A Future in Pieces

DESPITE the many laws that recognize the rights of children with special needs, there is still no comprehensive law that mandates special education in the Philippines. As educator Dr. Edilberto Dizon points out, nurturing children with special needs is simply not a priority in the Philippine educational system. The thrust of education in this country, he says, has always been in the provision of more facilities for the growing school population – and even that has been a chronic problem for the government.

“Will the education of special children be more important than mass education?” Dizon asks. “The needs of the majority have yet to be fulfilled. How much more for those in the minority?”

“If (education) priorities are met,” he says, “there should have been more SPED programs and inclusionality programs. More teachers (should have been) trained and retained and not encouraged to leave the country.”

In the meantime, legislators are attempting to add more to the pile of laws on special education. At the Senate, pending at the Committee level are at least 11 bills that aim to improve the special education program in the country. Among these are Special Education Act of 2010 (SB No. 907), introduced by Senator Jose ‘Jinggoy’ Ejercito Estrada, and Special Education Act (SB No. 1912), introduced by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago.

Once ratified into law, both bills would institutionalize an educational program for every child with special needs through the establishment of SPED Centers – at least one for each school division and at least three in big school divisions. A Bureau of Special Education would also be created to institutionalize and govern special education in the country.

At the House of Representatives, at least seven bills with similar objectives have been filed.

Yet even if these bills are passed into law, they may do little in fulfilling special education’s goal of making a child with special needs nearly as capable as other children through the provision of all the opportunities and appropriate support. At the very least, they probably would not have much impact on society’s understanding and appreciation of those who are “different.”

“We need a community that strives for the advocacy for special children,” says Dizon. “So we need public education in that regard.”

That this is lacking can be seen partly in the severely limited work opportunities for people with disabilities. Says Dizon: “In the end, when special people start getting into education, they eventually transit into work opportunities. The community will have to provide work opportunities…for such people so that they will be reassured of a future.”

“When you talk of a special child,” he notes, “definitely you will talk of a future. You do not only look at it piece by piece, you have to look at it long-term.”

The reality, however, is that community support for those who are either mentally or physically challenged can be hard to come by. Center for Possibilities, Inc. founder Dolores Cheng, for instance, notes the lack of public toilets and water fountains that are special child-friendly. She comments, “The absence and inaccessibility of these services make it difficult and almost impossible for special-needs children to be independent.”

It’s bad enough, she says, that there is no infrastructure available for these children that is comprehensive and continuing.

“Try to imagine a special child commuting,” says Cheng, “it’ll be a challenge. Baka pa nga madisgrasya ‘yung bata (The child may even meet an accident).” – PCIJ, January 2011