Ms. Rhoda Nocum, a special education(SPED) teacher for 17 years, has been handling children with disabilities and children with special needs in Bagong Silang Elementary School (B.S.E.S.) in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City, Philippines. 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 boost Ms. Nocum’s promotion from a regular teacher to Master Teacher I, thus increasing her salary grade. However, instead of choosing to become a schooladministrator, Ms. Nocum preferred to teach children with disabilities.

From 1992 up to 1998, Mrs. Nocum has been handling children with disabilities and children with special needs 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 in Bagong Silang was constructed. 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 enrollee of seven partially blind pupils, the total number of disabled pupils increase threefold, and hundreds more are prospected for enrolment if not for the lack of qualified teachers and the lack of accessible features in B.S.E.S.

Bagong Silang is known to be a highly populated resettlement area; where there is a high prevalence of disability. In the recent profiling of PhilCOCHED in 2009, in coordination with the local government unit of Bagong Silang, there were more than 600 disabled children in the different Phases of the said barangay. Much worst, the community, and even the parents of children with disabilities were uncooperative of 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; a. lack of teachers b. inaccessible school and c. lack of community support. Unless these requisites are satisfied, the right to education of the increasing number of CWD will be denied again.

On April 2009, under the program “Inclusive Education for All: Bagong Silang Elementary School”, the Leonard Cheshire Disability Philippines Foundation  (LCDPF), formerly PhilCOCHED, revived its partnership with B.S.E.S, toghetehr wih the local government unit of Barangay Bagong Silang. With a funding support from the Jersey Overseas Aid Cooperation (JOAC), LCDPF, being the implementing organization, is set to taddress the problems of the teachers like Mam Rhoda Nocum with regards to the enrolment of children with disabilities in the school. By this time, LCDPF assured Ms. Nocum and her colleague Ms. Mercy Devocion that the approaches for inclusion of children with disabilities in Bagong Silang should be holistic; it should be Inclusive Education.

In May of 2009, LCDPF started to consolidate the Inclusive Education-Community Support Group (I.E.-CSG) of Bagong Silang in a meeting in Phase I, Bagong Silang Caloocan City. I.E.-CSG is an organization of parents of children with disabilities, barangay health workers, local teachers, local government unit officials, and members of the Disabled Peoples’ Organizations. There were primary strategies identified aimed at preparing the school and the community for the forthcoming enrolment in June 2009. Strategic and short-term plans were laid off, which was done through a Participatory Rapid Planning facilitated by the Inclusive Education Program of LCPF. The following strategies include;

Validation of Existing CWD data

LCDPF was fortunate to have a roster of volunteer enumerators coming from the day care workers, parents and local health workers of the LGU Bagong Silang. On October of 2009, LCDPF, in partnership with the BS Council and the Angels of Peace Foundation, conducted a survey for PWDs. There were more than 600 persons with disabilities (PWDs) identified in the said survey. Of the 600 identified PWDs, 182 are children with disabilities whose major disability were Learning Disability, Cerebral Palsy, Speech Impairment, Hearing Impairment and Visual Impairment.

Forging of Partnership with BSES through a Memorandum of Agreement

The results of the survey were presented to the heads of the Health and Education Committee of Bagong Bagong Silang Council. These same results were likewise presented to the principal of Bagong Silang Elementary School. The encounter of PhilCOCHED and the school principal eventually ended up with the Signing of a Memorandum of Agreement between PhilCOCHED and BSES. The said agreement basically outlines each other’s role, in preparing the school for inclusive education. Major provisions of the said MOA include; conduct of ALL the teachers of Bagong Silang Elementary school, modification of BSES and installation of accessibility facilities, devices, and fixtures, and the allotment of a classroom which will be converted into an inclusive Education Resource room

Inclusive Education Training to ALL the Teachers of BSES

The trending of disability as per the results of the research, enabled LDPF to identify which training module will be given to the teachers of Bagong Silang.

Immediately, on April 15-16, 2010, more than 60 regular teachers of BSES were trained on Inclusive Education. To fully maximize the opportunity for training, PhilCOCHED also invited the 9 affiliate schools of Bagong Silang (the schools within the compound of the school and immediate vicinity). LCDPF was able to train 173 regular teachers and principals. It is interesting to note that the 2ndbatch of training includes 9 affiliate schools of Bagong Silang ES that have no SPED programs. All in all, the program was able to train 233 regular teachers and school administrators on Inclusive Education.

Creation of a Task Force CWD enrolment

The above achievements would have been not that successful if not for the newly created task force that literally walked in to the streets of Bagong Silang to identify, validate, and do home visitation and eventually encourage the parents to enroll their child with disability to Bagong Silang. The formula for this may be rooted from the effective composition of various stakeholders, by which actions will start from the barangay level down to the parents and local health workers and day care workers.

Enrolment of out of school Children with Disabilities

All of the above efforts lead us to the final road of all our works; the enrolement or actual placement of out of school children with disabilities in Bagong Silang. Based from the lists nd enrollment records of the schools, including the 9 affiliate schools of BSES, there are 113 out of school children with disabilities enrolled in Bagong Silang Elementary school.

Out of the total 113 enrollees, 64 CWDs were outrightly enrolled in regular classes for both the graded levels and pre-elementary classes inside the schools while 42 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.

The experience in Bagong Silang Elementary School is a bold display of the willingness of the community to help out in solving local issues like education. The said efforts likewise showed us the significance of the local government unit support, was proved to be one of the driving forces of all the local volunteers. The teachers and administrators of BSES proved their worth by giving their time and expertise, should the community volunteers need technical support on enrolment. PhilCOCHED, on the other hand may have provided technical support and direction with regards to the actual implementation of the program.

However, the sum of all these efforts is the realization of hopes of all the parents and children with disabilities to have their fair share of this basic right called education. For decades of her teaching career, this was Mam Roda Nocum’s dream, and eventually, a dream which will be translated into practice.

People from various walks of life sending their opinions for an authentic education for all