Press Release
February 9, 2021

Highlights of Sen. Pia S. Cayetano's interpellation on the Inclusive Education Bill

Part 1: Objectives of the Bill

Senator Pia S. Cayetano (SPSC): I refer to Section 2 and Section 5 that basically say that education of learners with disabilities shall be compulsory and accessible, and that we will ensure the non-deprivation of the rights of access to inclusive, equitable, and quality education. That's Section 2.

And then, I quote Section 5, that no learner with disabilities shall be denied admission and inclusion in any public or private or early basic education school.

I am just confirming that these are two important provisions in the bill.

Note: The sponsor Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian confirmed this.

SPSC: So my understanding here is that there are two important components. One is, you want the financial support obviously to be able to fund all of these interventions that need to be done to have an efficient education program for special learners, correct?

Note: Sen. Gatchalian stressed that the first component is to have a policy for inclusive education.

SPSC: So one would be the recognition that we need funding for learners with disabilities, and the second would be the policy on inclusive education. Is that correct?

Note: Sen. Gatchalian confirmed this, adding the policy would be incorporated in both public and private institutions.

SPSC: [The] sponsor and I both fought for the budget of special education in the last budget. So with the support of our Chair of the Committee on Finance, our goal was to keep that budget separate so that it doesn't get eaten up by the regular education budget. We both fought for that because we recognize that the needs of these learners with disabilities is distinct and we have to really fund that. So we are on the same page with that.

On the other aspect, which is to ensure that every education institution, every basic education institution offers inclusive education, and no learner would be turned away, that is where I want to ask a few clarifications.

Part 2: Case in point

SPSC: I don't know if his honor is familiar, but I had a child with severe special needs. He was born blind and deaf, and I was told that he would never walk nor talk. And he also had medical conditions. So assuming, for the sake of argument, that my son's brain was not damaged as well, that he had the regular capacity as a child, within the range of normalcy in his age group, then I would put him in a school. I have been preparing for that since the moment I learned of his condition when I was still pregnant. But I beg to ask, how would a child like mine, who was blind, deaf, cannot walk and cannot talk, survive in that kind of inclusive environment?

Not to belabor the point, but in other countries where they have specialized [education], they have teachers, the equipment for this, those maybe with similar or otherwise complex needs as my son's would be difficult to be put in a regular classroom setting, and they would be put in another classroom setting, where their needs would be better attended to. So how would that work in this bill?

Note: Sen. Gatchalian said one of the most important features of the bill is the Inclusive Learning Resource Center.

SPSC: So, in the case of my son, if again, assuming that his mental capacities were not affected by his condition, which by the way is called Trisomy 13 so it was affected, if he was just blind or deaf, under your bill, a school would be mandated to include him in the regular classroom?

Note: Sen. Gatchalian replied yes, as much as possible.

SPSC: That's my point, as much as possible. Remember, he is blind and deaf, so upon the time that we pass this law - because by the way, I am a supporter of this law just to make it clear, that's why my questions are really meant to address very specific situations and I have personal knowledge because of my own child - how would you be able to ensure that a school would have the capacity to deal with a learner who is blind and deaf, and like in the case of my son, let's even assume that hindi severe ang kanyang mental difficulties. Because my son's was severe.

Basically, if you ask me as a mother who could afford, yes I would like him to be in a school where he has group time, he would develop social skills with his friends, but he definitely would need more one-on-one time than group time. And I don't know how his development would be fast tracked to be in an inclusive setting, especially in the first few years, or maybe in the first decade where there would, I doubt if there would be special education teachers available. And you said there is a resource center to fully diagnose that you really need a developmental pediatrician - and we have a handful only in the country. When my son was born, this was 19-20 years ago, I think we only had 5 (developmental pediatricians). So I don't know, maybe we have 50 now. I am really approaching this from a very practical standpoint. I do not judge the schools that have turned away children with special needs because my mom is a teacher, I grew up in her classroom...

[Choppy audio]

Basically, that's my concern. I do not believe that you can guarantee the best education for these children with special needs through inclusive education alone. And what I would like to ask his honor is, where is the provision here in the bill wherein you assure that a child would be getting the kind of intervention separately and not necessarily in the same classroom as needed? And number two, that the teachers would also be getting the support they need to manage the children with special needs?

