A new inclusive Bagong Silang Elementary School

Ms. Rhoda Nocum, a special education (SPED) teacher for 17 years, has been handling children with disabilities (CWDs) in Bagong Silang Elementary School (BSES) in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City. Because of her service and dedication, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) awarded her the “Dangal ng Bayan Award” in 2006, an annual search and recognition for outstanding civil servants of the country. This same recognition boosted Ms. Nocum’s promotion from a regular teacher to Master Teacher I, thus increasing her salary grade. However, instead of choosing to become a school administrator, Ms. Nocum preferred to teach CWDs.

From 1992 up to 1998, Mrs. Nocum has been handling CWDs in varying classrooms, depending on the availability of classrooms that would fit the needs of her CWD pupils. Eventually, in 1998, a building for special education classes was constructed in Bagong Silang. Most of these SPED pupils come from the immediate communities of Barangay Bagong Silang, and even as far as the barangays of Camarin, Tala, Malaria, and some towns of Bulacan. From an initial enrollment of seven partially blind pupils, the total number of disabled pupils increase threefold, and hundreds more are prospected for enrollment if not for the lack of qualified teachers and the lack of accessible features in BSES.

Bagong Silang is known to be a highly populated resettlement area; where there is a high prevalence of disability. In the recent profiling done in 2009 by the Inclusive Education Programme (then under the Philippine Council of Cheshire Homes for the Disabled (PhilCOCHED), another affiliate of LCD) in coordination with the local government unit of Bagong Silang, there were more than 600 CWDs  in the different Phases of the said barangay. Much worst, the community, and even the parents of CWDs were uncooperative with the SPED program, insisting that sending their disabled children to school will just be a waste of time. At an instant, Ms. Nocum discovered the deficiencies that BSES should address- namely, lack of teachers, inaccessible school, and lack of community support.

On April 2009, under the program “Inclusive Education for All: Bagong Silang Elementary School”, the Inclusive Education Programme revived its partnership with BSES, together with the local government unit of Barangay Bagong Silang. With a funding support from the Jersey Overseas Aid Cooperation (JOAC), Inclusive Education Programme set to address the problems of the teachers like Rhoda Nocum with regards to the enrolment of children with disabilities in the school. By this time, Ms. Nocum and her colleague Ms. Mercy Devocion were assured that the approaches for inclusion of children with disabilities in Bagong Silang should be holistic; it should be Inclusive Education.

Who will teach them?

Ms. Nocum knew that there would few teachers who will be willing to handle CWDs. During the first stage of accepting CWDs in BSES, Ms. Nocum was the only SPED teacher in the school. However, as the enrollment increased threefold, she was left with no choice, much to her regret, to refer the enrolling CWDs to other schools, which have strong SPED programs. The recurring cycle of rejection among CWDs from enrolling has been Ms. Nocum’s most pressing concern. By the formal opening of the Special Education program in 1998, BSES was able to acquire a handful of SPED item from DedEd’s Division Office of Caloocan. This situation is the same with other Division offices, where SPED item is an imminent need.

Not long after the Inclusive Education Programme had a dialogue with Ms. Roda Nocum and her colleague Ms. Mercy Devocion, they realized the significant support of regular teachers in their school to fully accommodate the increasing number of children with disabilities who want to enroll in their school. The Programme was able to convince the two dedicated teachers to train the regular teachers on Inlcusive Education.

On two separate batches last April 2010 and May 2010, 233 regular teachers and school administrators were trained. Ms. Nocum and Ms. Devocion became the trainors of their co-teachers, together with the education specialists coming form the Bureau of elementary Education of the Department of Education.  During the said trainings, the regular teachers of BSES were able to appreciate and understand the techniques on curriculum adjustment and classroom modification for them to accept CWDs, without over using the SPED center by enrolling too many CWDs. By this time, BSES has prepared its teachers to handle newly enrolled children with disabilities in n inclusive set up.

Where will they study?

Ms. Nocum and Ms. Devocion already knew that their school may not be that prepared when it comes to physical accessibility. In the initial access audit conducted by the Inclusive Education Programme and BSES, there were many areas in the school that need ramps for greater mobility of wheelchair users  as well as the need for handrails for students  with epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Several toilet doors were also too narrow for greater passage. Considering also that the school has great number of students who have visual impairments, the Inclusive Education Programme, in coordination with the school principal, Mrs. Wilma Coching started the construction of ramps and installation of handrails and non-skid floorings in the identified areas. Toilet doors were also widened to promote greater movement of the students.

Enrolment of out of school Children with Disabilities

All of the above efforts lead us to the final road of all our works; the enrolment or actual placement of out of school children with disabilities in Bagong Silang. Based from the lists and enrollment records of the schools, including the 9 affiliate schools of BSES, there are 170 previously out- of- school CWDs now enrolled at BSES.

Out of the total 170 enrollees, 64 CWDs were out rightly enrolled in regular classes for both the graded levels and pre-elementary classes inside the schools while 54 CWDs has severe cases of disabilities, which were enrolled in SPED classes while. Meanwhile, 7 out of school pupils who have no grade level until the individual assessments is done by the school officials. Likewise, there were also 45 pupils who were enrolled in regular classes, but were later on assessed to have disabilities. Mrs. Mercy Devocion facilitated the monitoring and screening of incoming children with disabilities, having in mind that no child will be denied to his/her right to education, now that BSES has been prepared for full inclusion.