Bill seeks free education for special children

By Alexander Villafania

PASAY CITY, METRO MANILA – A bill seeking to give free education to children with disabilities (CWDs) is being pushed in an effort to promote equal opportunity among Filipinos regardless of their physical or psychological state.

Senate Bill 1427, authored by Senator Loren Legarda, guarantees the right to access to education through the establishment of Special Educational Centers or SECs in cities, provinces and municipalities.

These SECs will have pre-elementary and elementary education for CWDs. These are purpose-built to prepare CWDs for integration into regular school, along with non-handicapped children.

The SECs will be managed by the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Both departments will determine the applicable teaching techniques based on the students' aptitude level.

In addition, a Special Education Development Fund will be put up for use of the SECs. Likewise, qualified students will be given tuition fees, textbook and transportation allowances, among others.

"Disability also disproportionately afflicts the poor due to various environmental factors that they are exposed to, and that is why we need the government to step in and provide support for this highly disadvantaged and vulnerable group who cannot afford specialized education.”

“We cannot rely solely on the remarkable efforts from cause-oriented groups and charitable organizations that aid children with disabilities," Legarda said.

Currently, the Philippines has 94 special education institutions - 14  are within existing schools;  19 boarding schools; 2  hospital schools ; and  4,292  special  education  classes  in  public schools.  There are 23 schools that have integrated education programs for community-based rehabilitation.

Records from the Department of Education (DepEd) showed that there are about 197,000 children with special needs that are enrolled in public and elementary schools. Of this number 95,000 are children with disabilities (CWD), which include mental or physical disabilities.

In a previous interview, DepEd Undersecretary for Programs and Projects Dr. Yolanda Quijano said there are still many CWDs that remain unaccounted. Of the 94 million Filipinos five percent are estimated to be CWDs.

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