A long way to go for special education

Jee Y. Geronimo
Ideally, every public school should have a special education program – but the DepEd still has a long way to go

PASSION FOR SPED. Feliciano Sante, 36, says his love and passion for SPED make him stay. Photo by Lizly Edralin Pimentel Ventura, retrieved from Sante's Facebook

MANILA, Philippines – He almost got hit by a chair on his first day on the job.

After getting briefed by more experienced colleagues, Feliciano Sante knew more or less what to do should a kid throw a tantrum. But left to his own, the scene still took him by surprise.

Teaching in special education (SPED), he learned, is worlds different from the usual teaching he knew.

That was 6 years ago, in 2008, when Sante had to learn from scratch how to teach 15 children with special needs in Malaybalay City Central School. (READ: Step up for Down)

Together with a few SPED teachers, he used to have the biggest classroom in the school – the gymnasium – which housed about 90 pupils.

Since then, the school has provided 6 more classrooms, but the gymnasium today still accommodates quite a number of children with special needs from Malaybalay City, Bukidnon.

State of special education

CHALLENGES AHEAD. DepEd SPED division chair Mirla Olores talks to Rappler about the state of special education in public schools in the country. Photo by Jee Geronimo/Rappler

With the “zero reject” policy, any parent can enroll their children in public schools – even SPED pupils.

Unfortunately, not all public schools in the country has a SPED center, or at least a SPED program.

“Every school should have a program for SPED, kasi lahat ng bata, makikita mo sa lahat ng eskwelahan (you will see all kinds of children in schools),” Department of Education (DepEd) SPED division chief Mirla Olores told Rappler.

Citing an estimate from the World Health Organization, Olores said children with special needs comprise 15% of the population in a given community. Back in 2012, they were estimated to be more or less 13% of the country’s youth and children, with only 2% receiving government support. (READ: Special kids get higher DepEd budget)

But today, only 416 SPED centers nationwide are funded by the government, with 4 more waiting for recognition. Aside from this, Olores estimated around 200 public schools offer a SPED program, but without a center. 

That is 620 out of 34,000 public elementary schools nationwide – a long way to go, obviously, for special education in the Philippines.

Based on enrollment alone, there are 239,000 SPED pupils in public elementary schools today, and only 6,000 pure SPED teacher-items.

But since the ultimate goal of special education is the child’s integration or “mainstreaming” into regular school – and eventually, in the community – Olores said every teacher should have an orientation in special education.

Kasi akala ng teacher bobo lang [yung estudyante], ‘yun pala may specific disability. Ang teacher gagawa ng maraming sulat sa board, ‘yun pala ‘yung bata nagsasayaw lang yung mga letra [para sa kanya] kasi reading disability, iba-brand ngayon sya na bobo. Kaya lahat ng teacher dapat alam ang SPED,” she said.

(What teachers call stupidity is actually a specific disability. As the teacher writes on the board, and the letters seem to be dancing for the child with reading disability, the teacher might brand him as stupid. That is why all teachers must know SPED.)

Marching on

In reality, not all teachers are and will be brave enough to choose what Sante did. He was offered to go back to regular school to teach pre-schoolers, but he turned it down.

“Ma’am, sorry Ma’am,” he recalled as saying, “‘Di ko talaga iiwan yung SPED. Yung passion ko, yung love ko nandoon na talaga sa mga SPED na bata. Yung challenge nandun sa SPED at yung awa sa mga bata, mga estudyanteng walang-wala talaga.

(Ma’am, sorry Ma’am. I will never leave SPED. My passion and love is already for the SPED children. The challenge is in SPED, and the mercy for children, students who really have nothing.)

On February 17, DepEd announced the 19 winners of the 2013 Outstanding SPED teachers nationwide – among them, Sante, who ranked third among teachers teaching children with intellectual disability (ID).

Despite the recognition, he does not paint the job with rainbows and butterflies, admitting even that in some days, he gets tired of it all.

‘Di talaga maiwasan – tao lang tayo. Tapos minsan hindi talaga maiwasan na mag-explode patience mo lalo sa bata, iba’t ibang klase ‘to. May time na nakakasawa kasi paulit-ulit lang yung klase, yung tinuturo mo sa mga bata…Pero ‘pag naisip ko yung pangangailangan ng mga bata, ‘pag nag-stop ako, sino naman kaya [ang gagawa]? Dun na lang ako humuhugot [ng lakas]” he said.

(It can’t be helped – we’re just humans. And sometimes you can’t help but be impatient towards children with different needs. There are times you get tired because the classes and the lessons you teach the children are repetitive. But when I think of the needs of the children, if I stop, who else will help them? That’s where I get my strength.)

HONOR. Sante looks at his award during the regional awarding of outstanding SPED teachers. Photo from Sante's Facebook

Still, he celebrates the little victories: a pupil who kept repeating grade 1 finally passed with honors, while another who was diagnosed with a learning disability will soon be graduating with honors from elementary this coming March.

Pangarap ko [para] sa lahat ng [SPED] pupils: makapag-aral silang lahat…at [matupad] ang mga pangarap sa buhay [dahil] may pangarap talaga [sila] sa buhay. Pangarap kong matanggap sila sa lipunan [nang] walang diskriminasyon,” Sante said.

(My dreams for all SPED pupils: education for everyone, and for all their dreams to come true because they really have dreams in life. I also dream of their acceptance in society without discrimination.)

These dreams could come true if teachers like him are no longer a rarity. (READ: When passion-driven teaching succeeds) – Rappler.com

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.