Students with special needs being left behind in distance learning

The learning modalities recommended by the education department are not suitable to students with special needs.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
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MANILA – The coronavirus disease 2019 has greatly affected many sectors in the Philippines. Schools have resorted to online classes to avoid the spreading of the virus.

The Department of Education (DepEd) has a Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) which aims to respond to the challenges
brought about by COVID-19 to basic education.

Teachers and parents lamented, however, that students with special needs are not considered in DepEd’s BE-LCP. Worse, the proposed 2021 budget does not have an allocation for special education program.

Read: Filipino parents, teachers face challenges over proposed blended learning

Helene Dimaukom, a special education teacher at the Canizares National High School (CNHS) in Cotabato City, worries how her hearing impaired students can continue with their studies.

Dimaukom said the modalities cited by DepEd are not suitable to learners with special needs.

The BE-LCP has different learning delivery modalities: face-to-face for very low risk areas which the DepEd identified as geographically isolated, disadvantaged, and conflict affected areas; distance learning; blended learning; and homeschooling.

Many of the public schools will be using the distance and blended learning. The distance learning has three types: modular distance
learning (MDL), online distance learning (ODL), and television (TV)/radio-based instruction.

Dimaukom said online distance learning is not viable as most students do not have an internet connection or even own a gadget. There are also areas that do not have electricity, which also makes the television/radio-based instruction also not an option.

There are also challenges in modular distance learning as teaching hearing impaired students requires a special skill, Dimaukom said in an online interview with Bulatlat.

Helene Dimaukom (right) with one of her students delivering modules for this school year. (Video grabbed from Helene’s Dimaukom Facebook page)

Parents as ‘teachers’

In modular distance learning, parents need to assist their children as they will take their modules at home. Dimaukom said this is difficult especially for parents who did not have education.

This is also the concern of Guiamela Belon, 40, mother of 20-year-old Bai Indaira Abullah, who is mute. Belon said she doesn’t know how to do sign language.

Dimaukom said sign language in school is in English which will make it even more difficult for parents who do not know this type of
communication.

Belon also worries how she can assist Bai’s learning at home because she has four other children ans she mans their small variety store.

Bai is studying at CNHS, which is an hour away from their home in Datu Udin, Sinsuat, Maguindanao. The CNHS is the only school that offers special education in high school.

Travel going to the school is also a problem for Belon as parents have to pick up the modules. She said the travel from their place to CNHS, which is located at the heart of Cotabato City, is about P200 ($4).

The online learning is also a problem because they do not have a computer and a stable internet connection. If there is a need to be
online, Bai could only borrow her siblings’ cellphone.

“How can the parents explain the modules to their children? There is a need to see the students even once a week to ensure that they will learn,” said Dimaukom.

Dimaukom added that learners with special needs also need socialization. “They need to go out and socialize with other children
to boost their confidence,” she said.

Belon said DepEd should also pay attention to students like her daughter who have special needs.

Dimaukom said teachers can only do so much for their students. Although the situation is understandable due to the pandemic, Dimaukom said DepEd as the lead agency should ensure that the Filipino children will receive quality education as mandated by the constitution.

Bam with her mother, KJ. (Photo courtesy of KJ Catequista)

Hindering development

KJ Catequista also worries that her 12-year-old son, Bam, who has an autism spectrum disorder, will have difficulty coping with the new mode of learning.

Catequista said that socialization is one of the recommendations of Bam’s doctor. Now that the learning of students is confined to their homes, Catequista said this might affect Bam’s improvement.

Bam was enrolled in a school specifically for children with special needs. However, they needed to move to Montalban from Quezon City where most of the schools for children with special needs are costly. This is why Catequista has opted to enroll her child in a public school.

Transferring Bam to the regular public school is a milestone as he was able to adapt well to the regular class setting. In fact, Catquista said the said regular class setting has helped a lot with Bam’s development.

“He can make friends now and have fun with his age group unlike before that he only talks to the adults in our office or in our
household,” she told Bulatlat in an interview.

When the pandemic started, Catequista said Bam has had a bit of regression because he is stuck at home with limited socialization.
Even biking outside is not allowed.

With the start of the classes next month, Catequista is left with no other choice but to choose online classes for Bam, an incoming grade 7 student. She said she might have a hard time with the modular type of learning.

Like Belon, Catequista is also tormented with the thought that Bam has to be monitored at home while at the same time do her work as an organizer of the Gabriela Women’s Party.

Bam at work. (Photo courtesy of KJ Catequista)

“I also need to go to the office and visit communities,” she said. She is also worried about leaving Bam with a gadget for his online class because this would mean that he would spend more time with it. This is among the things that they are avoiding as this might interrupt Bam’s development.

“There are a lot of questions really. Bam has come a long way. What will happen next now that he has no face-to-face socialization with other children?” she said, adding that they were elated that Bam was able to graduate in grade 6.

Catequista agrees that DepEd has not really considered the learners with special needs in implementing the BE-LCP this year. She said that not all parents can afford gadgets or equipment for online classes, or have the time to teach their children through the modules because they are working.

“Children with special needs need special attention. A break from their routine would definitely cause a fallback on their development,” she said, adding that not all parents can afford an expensive homeschool type of education for their special children.

Zero budget for special education program

For Catequista, the special education program of DepEd also needs to be strengthened because private schools for learners with special needs are too much expensive for ordinary Filipinos.

She said that the first public school she went to rejected Bam even if it has a special education program. They were told that Bam is ahead of their students and enrolling him under the special education program might lead to his regression. She also said that in that school, different types of conditions from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to down syndrome are together in one class.

“It is not only my responsibility to give the best education to my child but also the government’s. The government must ensure that all children, including these children with special needs, have quality education so that in the future, they can be productive members of the society,” she said.

Unfortunately, the 2021 DepEd budget showed that there is zero allocation to the special education program.

“Remote learning is hard enough as it is for regular education, but for special education – which requires specialized skills and
materials – the difficulty to deliver safe, accessible and quality education increases by tenfold,” said Raymond Basilio, secretary
general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT).

“Instead of extending bigger support for a service that caters to the most disadvantaged section of learners, the Duterte regime opted to completely abandon our students by giving zero budget for the program,” Basilio said. (http://m238bobo.com)