STEM into the provinces
Something about science and math typically sends young people running the other way. Whether it’s on the multiplication table or the formulas around a moving car, so few of us would dare raise a hand in class. During high school, there were three or four students in our class whom we considered our “saviors” whenever our algebra teacher was in the mood for chalkboard carnage. Just three or four of them. The rest of us spent the year avoiding eye contact with our teacher.
It’s bad enough that the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) make such an intimidating impression on learners in general. But it may be worse for us in the Philippines, where more scientists and mathematicians are needed, yet where STEM seems to be less popular and even less adopted.
Much of the conversation on STEM in the Philippines revolves around the gender gap. The prevailing argument is that women are still, in certain ways, discouraged or excluded from STEM fields.
It is indeed fundamental that STEM—or any other field of study or profession, for that matter—should provide equal opportunities among the genders. However, the gender gap in STEM does not seem to be as acute an issue in the Philippines. In fact, Unesco found that the Philippines is one of the 18 countries in Asia where females make up an equal or greater proportion of participants in STEM; some 52 percent of our STEM researchers are female.
A greater yet overlooked disparity in these fields is in the regional spread.
The DOST’s Human Resources in Science and Technology study showed that the majority of the science and technology professionals in the Philippines are concentrated in the National Capital Region, Region IV-A (Calabarzon), and Region III (Central Luzon). Meanwhile, those with the least number of S&T workers are the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Region IV-B (Mimaropa), Caraga, and Region XII (Soccsksargen). Each of these regions has less than 2 percent of the country’s science and technology professionals.
From that, we can conclude that there is a much, much smaller venue for STEM in Philippine provinces, or that these provinces have ample STEM opportunities that are, however, being neglected.
Either way, this deficient adoption of maths and sciences in provincial Philippines creates a poor context for learners in these regions. Students not only may find a disheartening springboard for their science-related aspirations, they may as well not even start to consider science at all. With scarce sources of inspiration, how could a young mind appreciate STEM?
Advocates and experts always emphasize the importance of providing opportunities to explore STEM particularly during a child’s formative years. This, of course, starts at home, where the family ideally allows the child to be curious and keen, with just the right input to encourage exploration.
Again, that is the ideal climate at home. But where the home unit comes up short in nurturing a learner’s scientific inclinations—and that is very typical especially in rural provinces—school and society both have to provide support.
Aside from a boost in STEM curriculums, in the quantity and quality of educators, and in teaching methods, it is valuable for learners to find motivation outside: for example, in libraries that they can access freely and in scientific facilities where their ideas can bloom.
Perhaps the reason we have yet to see more of these across the regions is that we have not yet understood how vital STEM is, especially in rural areas. We are content with the manual, the traditional. But STEM is in the heart of even these. There it is in the harvests of farms, the changing of the weather, the rise and fall of the tides. And the person whom we’ll need to manage these tomorrow is the scientist we motivate today.
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