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My name is Mylah Sarmiento Nestal, a teacher of Vallehermoso District in Vallehermoso, Negros Oriental, Philippines. A year after our District opened a special education center for children with disabilities, I volunteered to be one of the center’s teachers. My experience of working with the children in that center inspired me to pursue my Masters Degree in Special Education.
The special education center in Vallehermoso District was established in 2010 through the support of the Department of Education, the government officials, and other stakeholders. Its goal is to promote access to education for children with disabilities. However, the presence of the center, especially in its first few years, did not automatically achieve its goal of bringing children with disabilities to schools. As a teacher, I needed to do advocacy activities in schools and in the community to encourage families to bring their children to school. I often received negative responses from them. Parents thought their children do not need to go to school because they could not learn, and it is not an investment. In the District where I come from, children with disabilities are always considered ‘burdens’ to their families. As a result, these children do not receive the appropriate support they need. Children with disabilities continue to be out of school due to stigma and discrimination, as well as due to economic reasons – parents have to prioritize finding food to eat for their family members, instead of supporting their children to go and to stay in school.
I needed to do advocacy activities in schools and in the community to encourage families to bring their children to school.
Amidst these challenges, the special education center managed to bring more children with disabilities especially those with autism, intellectual disability, and visual impairment. Through the support of the community stakeholders, these children had the opportunity to learn not only among themselves but also with their peers without disabilities. In fact, these children were included in regular classrooms which encourages friendship, belongingness, and inclusion. As mentioned in our District’s mission, ‘To provide quality basic education for Filipino learners to acquire knowledge and skills necessary for the development of God-given talents, desired values, concepts and motivations through effective and efficient teaching methodologies for the total development of its clientele.’
The inclusion of these children with disabilities into regular classrooms was a result of collaboration between regular teachers and special education teachers. For instance, regular teachers have been given opportunities to receive capacity building activities from special education teachers on accommodation strategies for children with disabilities.
regular teachers have been given opportunities to receive capacity building activities from special education teachers on accommodation strategies for children with disabilities.
I am happy to note that our special education center has been able to include children with disabilities into the regular classrooms. And eight of these children are now learning with their peers without disabilities in high school. Furthermore, I am happy to realize that I am part of a District that embraces inclusive education and move towards its realization.
Featured image: Mylah together with her students with disabilities and their families.
Mylah has more than a decade of experience as a teacher in the Philippines. With a Masters Degree in Special Education, she taught for four years as a mainstream teacher, and eight years as a special education teacher. As a Microsoft Ambassador, Mylah has a background in statistics and ICT inclusion in education.