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“Ayaw rana siya ug ipasulod dinhi sa regular class kay nag wheelchair man siya. Adto rana siya ibutang sa Special Education class”. (“Since he is a wheelchair-user, it will be good if we place him in a Special Education class, not in the regular class”).
This was the statement we heard from a public elementary school teacher when we asked her to accommodate Gabriel, a child with cerebral palsy, during an enrolment process. Upon hearing those remarks, Januaria, Gabriel’s 54-year old mother, could not help but cry because of disappointment.
Due to courage and persistence of Gabriel’s mother and staff at GPRehab, a non-governmental organization working with and for children with disabilities, Gabriel was later able to enroll in a general education class.
However, more challenges came. Gabriel’s teacher seemed hesitant in accommodating the child. She had a hard time working with Gabriel especially during writing and reading sessions. Sometimes, she forced him to write even if he could not hold the pencil because of spasticity. He was left with no choice but to follow what the whole class was doing without accommodations. Consequently, Gabriel’s class performance was poor.
As a child with cerebral palsy, Gabriel was also struggling in terms of his school’s physical accessibility. His classroom was located on the second floor and there was no ramp. Twice a day, morning and afternoon, his mother had to carry him with his wheelchair all the way to the second floor. This also hindered Gabriel’s participation in school activities because most of them were held on the ground floor.
Twice a day, morning and afternoon, his mother had to carry him with his wheelchair all the way to the second floor.
Gabriel’s experience exemplifies the struggles and challenges that children with disabilities face in accessing meaningful and inclusive education. It all starts with the prevailing negative attitude of society about disability; in this case, with the school community. This is demonstrated through how some teachers accommodate children with disabilities in their respective classes. A lack of capacity building opportunities for teachers in accommodating children with disabilities in inclusive settings is a big factor. Furthermore, inaccessible learning environments also present challenges for students with disabilities.
In 2010, the Department of Education in the Philippines released data stating that 81% of identified children with disabilities are out of school. This is an alarming statistic. If this continues, how can the Philippines achieve the second Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education? Also, how can this country be true to its laws of providing access to quality education to all Filipino children?
I strongly believe that one best way of responding to the challenges of educating children with disabilities is inclusive education.
WHAT IS INCLUSIVE EDUCATION?
According to UNESCO, inclusive education is, “a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion from education and from within education”.
The goal is that the whole education system will facilitate learning environments where teachers and learners embrace and welcome the challenges and benefits of diversity. Within an inclusive education approach, learning environments are fostered where individual needs are met and every student has an opportunity to succeed.
Meet Abigail, a child with visual impairment (total blindness). She became blind when she was four years old because of a brain tumor. She lives in a remote area in Negros Oriental, Philippines. Her first four years in elementary were spent in a Special Education class that was located in the downtown area. She and her mother had to travel over an hour every day to go to school, and they had to spend 3 US Dollars per day for transportation. Her mother does not have a job and her father is a farmer. Money was a big issue and her mother could not look for job opportunities because she had to stay with Abigail for the whole school day. The process of sending her to school became very challenging not only to Abigail, but to the whole family.
There is a public elementary school located a few meters away from Abigail’s house. Initially, the school said they were not ready to accommodate her. Luckily, however, with the help of GPRehab, Abigail was eventually able to enroll in the elementary school near her home.
HOW DOES INCLUSIVE EDUCATION WORK IN SCHOOLS?
First, teachers and staff of Abigail’s new school were oriented about disability issues through a Disability Sensitivity Seminar (DAS). This was followed by a Workshop on Accommodating Children with Visual Impairment where teaches were taught how to use Braille and how to differentiate and modify classroom instructions.
Second, during the first few weeks of classes, Abigail’s classmates were taught how to be sensitive towards the needs of children with disabilities through a film showing and disability simulation activities. This was also the time when her classmates were assigned to be Abigail’s buddies for classroom activities.
Third, Abigail’s family members also underwent a series of empowerment and skills workshops for them to be able to assist in her education. Her mother said, “More than anything else, Abigail needs me, she draws strength from me. She grew up to be a child without a bitter heart.
Fourth, the curriculum was modified to fit Abigail’s needs. Though she was included in a general education class, her teachers employed differentiation and management strategies so she could cope with the pace of class lessons.
Fifth, it was recognized that aside from Abigail, there were students enrolled in the same school who manifested signs of learning disabilities. Through the inclusive education initiatives, a project known as “Kaalam” (“Wisdom”) was formed and was run by young people who shared their time and skills to Abigail and other children through a reading remediation program.
Finally, inclusive education initiatives were extended outside the school community. A series of advocacy activities such as parades and radio and TV exposure helped educate the community about disability.
Abigail learned in an inclusive environment. Abigail’s story is solid proof that a culture of negativity toward children with disabilities can be transformed into a culture of care, concern, and inclusivity.
a culture of negativity toward children with disabilities can be transformed into a culture of care, concern, and inclusivity
Due to all these efforts, Abigail graduated from elementary school last March 2013 with flying colors. Now she is ready for high school.
Inclusive education is a critical element that everyone, especially governments, have to adopt in order to fully realize the rights of all children to access and quality learning, especially for those children who are marginalized. As Cardinal Roger Mahony once said, “Any society, any nation is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members – the last, the least, the littlest.”