In nation with so many young people, education is crucial for progress and development. This is particularly important because as of 2010, 41.8 percent of the Philippine population (or some 38.5 million people) were of school age (5 to 24). Education presents a way out of poverty or a leg up in a career path.
But how to make education, particularly in the crucial fields of science and technology, effective, accessible—and fun? How to make learning science and technology (S&T) compelling, memorable and attractive to the Internet generation?
One idea had teachers learning how to teach science more effectively to their students. Selected by the Department of Education, 50 science teachers took part in a workshop presided over by Cora Salumbides, a Department of Science and Technology balik-scientist. She demonstrated the wonders of the Laboratory in a Box (LAB), a cost-saving device that holds samples of chemicals and miniature lab equipment that enables students to experience chemistry first-hand. Along with her ingenious LAB, Salumbides used a student-centered technique called Homomich. “More learning occurs when students enjoy what they are doing,” she said.
Along the line of the LAB is the Rock It Science Bus, a mobile science lab championed by Senator Pia Cayetano and launched in Taguig City last December at the school named after her father, the late Sen. Rene Cayetano. The bus, loaded with science equipment and teaching devices, embodies a promising solution to the abysmal lack of labs in schools. Cayetano cited DepEd figures showing that only 13 percent, or 5,821, of 45,977 public schools nationwide had laboratories in 2011.
These are two great ideas to reinvigorate teachers and students and push the teaching and learning of S&T in the Philippines. But it goes without saying that education requires the full support of the government—fundamentally in terms of funds for classrooms and teaching/learning equipment, as well as—an enduring problem—commensurate pay and benefits for teachers. The Aquino administration has allocated to education P232.6 billion out of the P2.006-trillion national budget for this year. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad also said the 2012 allocation for state colleges and universities was increased by 44 percent in 2013. The SUCs’ total budget of P37.1 billion is in line with the Aquino administration’s goal of improving the tertiary education system, he said.
To be sure, even more resources apart from financial are required by the education sector in order to put the Philippines in step with the developing world. With the vaunted economic growth yet to benefit the great majority, the administration has to redouble its efforts to make the difference sorely needed—in this case, at least in bringing out the best in the students who are the hope of the motherland and the teachers who mold them. Toward this end, the value of teaching the sciences should be emphasized in our school systems. By way of addressing concerns that K-to-12 would dilute the teaching of science, Education Secretary Armin Luistro said the new program embeds science concepts in the early grades and actually strengthens science in the curriculum.
Yet more innovative ways should be found to promote S&T. Last February, the First Philippine International Science Fair showcased the ingenuity of Filipino high school students along with their Asia-Pacific counterparts. “What we need are scientists who understand deeply our scientific concepts and are able to translate these joyfully and simply for the rest of the world, most especially their peers,” Luistro said.
But certain numbers are discouraging. The DOST estimated that in 2002, there were only 157 engineers and scientists for every one million Filipinos. Things have since gotten worse: Labor statistics show that the number of S&T professionals leaving for jobs overseas more than doubled in the period 1998-2009—from 9,877 to an alarming 24,502. That’s brain drain of the highest order, and for a country of young people still trying to find its footing, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed with urgency, determination and innovation. Quite simply, young Filipinos need to see that beyond the clouds of uncertainty, there are promising prospects where the sky is the limit, and the future is star-bright.