Every Filipino citizen has the right to education. Each individual has the prerogative to learn and develop skills that will aid them in their self-improvement and development. Unfortunately, the educational institutions of the country are often limited when it comes to truly providing education to every person in the country. And in the recent National Conference on Inclusive Education organized by Our Lady of Fatima University (OLFU); educators, psychologists, and guidance counselors gathered together to promote borderless learning institutions; espousing the theme of “Embracing Diversity in Education”.
Held at the Sequoia Hotel on October 6, 2018, the National Conference participants were welcomed by OLFU Board of Trustees member, Robert Bjorn O. Santos. In his brief message, he averred, “It cannot be denied that as educators, our belief systems mask the doubt and prejudice in us.” And so declared, “In order for us to support our students’ diverse needs, we as teachers, educators and parents must be educated as well.”
Keynote Speaker, Senator Risa Hontiveros, who serves as the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women and Gender Equality, imparted her advocacies through her Keynote Address. “I ask that we go beyond hearing and that we listen to each story and take what we learn back to the classroom, the boardroom, the regional meeting, and our daily experiences as educators,” she said.
Esteemed speakers discussed various topics about inclusive education and its relevance: Dr. Rizalio R. Sanchez from the National Council on Disability Affairs; Dr. Jose D. Tuguinayo Jr. from the Department of Education; Dr. Edilberto I. Dizon, SPED Diagnostician – Counselor; Richard D. Arceno from the Inclusive Education Network; Jaime Roberto D. Nemeño from the Unilab Foundation; Ma. Carmela “Candy” Pangilinan from ABS-CBN and author of “Mommy Dear: Our Special Love”; Pia G. Ortiz-Luis from the Cartwheel Foundation, and Michael David D.C. Tan from Outrage Magazine.
As Dr. Sanchez tackled the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as formulated during the United Nations Convention in 2008, Dr. Taguinayo presented DECS’ inclusive educational programs targeting learners with disabilities, those with special needs, the Muslim sector, and the indigenous peoples.
On the other hand, Dr. Dizon talked about the inclusive education model currently used by private schools. Handling the segment on WE CARE or “Work for the Empowerment of Children with Disabilities Through Access to Rehabilitation and Education”, Dr. Arceno narrated his advocacy on promoting cooperatives that extend support to the PWD sector so that they may thrive on a higher plane.
Dr. Nemeño then told the story of Project Inclusion; his work in the Unilab Foundation that focuses on working with various sectors of society to build workplaces that are more accessible to the PWD’s, thereby increasing work opportunities for them.
After, Ms. Pangilinan’s personal testament of raising her son with autism and special needs struck an emotional chord; defining that the unconditional love of a parent can only beget acceptance and empowerment to find solutions to special needs— instead of seeing it as a problem.
Ms. Ortiz-Luis spoke on the dealings of her Cartwheel Foundation whose thrust is to make education more accessible to indigenous peoples.
Last but not least, Mr. Tan of Outrage Magazine essayed the difficulties of being an LGBTQI in school, and what should be done to address these.
While the presenters spoke and lively discussions transpired during the open forums, conference delegates were already pledging their strong support for Inclusive Education by affixing their signatures on a framed commitment statement that read:
“From this day onward, I hereby commit to support Education for All, I will treat everyone with respect regardless of their ability, age, culture, religion and sexual orientation. I will advocate the power of diversity to ensure a more creative environment, a richer exchange of ideas, and a wider perspective in life. I will encourage collaboration with everyone to eliminate fear, bias, and ignorance against other people. And I will uphold the values of acceptance, compassion, and equity for a better world for today and the future generation. So help me God. “
The gathering was wrapped up with closing remarks from OLFU’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Graduate School Dean, Dr. Heracleo D. Lagrada. “The main concept that inclusive education aims to provide is a learning environment where children or individuals with or without disabilities are taught together as equals.” he pointed out.
The conference ended with the vision of being able to provide education for all, to build an accepting and compassionate learning environment for every student regardless of their ability, age, culture, religion, and sexual orientation.