Because, as I was saying, my mother was a teacher, and if you have 2-3 students with ADHD, one teacher cannot really, in a classroom of 25 students, necessarily handle that.

One last point, my 10-year-old son now had a best friend who migrated to the States, and he was pulled out of regular class and put in a special class for about a year. At first, the mother was quite disappointed because he was lagging behind daw in Math. merong mga deficiencies in his understanding. But you know now, he is actually a State Awardee for Math, precisely because he was pulled out of a regular classroom and put in a special class so that he could catch up.

Basically, what I am asking his honor is where are the provisions that ensure that both the child and the teacher have the support that they need so that this child can be attended to and the other needs of the students will still be attended to as well?

Note: Sen. Gatchalian said they did not specify in the bill exactly what to do with different scenarios, just the end goal of full participation and inclusion to the society.

SPSC: I understand, but that is the essence of my issue with the way that the bill has been presented since the 16th Congress, which was the time that I was the Chair of the Committee on Education. Without any provision whatsoever assuring that it is okay for the school to have separate facilities when needed, it becomes the burden of the school to provide for that inclusionary scenario for all the students, which I am telling you, with the very case of my own child, is quite impossible.

So that's what I want to address, because otherwise, we will be presenting both public and private schools with scenarios where they would be constrained to accept because we dictated it in the law, and then it may be quite impossible in certain circumstances, like the case of my child. Like I said, yes, I would be very happy and my goal was for him to integrate in society. So that means there will be a lot of activities that he should be included in, but he could not have the same math, science classes, writing classes, because he's blind and deaf.

That's my point, that's why I'm not asking [for the bill] to carve out every scenario of every particular disability, but [it] must provide the policy that recognizes that this situation does exist and there would be times and places where a typical SPED center would be more beneficial to the child and to the teacher and to the other children as well.

Note: Sen. Gatchalian said another important provision of the bill is the individualized education plan, which was lifted from Sen. Cayetano's own version of the bill.

Part 3: Multiple approaches for learners with different types of disabilities

SPSC: In principle, what I gather from his honor is that he understands the concern that I raised, but I do not see this written in the bill, so that is what I would like his honor and his committee to look into, where you can carve that out. Like I'd want to say something like, "This is without prejudice to the needs of the child which may be better catered to outside of the classroom, or one-on-one, or something." Because otherwise, it does give the impression that there is only one scenario you are painting, that they are all inclusively in a classroom. And again, I will reiterate, this is the point I believe his honor did not address - the preparation of the teachers and the additional manpower that is needed to achieve that.

Let's just say, my child, he would need a different teacher to teach him Braille. He would need another teacher to teach him occupational and physical therapy to walk if trained, or to walk with support. So all of this may take more time than the regular subjects of the student. And yes, the individual education plan is a step in the right direction, that's why I recommended that, but again, I go back to the human resource necessary to correctly make an individualized education plan. It goes back to the developmental pediatrician, of which we only have a handful.

A SPED teacher technically just gets directions from these developmental experts. So my point in all this is to really look at what the entire needs are before we mandate. So what are these needs? How many developmental pediatricians do we need in the entire country to be able to address that? What are the support systems needed so these children are properly diagnosed and those teachers are equipped to be able to do that, and what is the budget involved?

Part 4: Setting goals and timelines

I would actually propose, and again, these questions of mine are all for the Committee and his Chair to consider so I can work with his honor on amendments. What are the budgetary requirements going to be because I am a hundred percent sure we cannot make it in the first year despite his honor's efforts and mine, hindi natin nadagdagan. All we were able to do was to say that, "Paki-exclude itong budget na dapat talaga for special learners, huwag niyo ihalo sa bulk ng budget para hindi mabawasan." but we were not even able to add to it.

So I would think, maybe it's best, can we have a 10-year timeline? What do we need every year so by the time we hit 5 or 10 years, all these schools would have these kinds of intervention programs, facilities, etc? Because that to me would be a meaningful program. Because otherwise, we set ourselves up for disappointment, we will have all these parents - and I know what it is like to be a parent of a child who has special needs - to expect that the schools are supposed to deliver because we passed this law, and yet they will not be able to deliver.

And the truth is, as bad as it may sound, the child's need may not only not be met, but in a classroom setting, the teacher might have to use her entire attention for the need of that one child versus the need of the 24 other children. That is the reality if you have children with special needs because they have special needs.

