Science ed and a thinking society
My colleague and I were having a chat just outside one of our school’s science laboratories. The last period had just ended and students were rushing from all directions. It was a feast for the senses. We could hear the collective sighs of relief, the giggles, the jeers. The youthful energy was so overwhelming that we older blokes nearly choked. We could smell sweaty bodies spritzed on with extremely strong cologne — we have almost 3,000 students, with around 60 cramped in each standard classroom.
Some said hi. We said they should go straight home: Diretso uwi na.
My colleague and I were talking about how fortunate our school, Santiago City National High School, was to have relatively decent science laboratories, one each for the special science curriculum and the regular sections. Despite a lack in some equipment, our labs still enable us to facilitate science learning.
One of the major problems confronting the Department of Education is the scarcity of science laboratory facilities and equipment. A study conducted by researchers from the Versatile Instrumentation System for Science Education and Research project shows that 23 percent of the public high schools surveyed have no access to a science lab.
In addition to access to state-of-the-art science education facilities and equipment, there are other factors affecting Filipino students’ performance in science. These include: the quality of science teachers, the learning process, instructional materials, curriculum, administrative support, teacher training, and funding.
Weaknesses in these areas manifest in the poor performance of Philippine high school students in several standardized tests, including the national achievement test (NAT). The DepEd reports that the NAT mean percentage score (MPS) for high school in school year 2012-2013 was 51.41 percent, or 23.59 percentage points away from the target. The MPS in science was 41.35 percent, and 46.83 percent in mathematics.
In the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study in 2003, the last time the Philippines participated in this assessment, we scored 378 and ranked 34th of 38 countries (HS II math) and 43rd of 46 (HS II science). The quality of math and science education is somewhat better in higher education. The Philippines ranked 67th of 140 countries in quality of math and science education in the 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum, and 79th of 138 in the 2016-2017 data.
But there is hope.
My colleague and I overheard a couple of students talking about the so-called “Naga Leaks.” One of the girls said she believed the accusations against the Vice President and shared her observations and some articles she read. The other argued that there were groups out to destroy the VP’s credibility and that the one “exposing” her was spreading false information.
The two went on with their friendly and seemingly uneventful debate, as if they were only passing time. We also heard them mention “Duterte,” “EJK,” “war on drugs,” “destabilization,” “Sass Sasot,” “alternative facts,” and “fake news.”
“Iba to, ah,” I thought. They’re different.
“Nag-iisip,” said my colleague, smiling. They’re thinking.
The two students demonstrated why we need science education. Science develops skills like asking questions, conducting investigations, using a variety of methods to gather evidence, analyzing and interpreting data, making conclusions, and communicating the results.
Science education creates a thinking society.
In the age of social media, discerning whether information is true or false has become a real challenge. Unfortunately, many young people accept everything they read or watch in social media.
Science education helps improve inquiry skills, which leads to enhanced critical thinking skills in students. A critical thinker does not believe or dismiss claims without gathering evidence and analyzing and evaluating them.
Science teachers should set a learning environment that stirs students’ curiosity. A curious student is always hungry to learn. A curious student poses a question and will not stop until he or she gets a satisfying answer. What is the origin of the universe? How did humans evolve? Why do chemical bonds form?
But in an era of fast food and internet and social media distractions, many people exert minimal effort in posing questions and searching for answers. This often results in misinformation and making unsound judgment.
A 21st-century Filipino student is an independent and objective thinker—another scientific attribute. An independent thinker does not just embrace the ideas of others. She or he gathers evidence, taps her or his experiences, and evaluates them on her or his own.
An objective student can set aside biases and feelings when dealing with facts. Of course, one cannot be 100-percent objective, but we must learn to step back and be conscious that our expectations may cloud our judgment.
Science education also enhances students’ listening skills. More than ever, now is the time to really listen. We tend to be interested only in expressing our opinions, not in hearing and understanding the views of others. Panay ang talak, sarado naman ang tenga at isip. This widens the gap in the already divided society. We must remember that effective communication requires active listening and understanding.
According to Derek Hodson, an authority in science education, this field concerns not only learning science, learning about science, and doing science, but also people participating in
sociopolitical action. Science education, therefore, is about creating a thinking and involved society.
It is our responsibility as science educators to produce citizens that are committed to pursuing and defending the truth.
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Mario James Simon dela Cruz teaches Science 10 at Santiago City National High School in Isabela.
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