As I peeked through the doorway of a small classroom in rural Sariaya, Luzon, I saw a room filled with children, 7 to 8 years old. As they squeezed their little bodies, three to a bench, up to their desks, I could tell they were eager to learn. For me, it seemed like it would be so hard to concentrate in a room so full, but the kids were so excited to be there. In the class of 60, I noticed one girl a few years older than the other students. She was captivated by the pencil sharpener, trying to sharpen a small pencil. The students didn’t mind her. They seemed quite oblivious to her racket and distraction. The teacher didn’t instruct her to sit down or re-direct her behavior.
According to the Philippines Department of Education, approximately 13% of the population of 102 million, has special needs. A little over 4% are provided with appropriate educational services, but the other 95% of those with exceptionalities are unserved. Hannah Jean, the girl standing at the pencil sharpener, is of the 95.2%. Her needs are not met by the public school system in the Philippines. She needs a special education (SPED) classroom.
Because she did not wear her disability “on the face”, Hannah could attend public school, avoiding the shame that those who have a more severe disability could not. However, this did not ensure she received the attention she needed academically, physically, and emotionally. The classroom was not a stimulating environment, and it was certainly not hospitable to someone in her situation.
Shame prevents many children from attending schools. The social stratification for a child with a disability in these poorer regions is immense. The opportunity for their integration into society is even more slim as showing themselves in public would bring shame upon their family.
The Special Education Division of the Philippines Department of Education states that, “The ultimate goal of special education shall be the integration of learners with special needs into the regular school system and eventually into the community. The specific objectives shall be the development and maximization of learning competencies, as well as the inculcation of values to make the learners with special needs a useful and effective member of society.”
Though the goal of the Philippines DepEd is ambitious and hopeful, there are many factors that contribute to an educational opportunity being practical, accessible, and affordable for a child with special needs, especially if he or she is at an economic disadvantage. In the Quezon Province on the island of Luzon, none of the rural neighborhood schools have SPED classrooms. Rather, students with special needs must travel to the central district school (at least a 30 minute ride away) if they would like to attend classes appropriate for their needs, or be in contact with trained teachers. Furthermore, children with special needs rarely receive a clinical examination or diagnosis due to the inaccessibility or cost.
My hope is to provide a place for children like Hannah Jean, to give opportunity for quality education to all children, regardless of their disability or economic situation. As a school administrator at the Academy for G.O.D. it is part of my job to ensure students receive appropriate classroom placement and scheduling according to their needs as an individual. I believe this paradigm can be carried across borders and cultures so that each child may have the opportunity to learn.