Access to quality education is the basic right of every individual. However, it’s not the case for a lot of people. Some of them have to fight hard just to get the education that they deserve. These are the marginalized people of our society and persons with disabilities are included in this group. In this article, we will discuss the barriers and challenges that students with disabilities in the Philippines face in obtaining a quality education.
In the Philippines, we have the Republic Act 7277 (Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, and for Other Purposes), a law that ensures persons with disabilities have the access to education. Despite this, getting a quality education is still an uphill battle for someone who has a disability. Quality education doesn’t only mean accepting students in schools, accommodation, true inclusion, and support must be given to the student for them to thrive.
When a child is going to start school, one of the first things that a parent asks is, “which of the schools is going to be the best for my child?” and they have a lot of different options. This is not the case for parents of children with disabilities in the Philippines. The first thing they are going to consider is, “which of the schools in my town is going to accept my child?”
It’s unfortunate that the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons is not enough for schools to open their doors for everyone, including persons with disabilities. They would often use the excuse that their school doesn’t have a SpEd center and that parents should look for a school who has it. Some of the schools will open their doors however, the student is on their own after that. No support is provided from the school administration if the teacher isn’t including the student in the classroom, if things are not accessible, or if the student is not learning because of these barriers.
Many SpEd teachers will advocate for the students but if a SpEd center is not present in that school, then the student is expected to advocate for themselves at an early age because their family members can only do so much. However, not everyone can speak for themselves and this often leads to students not being able to maximize their full potential in the class. They tend to become reserved, quiet, and have self-doubt because teachers have made them feel they are an added burden.
When people in the inclusive education field were asked if they have seen any changes in schools in the classroom over the years, they responded, “Struggles are always present. Schools are so focused on their so called ‘regular’ students that the needs of Persons with Disability seem invisible to them. If we have difficulties reaching out to teachers before, more so now since we can’t visit them physically. The dominant change in the understanding of inclusive education is that educators know that it is a right, however, but they still have not accepted their responsibility of ensuring this right. They only are more charitable to Persons with Disability. So long as our department of education cling on their SpEd concept, teachers will always believe that education of persons with disability is not their responsibility but that of SpEd.” – Alphalyn Pedro, Training Coordinator at Saint Louis University Institute for Inclusive Education.
“Younger teachers are more accommodating of learners with visual impairments. However, the fear is still there since they are not fully equipped in teaching Persons with Disabilities. They don’t know how to use Braille, and they don’t know what to do so learners with visual impairment could see their visual aids, test papers and so forth. Honestly, that problem still remains until now. Teachers are still having 40 or more pupils on their classes so a lot of them want to bring back their pupils with disabilities in Special Education.” – Irish Ayesa Mendez, SPED teacher for the Visually Impaired at Jose Rizal Elementary School.
“The problem will always be there since the teachers are handling a lot of children in their classrooms. They are accommodating to the Children with disabilities that I send to their classes because I always assure them that they can always count on me if they encounter any problems with my children. It’s on how you deal with the ‘regular’ teachers for me.” – Madonna May Guerrero, SPED Teacher at A.P. Santos Elementary School.
Poverty and Mindset
Let’s say you found an inclusive school for your child. A school that’s doing the right thing and is very supportive. The next thing to be considered is, can parents afford to send their child with a disability to school? The Philippines is a developing country and many Persons with Disabilities (PwD) are living in poverty. Some of them were forced to stop their classroom education because the family could no longer afford to send them to school.
Some families don’t believe that it is beneficial for their child to pursue an education since they are a person with disabilities and will rarely be able to find a job. To them, going to school is a waste of their time and money. They prefer that their children just stay home where they will take care of them. This mindset is the greatest barrier. Even if the school is not inclusive or the student lives in poverty, the chance for a person with a disability to finish school is still present with their family’s support.
State of Inclusive Education During the Pandemic
Now that we are facing COVID-19, the country has decided to conduct remote learning and will not be having in-person classes until our country flattens the curve. This presents new challenges for the PwD community. The Department for Education is trying their best in providing accessible modules for students with disabilities in public schools, but sources say that they might not be able to produce most of the materials in time for the start of the school year this October.
Here in Northern Luzon, IIE (Institute for Inclusive Education), is assisting PwD students and private schools to make their school materials accessible. They help in making e-copies of their books and in reminding schools about the inaccessibility of images with out alt text. Unfortunately, IIE can only do so much as schools are protective of their materials and won’t let IIE staff access them. Ms. Alphalyn also stated that very minimal accommodations are provided by the schools for the PwD students and that some of the remote learning teachers are unaware that they have a blind or deaf student in class until, the student tells them. Sadly, students with disabilities are again left behind at this time of COVID19.
The Philippines still has a lot of work to do regarding inclusive education. Sometimes it’s disheartening to see but, advocates like Ms. Alphalyn, teacher Irish and teacher Madonna give me hope. We also have organizations like the Institute for Inclusive Educations and others who serve as our allies. We have to keep working together until all of these barriers are eliminated. Schools in our country have to see that students with disabilities are not extra burdens. PwD offer an insight and perspective to life that many other people do not see. They add so much value to the classroom and society when their school admins and teachers allow them to flourish, thrive, and help them achieve their full potential.
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