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Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in Primary Education (Philippines)

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in Primary Education (Philippines)
by Teri Lee Pe Symaco

Teri Lee Pe Symaco is a PhD candidate at De La Salle University Manila, Philippines. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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DOI: 10.5040/9781474209472.0025

  • Editor(s):
    Lorraine Pe Symaco (Regional Editor), Maria Teresa Tatto (Editor in Chief) and Ian Menter (Editor in Chief)
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    Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
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Research on special education, needs, and disabilities

Research in special education (SPED) at the primary level in the Philippines raises concerns on the need to further improve teacher training, funding, and best practice. There is heightened awareness of the need to further train teachers in SPED in primary schools, and the lack of proper financial resources needed to achieve such trainings (Rabara 2017). However, enhanced relationships between schools and local universities and colleges is advocated to address this concern (Adorio and Yap 2008). Similarly, Muega (2016) describes the lack of teacher training in inclusive education (IE) but also highlights how teachers and school personnel work together and optimize the resources available in order to attain best practice. Despite this, research also points to the lack of expert knowledge and awareness of some school heads in terms of SPED student needs in the country (Arodio and Yap 2008)

In terms of classroom management, Villamero (2014) notes some practices for those involved in SPED at the primary level, which range from peer support to assistive technology. Regular primary schools are also said to adjust time for children with special needs that require an extra period to finish certain tasks. The need to further improve and captalize on SPED classroom management and conditions in primary education in the Philippines is evident, along with identifying successful SPED programs that can serve as role models to other schools (Adorio and Yap 2008).

Programs and policies

According to the Department of Education (DepEd), their Special Education program provides a holistic approach in addressing the needs of learners with exceptionalities. This program ensures that learners with exceptionalities will have access to quality education by giving them their individual and unique learning needs (DepEd 2015). The ultimate goal of SPED, according to the Special Education Division of DepEd, is the integration or mainstreaming of learners with special needs into the regular school system and eventually in the community, following the principles of the UNESCO Salamanca Statement on Principles, Policy and Practice in Special Education (1994).

This initiative caters to learners with visual impairment, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, learning disability, autism spectrum disorder, communication disorder, physical disability, emotional and behavioral disorder, multiple disabilities with visual impairment, and to those who are orthopaedically handicapped, chronically ill, and gifted and talented. There are a total of 648 SPED centers and regular schools recognized by the Department of Education that offer the program (“DepEd Ensures Inclusive Education for Learners with Special Needs” 2017).

The Department of Education also provided instructional programs to be implemented by special education teachers. The instructional programs consist of the following:

  1. Self-contained/special class: a separate class for only one type of exceptionality that serves moderate to severe types of disabilities.

  2. Itinerant teaching: a travelling teacher who reaches out to children with special needs in other schools or at home to provide direct and consultative services.

  3. Resource room: a designated place where a child with special needs enrolled in a regular school program goes to make use of the specialized equipment.

  4. Pull-out: a program where the child enrolled in a regular class reports to the resource room for a period of time for special instructions by a SPED teacher.

  5. Integration/mainstreaming: refers to the enrollment of a child with special needs in a regular class with support services. There are two degrees of integration: partial integration and full integration.

  6. Inclusion: all children with disabilities, regardless of the nature and severity of their disability and need for related services, receive their total education within a regular education classroom.


There are two main laws in the Philippines that recognize the rights of children with special needs. Republic Act No. 7277 (1991), the “Magna Carta for Disabled Persons’,” assures that disable persons being part of the society shall be given “full support to the improvement of [their] total well-being … and their integration into the mainstream of society.” In addition, the Education Act of 1982 states under Article 24, “Specialized Education Service,” mentions the state’s recognition on its responsibility to provide services for special needs education to people who are physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, or culturally different that require modification of school practices/services to develop them to their maximum capacity.


In line with the thrust of the Department of Education to provide quality inclusive education, children with special needs are accepted in (mainstream) schools. Regular schools with or without trained SPED teachers are additionally given auxiliary educational services to accommodate students with special needs by DepEd. In terms of assessment, existing SPED centers support non-SPED schools in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the latter through observation and other forms of capacity assessment (DepEd 2009).

Despite efforts of the government to provide for SPED needs in primary education, much has yet to be achieved in terms of providing necessary and sufficient resources for this sector. At present, Senate Bill 1732, also known as the “Inclusive Education for Children with Special Needs Act is being deliberated. This Bill aims to provide Inclusive Education Learning Resource Centers in every public school in the country.


Figures allotted to SPED programs are scarce. Apart from private schools that have their own SPED programs, the DepEd issued an order in 2015 (DepEd 2015) regarding guidelines on the utilization of support funds for SPED. It mentions an 800 Philippine Pesos allotment per student in all public primary SPED centers. In addition to this, Republic Act 5250 (1966), authorizes appropriate funds for a ten-year training program for teachers of SPED, it also mentions scholarships that are to be created every year for teachers who will be enrolling under the said program, however, specific figures are not available.

Teachers, teaching, and school personnel

To be able to practice teaching in primary special education in the Philippines, one must be a holder of a bachelor of science in education, major in special education, or be a bachelor’s degree holder with eighteen units in SPED, and one must have passed the licensure examination for teachers (DepEd 2010). There are various universities and colleges offering the program. Some universities also offer masters in special education. A masters in special education is a requirement for advancement in the field.

