Filipinos have deep regard for education for it plays a big role in the Philippine political, economic, social, and cultural life. Education has been the foundation for developments and innovations in the country. The 1987 Philippine Constitution guarantees the right to education of every Filipino. It provided that, “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make education accessible to all.
” The Philippine education system includes both formal and non-formal education and by structure, it can be categorized in two: basic education and the tertiary education. The basic education includes the optional preschool education (nursery, kindergarten, etc. ), the elementary education (grades 1-6), and lastly the secondary education (high school). But not every child is capable to take the basic education that we normally have here in the Philippines. This is the reason that special education exists. Special education for youth and children with special needs is necessary and the government needs to give it more attention and support.
Special education is a specialized branch of education that is essentially arranged to address the needs of special students. Special students may have any of the following: learning differences, mental health issues, physical and developmental disabilities and giftedness. Those students could not receive maximum benefit from purely basic education practices. The chief goal of special education, according to the Special Education Division of the Department of Education, is to integrate the student with special needs into the regular school system, which eventually will make them also integrated to their community.
Most special education takes place in regular public schools but there some that are provided in private special education schools. Special education does not really differ completely from the conventional education. It is actually a modified educational program that provides to the different needs of the special students. A special education teacher normally teaches in a regular classroom set-up. This is to provide the special students the certain skills that they need to develop such as reading and writing.
While some works in regular classrooms, there are also some students that need to be taught in separate classrooms depending on their condition and on the skill or ability that they need to be learned (Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge, p. 289) Special education was actually started in the Philippines by a certain group of people who loves to serve the disable person but it was only formally started in 1907 with the establishment of the Insular School for the Deaf and Blind (Yap & Adorio, 2008).
The school started with 92 deaf persons and one blind person. From then on, the establishment of different special education schools in all around the country has continued. As of 2008, there are already about 11 types of students with special needs who are being served (Yap & Adorio, 2008). The students vary from those who suffer from various disabilities such as hearing impairment, visual impairment, learning disability, mental retardation, behavior problem, autism, and cerebral palsy and those who have giftedness.
According to UNESCO (2004), everyone who wishes to be schooled and educated should be entitled to enjoy the following: (1) equal access to opportunities for basic learning with peers, (2) equality in terms of good quality experiences that will allow them to complete basic education, and (3) equality in the assurance that their education will provide them with the skills to become useful and contributing members of the community.
Moreover, according to Yap & Adorio (2008), the Philippines is a signatory of the Salamanca Statement of Action on Special Needs Education and therefore it recognizes the principle of equal educational opportunities for “all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions” (Salamanca Statement, 1994).
The Department of Education (DepEd), which was formerly called as the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS), institutionalized inclusive education with DepEd Order No. 26. It basically required the organization of at least one SPED center in each division and implementation of SPED programs in all school districts where there are students with special needs.
In relation to these, special education in the power of DepEd addresses itself to the following specific concerns: (1) the formulation of policies and guidelines for planning, managing and evaluating special education programs; (2) the setting up and development of appropriate programs where the needs exist (3) the development and maintenance of resources and linkages; (4) the establishment of the parameters of programs and services for special learners; and (5) research for the promotion new of knowledge or education and psychological aspects of special education (Pascual & Gregorio, 1988).
The Child and Youth Welfare Code of the Philippines (1974) addressed the needs of persons with disabilities. In its Article 3, it states that “every child has the right to a well-rounded development of his personality to the end that he may become a happy, useful and active member of society”. It emphasized that special education services shall be expanded and improved in order to provide equal opportunities to the all the normal children and children with special needs. Nonetheless, there is still no comprehensive law which mandates special education. In fact, there are still two pending Senate bills in the Congress.
The first one was created by Senator Jinggoy Estrada which proposes the establishment of special education centers in strategic locations in a way that these would be accessible to all. The second one was created by Senator Mirriam Defensor-Santiago but it is almost the same as Senator Jinggoy’s. However, these two bills just legislates something which DepEd had apparently been doing as early as 1997 (DepEd Order No. 26-27). At present, special education is a significant component of the Philippine educational system both in the public and private schools. But there have been many concerns regarding the special education in the country.
On top of the list is the inadequacy of special education services throughout the country. Although there is a steady increase in the students in SPED schools, still a big number of children with special needs remain unserved. A lot of SPED schools are highly-privatized, thus having high tuition fees which most parents of children with special needs cannot afford. Although the Department of Education has directed all school divisions in the country to establish Special Education Centers to help provide effective delivery of special education services nationwide, not all of these are functioning as to what they should be.
The country’s special education system is the most heavily regulated yet under-funded of all federal education mandates. Many socio-civic and parent groups started to extend their financial support to our special education system. A lot of support is being received by the special education system in the country in order to get through its problem of being inaccessible but still it is not enough. There are still many children with special needs who are not able to get the education that they need.
Some of these children are with financial constraints and some are unidentified as special children so they are not getting what they should be getting. A student can only receive special education services only if he/she is identified as exceptional. Being exceptional means having special needs, behaviour problems or a specific disability. Many children with special needs remained unidentified especially those who are in rural areas and this had been a significant problem in the special education sector.
The availability of teaching facilities and materials for the students in SPED schools has been also an area of concern. In private SPED schools, there have been not much problem regarding their facilities and materials for teaching, but this problem usually happens in public schools with SPED program where they lack facilities and teaching aids. The materials that are appropriate to the special students are not readily available unlike in highly-privatized special education schools like Philippine School for the Deaf (PSD).
PSD has modern facilities and equipment which facilitates optimal learning for the students. Some public special schools have developed materials and resources themselves in order to provide the needs of their students. There is a need to develop structures and to create more facilities that will be of great help to the students. Another concern in special education is that teachers of students with special educational needs have limited professional training in catering for students with special educational needs thus having limited access to existing special education services.
This may have an effect on the ability of SPED teachers in developing and implementing the curriculum appropriate to the special needs of the children. In addition to this concern, there has also been identified problem as with the fast turnover of properly-trained SPED teachers. Most SPED teachers left their jobs here in the Philippines and moved abroad to where they can get higher salary. If this continues, there will be only very few SPED teachers that will be left in the country.
Last concern with the SPED personnel in the country, there has not been enough special and regular trainings or workshops of the SPED teachers. Information dissemination regarding the special education programs in the different parts of the country has not been given importance. Campaigns and advocacy programs must be necessary for the people to get access to special education and to some important information that they need to know. The parents need to have orientations, and seminars as related to taking care of their child with special needs.
They also need to know about the programs that are being offered. As former DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro said, “We believed that learners deserve special attention and specialized learning tools, thus the increase in funding support,”. The advent of the 21st century requires new perspectives and directions in special education to meet the needs of the children with special needs against the challenges and demands of the new millennium, (Ebol, n. d. ). In order to address the main concerns in the special education sector, the government should take necessary actions about it.
Being the highest governing body in the country, and being responsible for the needs of the people especially of those who are unfortunate, the government shall take primary steps to cater the gaps in the special education sector. DepEd is now aiming to reach out to more children with special needs and in order to achieve this; they should increase the fund for Special Education. New SPED centers need to be opened soon in places which needed it most. Specially trained teachers shall be employed to the new centers that will be opened so that optimum learning for the special students can be met.
Mainstreaming in special education must be followed in order to be able to serve all the children with special needs in the country. At a slow rate, the Philippine special education system is improving through the support of both government and non-government institutions but a still a big number of children with special needs remain unserved. At this moment, what can be done is to improve all the areas of concern in special education. Implement strategies and approaches that will appropriate in addressing all those concerns in the special education sector.