Science and K+12
Several days ago, Education Secretary Armin Luistro was reported to have announced that Science would be dropped from the subjects being taught at the Grade 1 level. This decision of the Department of Education is based on the design of the K+12 curriculum and the department’s efforts to decongest the Basic Education curriculum. Instead of Science, the Grade 1 curriculum will focus on “oral fluency” and include learning areas on the Mother Tongue, Filipino, Edukasyon sa Pagpapakatao, Mapeh (Music, Art, Physical Education and Health), Mathematics, Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies) and English. Science will be introduced as a subject only at Grade 3.
This move to limit the contact hours for Science is worrisome, especially since the purported target of the shift to 12 years of basic education curriculum is to improve students’ competencies in English, Math and Science and prepare them for college. One reason often cited for moving into the K+12 setup is that the increased number of years will keep the curriculum relatively light and thus make learning more enjoyable for young learners. This move to delay the introduction to science in the curriculum seems to be too much for some.
In a related move, the DepEd will be providing financial subsidy to about half of our special science high schools to improve teachers’ competencies and mentoring in Science. Instead of introducing scientific thinking early on, the department would rather put its money in improving scientific teaching at later stages in order to compensate.
The premium for students now is on learning and speaking well in English, for example, rather than building the student’s analytical skills to deal with his natural (and social) world. This choice is usually driven by the government’s perceived need to join the globalization bandwagon, such as its drive to cash in on the business process outsourcing (BPO) boom (or bust, as US President Barack Obama had said). Fluency in English is a must for many of us from the Third World, since most industries here are owned or run by foreign firms. Even in local employment, English is usually one important criteria required from applicants.
We also teach science in English. Most textbooks in the Third World are English imports that contain cultural examples that make sense only in the United States or in the United Kingdom. We need to translate these textbooks to teach science in the local language in order that more students appreciate the subject matter.
Yet maybe the real problem lies in how we teach and appreciate science and mathematics in the country. It seems that for some, science has become a chore of memorization of facts and numbers, accompanied with little or no processing at all. It does little help to know who Alexander Graham Bell is than knowing how the principles behind magnetism and electricity drive the functionality of the telephone.
Learning how to view the world scientifically should be introduced as early as possible. Inquiry-based methods, wherein teachers guide their students in investigating the world, can be designed to be both useful and enjoyable to young students. We need this kind of analytical tack for our students on top of their other competencies as we use science, not only in the production of goods, but in many aspects of everyday life. This type of science teaching should be taught at all levels, if possible.
We see the K+12 retooling of the curriculum as a move geared toward satisfying the demands of the globalized market rather than as a shift meant to really improve the local pool of educated youth that will drive local industries. Since it is the target of the government to rely more on BPO and investments rather than on domestic industrialization to improve our economy, this K+12 retooling distorts the preparation of our students to become science-competent into just science-“familiar.”
The recent pronouncement by Obama to pass legislation to bring outsourcing jobs back to the United States shows how vulnerable this strategy is. The Philippine government has budgeted at least P575 million in subsidies for private and foreign BPO investors consisting of training, curriculum and teacher development, career marketing and scholarships through the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) and the Commission on Higher Education. We agree with the think-tank Ibon Foundation that these funds will be more productively spent supporting Philippine industry, science and technology, rather than a sector that is such a small part of the economy and by its nature does not give much value.
Developing a domestic industry starts with a correct track in education. Science is not just the facts and figures we have in the textbooks. It is the observational and analytical skills that we gain in these science subjects that make us act and think “scientific” in our lives.
Dr. Giovanni Tapang is a physicist and chair of the Agham-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People.
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