Teachers, parents share burden of educating special needs students
MANILA, Philippines — Mornings are always hectic for Annabelle Cleofas. At 5 a.m., the 45-year-old mother of two is already at the market, buying ingredients for the “ginataang munggo,” “turon” and “suman” she cooks by herself to peddle in the afternoon on her bicycle sidecar.
In between her vending, she attends to the needs of her family which includes her father who is a stroke victim, her husband who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, their 8-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son, Kurt, who has autism.
“I teach Kurt in the afternoon when I get home. He usually likes to listen to music but when he gets tired of it, he would hold a pencil and tell us ‘basa (read), sulat (write),’” Cleofas told the Inquirer. She avoids forcing him to do schoolwork because he tends to pull her hair or throw a fit whenever he gets very aggressive.
With the upcoming opening of classes using the distance learning approach, working parents like her, along with teachers of learners with special needs, know they will have to invest more time and effort in educating students like her son.“My husband and I talked about dividing the work so he can teach Kurt while I’m outside. If we run out of time in the day, we can do it at night before he sleeps. I can do that. I can make time for work, how much more for my kids?” Cleofas said.
“Collaboration between the parent and the teacher is crucial in this ‘new normal,’” according to Rose Maderse, special education (SPED) teacher and coordinator of a public school in Quezon City that will be using the modular distance learning. Under this system, worksheets and modules will be distributed on a weekly basis to parents, who will then guide their children. For students with internet, the SPED department plans to monitor and observe them. “For example, in one hour, one batch of learners with the same skills will simultaneously work on the modules while the teacher is guiding them through video call and the parent is aiding the on-ground execution,” Maderse said.
Village officials’ role
But for those with no devices or access to the web, the SPED team is coordinating with barangay officials to provide a radio, TV and para-teachers who can guide the students.
“We told the village chief that perhaps, in one area, if we have five students residing there, maybe they can gather them together with their parents in one place so they can listen or watch our prerecorded instructional materials through the radio or TV,” Maderse said.
It is hard to rely on verbal instructions or modules alone. Teaching has to be concurrent when dealing with special needs learners, she added.
“If you were to ask me, I really want to go and visit my students so I can guide them myself. But then it’s still not safe and even my coteachers are also afraid for their safety,” she said.
If the parents are not available, Maderse said the students’ guardians, relatives or even neighbors could step in although they must undergo training first.
Just like parents, SPED teachers feel the burden of ensuring that quality education will still be delivered to students under the new approach.
“If we have the nurses, medical workers and doctors as our front-liners in the fight against COVID-19 (new coronavirus disease), for education, our teachers will serve as the vanguards,” said Dennis Maño, SPED coordinator for the Quezon City Schools Division.
The Department of Education (DepEd) on June 19 released DepEd Order No. 12, which highlighted the development of a “learning continuity plan (LCP)” that addresses the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease.
Best learning modality
Under the LCP, schools division offices are tasked to evaluate the best learning modality to cater to the resources and needs of students.
For SPED, the Quezon City Schools Division created the “most essential learning competencies (MELC)” for learners in the nongraded program. Nongraded learners are students with difficulties and special needs under profound or severe disability.
“MELC targets the most important skills of the students needed to be developed during the course of learning,” said Ara Apilado, another public school SPED teacher.
After identifying the MELC, teachers created the modules or “learning packets,” which include a series of activities designed to meet the objectives of the adjusted curriculum.
“We assigned different skills such as communication, numeracy, social and vocational,” said Apilado, who was tasked to write the motor skills topic of the learning packets to be distributed among schools in Quezon City.
The DepEd provided them with resources but for her part, since the images she needed for visual representation in the module were not available, she had to take pictures on her own—with the use of her cell phone—of children showing movements step by step, and then edited them using Paint.
At the start of the quarantine, Apilado even used her savings for a Wi-Fi connection and a new laptop to attend online training programs.
“It’s really challenging but we know that we need to overcome it because we work not just for us but for the improvement of our students,” she said.
According to Maderse, during their in-service training, teachers were given P300 worth of load which was not enough. “What we really ask from the DepEd is to provide resources for the reproduction of the worksheets—bond paper, ink—because we are gearing toward the modular approach.”
Help from city gov’t
Maño said the city government gave funds for instructional materials and the reproduction of modules. Each school was also provided a reproducing machine.
“We are almost done with the preparation and printing of modules from Kinder to Grade 12. We are also finishing the simulation and feedback mechanism for teachers and parents,” he said.
But for Maderse, with almost a month left to prepare, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
“Until now, we’re still finalizing the worksheets and modules to be handed out. The contact persons from the barangays are also not yet ready,” she said.
Despite the challenges posed by the new setup, Maderse said she was willing to give her best for her students. “I told the parents, if you give your 100 percent to your child, I promise that I will give just as much, if not double the amount you can offer. Even if it’s impossible, I will make it possible so I can deliver quality education to my students,” she said.
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