Save the Children Philippines calls for the immediate enactment of the Inclusive Education (IE) Bill that would safeguard the right of children with disabilities to access quality inclusive education.
According to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) in 2018, one in seven or around 5.1 million Filipino children are living with disabilities.
The Inclusive Education of Learners with Disabilities bill, which will be heard this week in the Senate for second reading approval and sponsored by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, will focus on establishing inclusive learning resource centers in all school districts in the country, raising community awareness on learners with disabilities, including their right to quality education, needs and potentials, and increasing the capacity of teaching and non-teaching personnel on inclusive education, and promoting multi-stakeholder partnership.
“The COVID-19 pandemic stirred our education system to adapt to the changing and challenging times and this should not exclude learners with disabilities who, even before the pandemic, are already twice marginalized by poverty and difficulty in accessing healthcare and learning needs. Thus, we call on our leaders and the government to prioritize the education needs of our learners with disabilities,” said Atty. Alberto Muyot, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Philippines.
The Situational Analysis of Learners with Disabilities and Teacher Capacity (2020) by Save the Children Philippines and Alternative Learning Resource School (ALRES) Philippines, Inc., highlighted four main challenges of learners with disabilities and their teachers during the pandemic which are: 1) learners’ risk for further marginalization with alternative learning modalities; 2) critical gaps in inclusive education program delivery by receiving teachers; 3) parental role shift for distance learning; and 4) lack of community awareness on learners with disabilities, and their right to education, needs and potentials.
It revealed that learners with disabilities have reported difficulties in: 1) moving around (88.4%); 2) going to school (87.7%), 3) consulting the doctor (85.1%); 4) accessing food supply (77.9%), 5) buying medications (76.6%), and 7) accessing therapy services (65.6%) which may have long-term and detrimental effects to their learning and development.
“Supporting and achieving inclusive education is not only the Department of Education's (DepEd) responsibility. It is important that the government, schools, the private sector, allied health professionals, parents, and the academe discuss the issue at the local level so each sector can contribute accordingly,” said Save the Children Philippines Basic Education Advisor Sierra Mae Paraan.
Save the Children Philippines pioneered the award-winning program “Kabataang Aralin sa Lahat Ibahagi” (KASALI) which provided children with disabilities access to quality inclusive and protective education to ensure equal learning opportunities for the most disadvantaged girls and boys.
“Shalani has improved so much. She did not speak before but after therapy she can now say whole sentences. I want her to experience different things and I hope she achieves whatever it is she wants to do in the future,” said Neil, a KASALI beneficiary and father of a child with cerebral palsy.
During the pandemic, the child rights organization implemented Project ARAL (Access to Resources for Alternative Learning) to help children from low income families and those with disabilities to access alternative learning modalities through broadcast and social media and paper-based learning materials.
A handbook for teachers of learners with disabilities is also being developed by Save the Children Philippines together with the DepEd through the Sustaining Education Reform Gains (SERG) project with support by the Australian government.
“By advocating for the enactment of the Inclusive Education Bill, we are aiming to provide learners with disabilities with opportunities to choose their own paths and contribute to their communities,” said Muyot.