As school year opens, do not forget learners with disabilities — Save the Children

Published September 1, 2021, 5:58 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

Even if almost all efforts are now focused on the opening of a new school year, a child rights organization appealed to the government not to forget the millions of learners with disabilities.

A child diagnosed with speech delay participates and draws during the Children’s Multi-Cluster/Sector Initial Rapid Assessment on Nov. 10, 2020 during the emergency response on Typhoon Goni of Save the Children Philippines. (Lei Tapang/Save the Children Philippines)

“As School Year 2021-2022 is set to open on Sept. 13, we must also consider the welfare of 5.5 million Learners with Disabilities who have limited access to quality and inclusive education even before the pandemic,” said Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Atty. Alberto Muyot in a statement issued Wednesday, Sept. 1.

Given this, the foremost child rights organization in the Philippines is urging Congress for the immediate approval of the Bicameral Committee version of the Inclusive Education (IE) Bill for Learners with Disabilities to be signed into law by the President.

“The early enactment of the ‘Inclusive Education Bill’ will provide children with disabilities with equal access and opportunities to quality education thereby making the educational system of our country more inclusive,” Muyot said.

The IE Bill, which is advocated by Save the Children Philippines and partners, was approved on 3rd Reading in the House of Representatives in December 2020 and in the Senate last May 2021.

Save the Children has raised concerns on the disruption of education among marginalized children and learners in the Philippines who were most impacted by the pandemic – with “lack of support, access to the internet, accessible software and learning materials” as just some of the many factors that “deepen the gap for students with disabilities” as per policy brief “A Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19” by the United Nations Sustainable Development Group.

The organization noted that children with disabilities face “major concerns” accessing education, child development services, habilitation and rehabilitation services, and general health services according to the “Situation of Children with Disabilities in the Context of COVID19” online survey in 2020 by the Council for the Welfare of Children – Sub-committee for Children with Disabilities.

It was also noted that 14.1 percent of the respondents also cited a “decline in mental health and wellbeing of children” as a result of their inability to access mental health and psychosocial services.

Meanwhile, Save the Children Philippines Basic Education Advisor Sierra Paraan also believed the IE Bill is crucial in supporting marginalized children during the pandemic, and improving education for all.

“The IE Bill is important in ensuring that the rights of children with disabilities to quality inclusive education are upheld as they, and their families, are among the most impacted by discrimination and inequality during this pandemic,” Paraan said.

The IE Bill seeks to provide learners with disabilities access to public and private schools, support services and capacity building to students, their families/ caregivers, and teachers, including the establishment of Inclusive Learning Resource Centers (ILRC) that will serve as knowledge hubs.

Among many of the IE Bill’s other provisions, an Advisory Council for Education of Learners with Disabilities will be made to support the Department of Education (DepEd) in further improving the country’s educational system, and to provide a support system for parents so they may be able to further care for their children at home.

Learners with disabilities who have not had early childhood and basic education services will also receive support through the Child Find System which will identify and facilitate their inclusion in learning programs.

“This is why Save the Children urges everyone to support the bill,” said Paraan. “With accessible, inclusive, appropriate education and services through the IE Bill, no student will be left behind,” she added.