Note:Sen. Gatchalian said that he recognized these concerns.

SPSC: I would just like to ask the gentleman if they actually have the numbers of specialists that we need? How many projected developmental pediatricians do we need? How many teachers who specialize in special education do we need? How many teachers' assistants do we need? Because unless we have that number, it's just going to remain a dream in that bill. We know that very well, his honor has worked with me on the budget, and without clear goals as to how many of these we need to provide plantilla positions for, how much funding needs to go into this, it's not going to happen, and it's not going to happen soon after we make the law.

So I would really like that built into the law. I'd like the numbers spread into the record, and I'd like, whether it's DepEd working with DOH, whoever, to be mandated to come up with those specific targets, and for NEDA, DOF, DBM, and all of them to work together to ensure funding for that.

Because again, like I said, it's difficult for any parent to see the dreams they have for their children, or their children's own dreams not being fulfilled. But when a mother or a father has a child with special needs, the difficulties double, triple, because you already know nung ipanganak mo pa lang siya, andami nang obstacles. And what I do not want to happen is we give false hope. Because on paper, it looks so good and yet, it would not get funded because we are not clear about who is responsible to ensure that this gets funded [and] who pinpointed the number of specialists we need.

So when his honor said that in Valenzuela, the most you can do is consultants, and I would assume for most of the cities even in Metro Manila hanggang ganun lang, paano pa sa probinsya? It's very similar to our goal to ensure that Filipinos have access to doctors. Let's put a goal there, let's be very specific. Because we need to tell DBM and DepEd and DOH that this is the goal. We need to have this number of specialists who will assist in this inclusive [education], who will make this come true... Otherwise, you might want to simplify the goals or make it more reasonable, and say that the goal for the first 3 years is to have one in every province, in 5 years is to have 3 in every province, and within 10 years, to have it in all cities and first-class municipalities... I am not dictating what it is but I think the goal should be clear.

It's such a heartache for a parent to think na ito na may pag-asa na, and then it's not going to happen because it won't if we don't spell it out. That's my concern.

Part 5: Substantiate bill's vision with the necessary funding

SPSC: I would request his honor for the data, the amounts that would be required so we can help craft the wording. I still feel strongly because I totally understand and appreciate his honor's sincerity in providing hope for these parents. But my warning was simply that, in our desire to create hope, and in our inability to control what finances would actually be allocated for this, then we might create false hope. And that is what I am guarding against. Not that we intend to create false hope, but that is what we might end up providing if we cannot substantiate the vision that we have in this bill with the necessary funding.

So I think it is important that no matter how rough it may be, we estimate what kind of funding requirements we'll be looking at, and a lot of it will be [human resources] and trained HR in order to roll this out properly. And I do feel that there may be benefits of putting timelines so that on the face of the bill, when it becomes a law, people are also apprised as to how complex this goal is. Not everybody thinks that way. Sasabihin lang nila na, "Pinasa niyo yan tapos wala pala, asan na?" You know what I mean?

I am really trying to put reasonableness in the crafting of this bill so that we meet the expectations of the parents who already have a burden to carry because of the special needs that their children have, the burden to really find these specialists to be able to bring the best out of these children.

Part 6: The need for teachers' assistants

SPSC: One last point, it is also something I would like to be reflected in the bill. [This is] the role of para-teachers and teachers' assistants, and also parents in all this. Many of the children who have special needs also have emotional needs, some maybe because that is the need they actually have, on the emotional side, but others develop that need precisely because of the physical or mental differences that they have, then they can only trust or cling to their parents. Thus, the role of para-teachers, teachers' assistants, or other non-teaching personnel, including parents, would be important. Because in one meeting that we had with DepEd, we were told that only licensed teachers may actually teach in a classroom setting. I am a little bit confused with that, because his honor may recall that we also had budget meetings and his honor was always present, and even the SDG hearings on the future of education. They also said they welcome the para-teachers or teachers' assistants. So I am a little bit confused on how they see the role of these non-teaching assistants, including the parents, because they must play an important role. So maybe we can get clarity on that also.

I truly believe that his honor is in the right direction. I hope his honor recognizes that my goal simply is to try to clarify and be as specific as possible. I also believe in flexibility but the specificity that I am asking for would, I believe, add clarity to the bill, especially when it becomes a law.

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