In addition to the terms of teacher training, capability training for teachers, administrators, and supervisors responsible for providing quality education to children with exceptionalities are provided for by the DepEd. The department has partner institutions to help them enhance the capabilities of teachers handling learners with exceptionalities. Some of the partner institutions among many others are: Resources for the Blind Inc., Autism Society of the Philippines, Leonard Cheshire for the Disabled Foundation (LCDF), and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder Society (ADHD Society).

The aforementioned Republic Act 5250 that purports the establishment of a ten-year training program for teachers of SPED, additionally mentions institutions mandated by the DepEd that can carry out additional teacher training of accredited courses. As for the recipients of the said program, program coordinators shall see to it that scholarship grantees and teacher trainees under this initiative are intellectually and emotionally prepared to handle SPED demands.

Aside from classroom teachers, there is also the presence of shadow teachers in mainstream classes where children with disabilities attend. The classroom teachers are assigned to teach the lessons to the class, while the shadow teachers assist the student assigned to them. In the Philippines, the frequently practiced assistantship plan is the shadow teaching scheme. In this scheme, students with special needs are placed in a regular class, alongside their home therapist and/or shadow teacher (Dizon and Manansala 2009).

Further reading and online resources

Albert, J. and C. David. 2012. “Primary Education: Barriers to Entry and Bottlenecks to Completion.” Philippine Institute for Development Studies, Discussion Paper Series No. 2012–07.

Dalonos, S. 2013. “Awareness and Attitudes of Administrators, SPED and Regular Teachers Towards Inclusive Education .” IAMURE Multidisciplinary Research 6 (1): 174–192 .

Department of Education (DepEd). 1997. Institutionalizing of SPED Programs in All Schools. DO 26, s. 1997.

Inciong, T. and Y. Quijano. 2004. “Inclusion of Children with Disabilities: The Philippines Experience .” Asia Pacific Journal of Education 24 (2): 173–191. doi: 10.1080/02188791.2004.10600208 .

Inciong, T. 2007. “Expanding Access to Education and Other Opportunities for People with Mental Retardation.” Paper presented at the 18th Asian Conference on Mental Retardation, Taipei, Taiwan, November 18–23.

Lago, J. 2015. “Family Involvement and Practices of Special Education Classes: A Case Study on SPED Program of Weat City Central School, Cagayan De Oro, Philippines .” IAMURE Multidisciplinary Research 15 (1): 1–19 .

Mercedes, A. and I. Yap. 2008. “School-Based Management: Promoting Special Education Programs in Local Schools .” Education Quarterly, University of the Philippines College of Education 66 (1): 50–70 .


Adorio, M. and I. Yap. 2008. “School-based Management: Promoting Special Education Programs in Local Schools .” Education Quarterly, UP College of Education 66 (1): 50–70 .

Department of Education (DepEd). 2009. Inclusive Education as a Strategy for Increasing Participation Rate of Children. DO 72, s. 2009.

Department of Education (DepEd). 2010. DepEd Order No. 93, s. 2010. Revision to DepEd order no. 77, s. 2010 (Guidelines on the Allocation/Deployment of New Teaching, Teaching and Non-teaching Positions for FY 2010). Accessed August 22, 2018. www.deped.gov.ph/2010/07/26/do-93-s-2010-revision-to-deped-order-no-77-s-2010-guidelines-on-the-allocation-deployment-of-new-teaching-teaching-related-and-non-teaching-positions-for-fy-2010/ .

Department of Education (DepEd). 2015. Guidelines on the Utilization of Support Funds for the Special Education Program . DO 38, s. 2015.

“DepEd Ensures Inclusive Education for Learners with Special Needs.” 2017. SunStar Philippines , February 25. Accessed August 22, 2018. www.sunstar.com.ph/article/128141 .

Dizon, E. and M. Manansala. 2009. “Shadow Teaching Scheme for Children with Autismand Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder in Regular Schools .” Education Quarterly, University of the Philippines College of Education 66 (1): 34–49 .

Education Act of 1982. Government of the Philippines.

Muega, M. 2016. “Inclusive Education in the Philippines: Through the Eyes of Teachers, Administrators, and Parents of Children with Special Needs .” Social Science Diliman 12 (1): 5–28 .

Rabara, N. 2017. “The Education of Exceptional Children in Public Elementary Schools in Region 1 .” Asia Pacific Journal of Contemporary Education and Communication Technology 3 (1): 186–194 .

Republic Act 5250. 1966. “An Act Establishing a Ten-Year Training Program for Teachers of Special and Exceptional Children in the Philippines and Authorizing the Appropriation of Funds thereof.” Government of the Philippines. Accessed July 19, 2018. www.ncda.gov.ph/disability-laws/republic-acts/republic-act-5250/ .

Republic Act 7277. 1991. “Magna Carta for Disabled Persons’.” Government of the Philippines. Accessed July 19, 2018. www.ncda.gov.ph/disability-laws/republic-acts/republic-act-7277/ .

Villamero, R. 2014. Teachers’ Assessment Strategies for Children with Disabilities: A Constructivist Study in Regular Primary Schools in Negros Occidental . Philippines: Erasmus.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 1994. “Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education.” June 7–10. Accessed July 19, 2018. www.unesco.org/education/pdf/SALAMA_E.PDF .

A setting where students with and without disabilities learn together inside the same classroom

The inclusion of students with special needs in regular classrooms but only for specified periods