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Senator Gatchalian files inclusive education bill for special needs children

Children with special needs eagerly greet then-Valenzuela City Mayor Win Gatchalian in this November 2011 file photo taken at the annual special education (SPED) variety event in the city. Gatchalian saw the need for a comprehensive and inclusive education policy framework among local government units and is now pushing for the creation of a SPED Center in each division of the Department of Education. (Photo by Mark Cayabyab)

Senator Win Gatchalian filed Senate Bill No. 996, also known as the “Inclusive Education for Children and Youth with Special Needs Act of 2016”, in an ambitious move to integrate millions of excluded special needs children into the country’s public education system through a comprehensive inclusive education policy framework.

Gatchalian, the Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts, and Culture, said that the ultimate vision of the measure is to prepare children and youth with special needs (CYSNs) for full-time participation and achievement in the regular classroom setting of public schools.

“Every child has the right to an education commensurate with their abilities and to the development of their skills for the improvement of his capacity for service to themselves and to their countrymen,” said Gatchalian in the bill’s explanatory note.

In pursuit of this vision, the Inclusive Education Act provides for the establishment of at least one Special Education (SPED) Center per DepEd division, which will be staffed by a full complement of special education specialists, therapists, and other child development experts devoted to the full-time task of developing the social and academic capabilities of children and youth with special needs.

Meanwhile, mobile SPED teachers will be assigned to roam the most remote and inaccessible parts of the entire Philippines to identify CYSNs and bring them to SPED Centers for assessment, therapy, integration, and mainstreaming.

The bill also mandates the government to provide special equipment needed by CYSNs either for free or at highly discounted rates.

Gatchalian expressed optimism that passage of this landmark legislation would result in an exponential increase in the enrollment of CYSNs in public educational institutions.

According to current data, only around 40,000 of the country’s estimated 5.5 million special needs children are enrolled in public elementary schools.

“The complete lack of a coherent policy framework for educating special needs children is a sad and frustrating tragedy. CYSNs have the same right to learn and succeed as other children do, so let’s make sure we defend their rights,” said Gatchalian.

Gatchalian also highlighted the expanded role of LGUs in special education under the Inclusive Education Act, especially the provision authorizing LGUs to use the Special Education Fund (SEF) to finance special education programs.

To underline the potential of LGUs in providing quality SPED services Gatchalian, a former three-term mayor and two-term congressman of Valenzuela City, pointed to the Valenzuela City Special Education Center (ValSped), a state-of-the-art facility opened by the city government in January 2016.

ValSped, which provides top-notch mainstream inclusion services to special needs children throughout the city, is the model for the SPED centers proposed in the Inclusive Education Act. 

“Local governments must be empowered to craft and implement specialized programs to solve one of their most marginalized constituents – special needs children and their families,” Gatchalian said.