MANILA — The Department of Education (DepEd) said Thursday it was "intensifying" efforts to provide services to children with disabilities (CWDs) after a lawmaker raised concerns on low enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are making sure that every young Filipino who is supposed to be in school has to be provided a basic education service, so inclusive education is being intensified," Diosdado San Antonio, DepEd's undersecretary for curriculum and instruction, said in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
San Antonio made the statement after Senate Basic Education Committee Chairman Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian noted over the weekend that enrollment among CWDs was "far from pre-pandemic levels."
According to DepEd data, the number of learners with disabilities (LWDs) dropped from 360,879 in 2019 to 111,521 in 2020, the same year that Philippine schools shifted to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
DepEd Planning Service Director Roger Masapol said parents of CWDs may have hesitated to enroll their children last year because of "safety concerns and the means of delivering instructions."
There was also a new enrollment reporting mechanism that may have led to schools being unable to "update the learner's profile and facilitate the tagging of the learner as [an] LWD," Masapol said.
In his statement, Gatchalian, citing DepEd data, said the number of LWDs slightly increased to 112,810 in 2021.
But San Antonio said the 2021 figure was not yet final because enrollment among LWDs was "continuous throughout the school year."
San Antonio said the DepEd was partnering with organizations to help advocate inclusive education in a bid to get more enrolled CWDs.
The department is also developing learning resources for LWDs.
"We made sure that the video lessons had translations of sign language interpreter. We're also developing learning resources that could be used by children who are blind," San Antonio said.
Teachers and school principals also undergo training to address the needs of LWDs, especially those who are "mainstreamed" to regular classrooms, while parents are oriented on the use of DepEd's learning resources.
San Antonio added that under remote learning, teachers assigned to LWDs constantly check on the progress of their students by visiting their homes.
"Most of them would visit the learners and find out what's happening, so appropriate support is done," he said.
'One-stop shop' pushed
On Tuesday, Sen. Gatchalian said lawmakers have ratified a bicameral conference committee report that mandates all schools to "ensure equitable access to quality education to every learner with disability, such that no learner shall be denied admission on the basis of disability."
The report is titled "Instituting a Policy of Inclusion and Services for Learners with Disabilities in Support of Inclusive Education Act" and merges Senate Bill No. 1907 and House Bill No. 8080.
The measure seeks the creation of Inclusive Learning Resource Centers (ILRC) in all cities and municipalities in the country.
These ILRC will serve as "a one-stop shop for the delivery of free support services to learners with disabilities and the implementation of inclusive education programs."