By Bobby Q. Labalan
Legazpi City --- Congw. Evelina Escudero pledged full support to the efforts of the Department of Education (DepEd) to strengthen the implementation of special education (SPED) in Bicol Region and elsewhere in the country.
Escudero made the commitment as she assured Bicol DepEd officials of her full backing to initiatives that would make education more accessible and inclusive to all, including differently-abled persons.
The woman legislator was the main guest of honor during the presentation of the results of the research study on the implementation of SPED program in the region which was initiated by Joan Lagata, a regional education program supervisor (EPS).
Escudero lauded the research, entitled “The Gains and Gaps of Special Education Program in Region V” as it gave a clear picture of the status of special education which primarily aims to make education inclusive and accessible to all.
She said the results would significantly help policy-makers as well as in coming up with new strategies and legislative actions.
The legislator said it was an important input that could be used in tackling bills related to inclusive education.
The study focused on 18 elementary and 12 secondary schools all over the region which received funding assistance from DepEd.
Based on the results of the study, very few differently- abled children are enrolled in DepEd-supported SPED Centers and schools in Bicol as it only accounts for 0.07 (1,187 out of 1,545,099) per cent of the total enrolments in the region.
The study also noted the huge difference in numbers of SPED learners who graduated in elementary compared to those who are enrolled in secondary schools.
“This gap means that many SPED learners who finished elementary schooling did not enrol in high school,” Lagata said during the presentation which was also attended by division EPSs and SPED principals.
Insufficient SPED teachers
She said that one of the main reasons for this low participation rate in secondary level is the lack of SPED teachers who could handle learners in mainstream education system.
Based on the study, out of the 111 secondary school teachers who handle special education only 5 possess SPED items while the rest are regular teachers.
“Clearly, they do not possess the necessary educational background and qualifications to handle SPED classes,” Lagata stressed as she lauded the regular teachers for “rising to the occasion” despite their “handicap”.
She pointed out that the basic qualifications required of SPED teachers are significant as they would be dealing with diverse exceptionalities that have specific needs.
Lagata also observed that many SPED schools are still not equipped with facilities necessary for learners with exceptionalities and noted that the funding assistance being extended specifically to SPED schools had been reduced drastically.
Up until 2015, these schools still received up to P600,000 budget allocation specifically for SPED purposes as embodied in DepEd Order No. 38-2015 but this had been abolished starting last year and only a meagre amount had been included in the school’s maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).
She said that this significant budget reduction would further put a strain on the implementation of inclusive education.
Lagata disclosed that schools lacked one of the most basic needs of SPED learners, especially those with imperceptible disability, which is the conduct of psychological and assessment tests to determine their specific exceptionality so it could be properly addressed.
“That is the reason why we have a big number of SPED learners who are categorized as intellectually disabled but their specific exceptionality, whether autism, down syndrome, etc., is not properly identified,” she stressed.
With the budget cut, there is no hope that this particular issue could be addressed, Lagata lamented.
Strengths and Opportunities
She, however, found comfort in the fact that there is now a strong support from stakeholders and the community.
“Our school administrators as well as the teachers are really determined to fully implement the SPED program despite of these problems that beset them, and that is a very significant for the success of the program,” Lagata stressed.
She also expressed gratitude to Escudero for taking time to attend the research presentation saying it was an indication of willingness to help address the weaknesses and threats that confront SPED.
To strengthen the program, Lagata said there is a need to come up with a comprehensive regional strategic plan to address the problems that hamper the realization of inclusive education in the region.
It was also recommended that the funding assistance be restored and be increased to allow school administrators to sufficiently address their deficiencies especially on assistive materials and infrastructure support.
She also proposed that teachers undergo intensive enhancement trainings as well as writeshops to address the lack or insufficiency of materials relevant to the specific needs of learners.
One of her most significant recommendation, however, was directed at the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) which is the need for the inclusion of subjects on inclusive education in the undergraduate education courses.
Lagata said that incorporating SPED subjects as part of all education courses would give all education graduates basic knowledge on inclusive education thereby preparing them for “any eventuality” once they start teaching.
The research presentation culminated in the launching of Lagata’s book on special education entitled “Because Every Child Matters”.
The academic book was a compilation of her write-ups on special education which she wrote during her one year scholarship at the University of Newcastle in Australia where she completed her masters on Special Education through a scholarship grant from the Australian government.
Lagata expressed deep gratitude to Australian government which was represented by Estrellita Boskovic, the program manager at the Australian Embassy as well as to the DepED regional office which provided the book publication and research fund through the Basic Education Research Fund (BERF). (Mediaworks Communication)