LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – Aside from the typical lessons in class, two teachers from Rawis Elementary School in Legazpi City impart an important lesson to their students every day: there are no limits to learning and dreaming.
Special Education (SPED) teachers Hilarion Daen Jr. and Edna Blacer teach children with hearing and visual difficulties for a living. But that is not the only thing that makes their story unique and inspiring.
Teachers Hilarion and Edna wake up early every day to teach their students despite their own difficulties – Hilarion is hearing-impaired, while Edna is nearly blind. At their line work, the two teachers have learned to harness their hearing and visual impairments to help young persons with disability find hope and continue learning.
Teacher Hilarion handles kindergarten pupils with hearing deficiencies. According to the 56-year-old teacher, early childhood education is one of the most crucial parts of child development especially for children with impairments.
"Other than making them understand that they are part of the society despite their impairment, it is also important to make them realize that they are not just accepted, but they can also do something for the community, and I, being a hearing-impaired teacher, am the best example," he said through a sign language interpreter.
A teacher for 24 years already, Hilarion said what he was doing was more than just profession, but more of a devotion.
"Seeing each of my students learn new things every day satisfies me and makes me motivated to stay in this profession," he added. (READ: Robredo wants SPED centers in all public schools)
The same is true for Teacher Edna, 45, a partially blind teacher at the same public school.
"I think, as a SPED teacher, it's important how you make an impact on your students," she said.
Teacher Edna started teaching with a normal vision. But after a decade, her vision started to regress until she can only just recognize letters in relatively large sizes.
Serving for almost 2 decades now, Teacher Edna witnessed how the special education in the Philippines improved to address the needs of SPED students.
"The current inclusive learning strategy paves the way for these visually-impaired students to see the world in a different perspective, enabling them to take part in community development regardless of their visual disability," she said in Filipino.
She also believed that the support of the government and community stakeholders make it possible for educators like her to further enhance the quality of special education. (READ: 3 things the private sector can do for basic education)
Support for SPED
As of February 2017, the Department of Education (DepEd) has recognized a total of 648 SPED centers and regular schools offering the program—471 of which cater to elementary students and 177 provide for secondary education to students. The Rawis Public Elementary School is one of them.
During school year 2015-2016, DepEd recorded around 250,000 enrollees with certain exceptionalities at the elementary level and around 100,000 at the high school level.
In a previous press release, the DepEd has committed to provide a holistic approach in catering to the needs of learners with various exceptionalities by ensuring "that learners with exceptionalities will have access to quality education."
Under this program, DepEd said parents or guardians of learners with certain exceptionalities may reach out to principals or guidance counselors of schools where they wish to enroll their children to determine the necessary instructional program that their children need best. Available instructional programs for SPED learners include the following:
Despite these government commitments, teaching SPED education still has its own sets of challenges. (READ: A long way to go for special education)
For example, at Rawis Elementary School where they have integrated SPED learners in regular classes, parents and teachers were initially apprehensive with the the move while some even outright rejected it, said Phoebe Santiago, the principal of the elementary school.
Challenges of SPED teachers
Santiago explained that the reaction was a result of the initial lack of trainings for teachers who will be handling the mainstreamed classes.
Fortunately, Santiago, who was a SPED teacher herself, was able to provide teachers with little to no background on SPED education the necessary training and support.
"Nabibigyan ko sila ng trainings, support, at technical assistance sa paghawak ng mga children with special needs na naka-mainstream sa kanila," she said in an interview with Rappler. (I was able to provide trainings, support, and technical assistance in handling children with special needs who are mainstreamed in their classes)
The challenges cited by Santiago, however, are only from the perspective of managing and implementing the SPED program. Inside the classrooms, the challenges faced by Teachers Hilarion and Edna were different, albeit equally difficult.
For Teacher Hilarion, having a hearing-impaired class leaves him no choice but to develop their skills through colorful visual presentations. This required more work beyond class hours.
Teacher Edna, on the other hand, said that the biggest challenge for her is to craft special teaching techniques for her students with individual needs.
While these may be meticulous, Teachers Hilarion and Edna said the challenges they experienced made teaching rewarding at the end of the day. (READ: The real cost of education in the Philippines)
"Teacher Edna and Teacher Hilarion are the living examples for kids with special needs that they can contribute to the community," Santiago told Rappler. (READ: Storytelling sessions held for children with special needs)
Santiago said that having the two teachers at Rawis Public Elementary School made their special education institution ahead of others.
If any, the challenges pushed the two teachers to do more and help their students with special needs. After all, they said they were teaching at the public elementary school to debunk the stereotype that people with disabilities like them were incapable of great feats – a lesson they also want to share to their students.
"I want to tell the kids that even though their situation is difficult, because of their visual impairment, they should not lose hope. They need to persevere. They need the determination to pursue what they want to be and achieve in their life," Teacher Edna said. — Rappler.com
Raisa Serafica is the Unit Head of Civic Engagement of Rappler. As the head of MovePH, Raisa leads the on ground engagements of Rappler aimed at building a strong community of action in the Philippines. Through her current and previous roles at Rappler, she has worked with different government agencies, collaborated with non-governmental organizations, and trained individuals mostly on using digital technologies for social good.