UP student councils push for sign language GE class

Student councils (SC) across the UP system passed on Feb. 4 a resolution calling on the university to teach Filipino sign language (FSL) as a general elective (GE) class in all its campuses.

The resolution was penned by UP Diliman College of Education (CoE) SC and was presented to other student leaders present in the 52nd General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) held from Feb. 4 to 5.

“As UP aims for quality and accessible education for all, it must continuously strive to create an inclusive environment for persons with disabilities (PWD),” the resolution read.

While UP is mandated by the 2018 Filipino Sign Language Act to forward FSL teaching in public schools, the university does not have a sign language class available to all of its students. The resolution said that sign language instruction classes are only taken by students in Special Education (SPED) teaching programs in the CoE.

The Feb. 4 resolution urged members of the GASC to demand UP to teach FSL in a GE class, or a type of class available to all students in the university.

FSL is the national sign language of the Philippines, with international organizations estimating 540,000 users as of 2021. The national government, however, does not have its own data on FSL users, much less the number of Filipinos who are hard of hearing.

The state’s latest figures come from projections in 2009, which estimate over 500,000 Filipinos who are either partially or totally deaf.

Citing the large numbers of Filipinos who are hard of hearing, the Filipino Sign Language Act was signed in 2018. It mandated that the sign language be recognized and promoted in schools, hospitals, broadcast media and other transactions involving the Deaf community.

But while the law was passed in 2018, its implementing rules and regulations were only approved by the House of Representatives in December 2021.

Its provisions stipulate that UP, in partnership with the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino and government education bureaus, must craft training materials on FSL education for all state universities and colleges. 

UP Diliman, one of UP’s constituent campuses, requires introductory SPED classes to all students taking up programs for elementary- and secondary-level teaching in the CoE. The college also offers undergraduate and graduate degrees dedicated to SPED teaching. The CoE SC said in the resolution that only students in the SPED programs can take courses for the instruction of FSL.

As of the first semester of A.Y. 2021-2022, the Office of the University Registrar (OUR) reports that 27 students are enrolled in the bachelor’s degree program for SPED, while 10 are at the doctorate level. The largest group of students studying SPED teaching is at the masters’ level, with 88 students enrolled this semester. There are a total of 370 students enrolled in CoE.

CoE students—along with all students in the UP system—are required to take the same core GE classes, which would “provide a common foundation in the key liberal arts disciplines.” Students may also take elective GE classes which vary from each campus.

The GASC proposed that UP establish a sign language GE subject available to all units in the system. The assembly is yet to clarify whether this would be a required or an optional class.

Other schools such as the De La Salle University-College of Saint Benilde have dedicated programs for FSL education. Still, sign language teaching in schools remains far and few between.

The GASC resolution seeks to change that, as “access to FSL should be inclusive not only in the UP system but also in all schools and universities in the country.” 

The document ensured that the class would be planned in consultation with the Deaf community and that the learning material is “of good quality, sufficient enough, always available and readily accessible.”

Ang edukasyon ay dapat na inklusibo at sensitibo sa konteksto ng bawat isa,” said the UP Manila College of Pharmacy SC. “Nakikita natin ang kahalagahan ng resolusyon na ito sa pag-ensure na magiging accessible ang information lalo na sa PWDs.”

The FSL class, the GASC said, would be open to all students even outside of UP. The assembly also urged DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education to create electives or core subjects on FSL from the elementary to tertiary level.

The College of Mass Communication (CMC) SC also expressed support for the resolution, saying sign language education has long been overdue.

“Matagal na dapat na may accessible sign language education,” said the CMC SC. “Makakatulong ito upang maraming maabot para sa accessible communication. Magsisimula ang pagiging aksesible ng impormasyon kung magiging aksesible ang ating edukasyon.”