MANILA—Nearly half of children with disabilities in the Philippines could not access educational services during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis, an advocacy group said Thursday.
According to Save the Children’s “Rapid Survey on the Situation of Children with Disabilities in the Context of COVID-19” conducted in May, 48 percent of the 40,066 respondents said they did not have access to education during the health and economic crisis.
“We attribute this to the fact that the previous school year was shortened because of the onset of COVID-19 and also, possibly, they cannot go to their mediation center anymore,” Sierra Mae Paaran, Save the Children Basic Education Adviser, said during the hybrid hearing.
Among the factors that hindered children with disabilities from going to development centers and seeking special education services is lack of transportation and loss of income of their parents, Paaran said.
While it is a “challenge” for the Department of Education (DepEd) to deploy facilitators of speech therapy sessions during the global pandemic, the government is preparing a learning continuity plan for children with disabilities, DepEd Bureau of Learning Delivery (BLD) Director Leila Areola said.
“That’s going to be a challenge on the part of DepEd to be honest about it,” Areola said when asked how learners with speech problems can get therapy during the pandemic.
“There are going to be inclusive ebooks. It will be embedded with sign language interpretation and audio will also be provided.”
Some materials, such as self-learning modules, “will also be converted into radio scripts and into video lessons,” she added.
But Deaf Education Council's (DEC) Dr. Liza Martinez reminded government officials that not all learners with disabilities can afford to access lessons online.
“The expense for data video is many times higher than just regular online browsing,” Martinez said.
“ ’Yun pong unli [internet promo] for 1 week is gone in one or 2 hours.”
Martinez said using television as a platform for education “has a great potential” because it is “much cheaper.”
The Save the Children survey showed that 68.8 percent of learners with disabilities received information about COVID-19 “primarily from television and social media.”
In the same survey, 26.3 percent said that information disseminated about COVID-19 “is not in accessible and inclusive forms.”
Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture chair Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the DepEd needs to “try as hard as possible to reach out” to children with disabilities, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.
“COVID has tremendously marginalized children, more so children with disabilities,” he said.
“We need guidance and direction from DepEd to mobilize. Kawawa naman sila if we don’t reach out to them.”
There are 231,000 learners with disability in the Philippines, according to data from DepEd.
Officials have yet to determine how many of those children would enroll this school year.