping them by ability all the time”.
Culture influences, Paraan explained, also affect the way teachers and parents perceive children with disabilities.
While there are parents who have a more positive attitude toward children with disabilities and the idea of disability itself, she noted that “some parents, teachers, and education officials [still] hold a negative perception of children with disabilities… [they] continue [to perceive them] as a curse or their respective disability as contagious.”
“This perception is manifested in the way parents handle their children,” Paraan explained – citing that some parents would unintentionally discriminate their children by choosing to carry them to conceal their children’s physical disability or enrolling their kids in a normal school in an attempt to “normalize” them.
“It is very important that parents are also made aware of these,” she added.
The SCP study, Paraan noted, also found that parents “prefer to enroll their children in SPED centers due to concerns over bullying and the capacity of schools and teachers to provide the needs of their children.” To address these issues, the study called for inter-institutional planning and multi-stakeholdership collaboration.
While the government and DepEd’s support are crucial in achieving inclusive education, Paraan stressed the need for other stakeholders to do their part.