Toward inclusive education
One familiar maxim known throughout the teaching profession is, “You cannot give what you do not have.”
While this maxim may have become a cliché, it still stands true and just. This is specifically true for practitioners with specific expertise and interests. For example, if a teacher specializes in teaching Senior High School students, that practitioner must know the workaround for teaching that particular level; the same with teachers who are maximizing their subject specialization.
However, a more loaded topic of discussion can be brought to the fore when regular teachers are faced with the reality of teaching learners with special educational needs (LSENs) and learners with disabilities (LWDs), despite their not being properly trained or oriented.
One particular policy reconfiguration that made this adjustment is Republic Act 11650, also known as the Inclusive Education Act of 2021, which aims to promote and equip all schools and learning centers into becoming inclusive schools and inclusive learning and resource centers (ILRC). This transformation aligns with the agenda of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
The law has at least 13 objectives that focus on the equitable access of LWDs and LSENs to quality basic education free from biases and discrimination. The law itself is a progressive move, though there are some factors that can be crucial for its successful and sustainable implementation: (1) even if the law specifically states that necessary interventions are much needed for teaching learners with special needs, it fails to consider the importance of comprehensive training and programs meant to equip teachers with the necessary skills needed; (2) together with the full implementation of this stature and DepEd Order no. 44 series of 2021, is the need for a budget. Unfortunately, the allocation for Special Needs Education proposed at P532,000,000 was scrapped under the 2023 National Expenditure Program (NEP), which ultimately led to the transfer of all inclusion and transition programs and initiatives to offices and schools; (3) on top of the training programs to equip regular teachers with skills needed in teaching LWDs and LSENs, there should be dedicated comprehensive training beyond the usual 3-day or 5-day seminar to tackle various kinds of disabilities with learning interventions (e.g., Braille, FSL, among other things) since teacher specialization usually takes years to master, and (4) it might be time for higher educational institutions, specifically on teacher education, to rehash and recalibrate their curricula to equip aspiring teachers and educators in handling and teaching LWDs and LSENs.
Ultimately, these lapses can be addressed since both RA 11650 and DepEd Order no. 44 are new and still recovering from the effects of the pandemic on the educational system. However, inter-agency efforts and state interventions can be done, as in the following: Ensure that both R.A. 11650 and DepEd Order no. 44 are implemented with quality, timeliness, and efficiency; which means that empirical results and data should be readily available and properly cascaded to all stakeholders and participants. Instead of proposing a confidential fund, the state (or in this case, DepEd) should propose and allocate an appropriate budget to maximize inclusive education in the Philippines.
This includes the building of facilities and ILRCs, and procuring equipment to be used by teachers, LWDs, and LSENs. Employing licensed practitioners such as psychometricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, pediatricians, dieticians, among other experts, is helpful as well.
So would using a two-prong approach: (1) All teachers who are in the field, regardless of specialization, shall be equipped comprehensively by educational institutions to better serve LWDs and LSENs, and (2) all aspiring teachers and educators who are in colleges and universities, through the help of the Commission on Higher Education and Teacher Education tertiary institutions, shall craft curricula that include Special Needs education.
Every Filipino has the right not just to enjoy universal access to equitable education, but also to enjoy quality education that would ultimately benefit teachers, parents, LWDs, LSENs, and stakeholders in promoting a whole-of-society approach for a better Philippines.