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.”
MARAGONDON, Cavite – In theory, Jaime ‘Jay’ Divina Jr. should have been able to go to school, despite the poverty of his family and his own physical shortcomings. After all, education up to the secondary level is supposed to be free in this country, and there are laws to ensure that even children with special needs like him are not deprived of learning opportunities.
Yet at 16, Jay, the eldest in a brood of four, has yet to step inside a classroom. In fact, in 2009 his 13-year-old sister Jaciel was the only one among his siblings who remained in school. The other two – Jonathan, 15, and Carlinnette, 10 – had to stop because their mother Diana could no longer afford expenses such as the children’s day-to-day baon, school supplies, and other requirements that do not go free in public schools. In 2010, Jonathan and Carlinnette have resumed schooling, but are at least two grade levels behind their age groups.
THEIR OTHER children were only eight, five, and six years old at the time, but Linda and Sabido de Leon knew it was important for everyone in the family to understand that things were about to change with the baby’s arrival. The doctors themselves had made sure Linda and Sabido realized that soon after Sammy’s birth.
“When I woke up after the anesthesia’s effects wore off, Sammy’s pediatrician approached me and my husband and started talking to us in a very soft voice,” recalls Linda. “She looked worried, and we could tell there was a problem. She was genuinely concerned, and she told us that Sammy can progress with a lot of help.”
NORMAL – THAT can be such a loaded term because the opposite seems to be “abnormal.” But let’s be semantically neutral and look at normal as a statistical label, referring to the majority. Related words are “norms” and “normative,” which are used to refer to values that the majority of society subscribes to. We know, though, that the norms can sometimes end up being unjust or oppressive, sometimes by labeling the ones who are different, the ones who are non-conformist, as “abnormal.”
That’s why “special” comes in handy, in the way it challenges social stigma and, going further, has a privileging function. In the Philippine context, “special” was a term that was quickly accepted because even in our traditionally conformist society, many Filipinos did see “special children” as blessings, as suwerte (good luck).