The cost of being a ‘Pisay’ scholar
It was the ultimate deal, an almost-too-good-to-be true bargain.
The premise was simple enough: I get to study in arguably the best high school in the country — for free! — and in return, I need only take up a science course in college. What an awesome deal, right? I’ve always been predisposed to the sciences, and being a “scientist” has always been a childhood dream of mine.
Back then, it was an easy choice. Studying at the Philippine Science High School (or “Pisay,” as it is fondly called) means not having to pay tuition and receiving not only superb secondary education but a monthly allowance as well. Yes: We get to study for free, and Pisay gives us a monthly stipend ranging from P500 for those from well-off families to P4,000 for those from the lower socioeconomic brackets. The quality of education that Pisay offers is also unparalleled, especially in terms of science and technology (S&T).
But there’s a catch. All Pisay scholars are required by law to sign a contract that limits the courses they can take up in college to S&T programs approved by the Board of Trustees. Although this rule may seem reasonable, considering that the Philippine government shouldered our entire secondary schooling, I still hold certain misgivings about it.
Midway in my stay in Pisay, I came to the realization that I was not really meant to be a scientist — or at least not one in the so-called natural sciences.
It was in Pisay when I first got into the social sciences and the humanities. My brilliant Pisay teachers introduced me to the enthralling world of history, sociopolitical theories, literature, and the like.
I devoured the readings assigned us, getting to know the works of Paulo Freire in-depth, getting lost in the narratives of Renato Constantino, enjoying the works of Nick Joaquin — and ultimately deciding that theirs was the world in which I wanted to live, and not the world of Gregor Mendel or Einstein. I wanted to become a social scientist.
In Pisay, I never failed to look forward to my social science classes. When the teacher entered the room, I could not help but feel a certain sense of excitement. I never actually excelled in my other subjects — but in these classes, I knew that I was one of the best.
So for 50 minutes each day, three times a week, I listened attentively to my magnificent teachers passionately discussing Western imperialism, the Bill of Rights, Durkheim’s suicide analyses, and many, many other captivating topics.
I especially liked how I was able to pit wits with my teachers, being able to trade insights into complex societal issues.
So Pisay actually played a significant part in my deviation from the natural sciences. It was actually the exceptional social science teachers of Pisay who first made me fall in love with the field.
Perhaps there is no better portrayal of what I feel than Auraeus Solito’s critically acclaimed film “Pisay” (2007). Mr. Solito —being a Pisay alumnus himself — perfectly captured in the character of Liway what it’s like to be a Pisay scholar who did not want to take up an S&T course.
She, not unlike myself, excelled in the social sciences and found the natural sciences quite challenging. I immediately identified with her when she replied to her teacher’s “If you do not get your science grades up, perhaps you should transfer to the Philippine Social Science High School” remark with “Ma’am, may application form po kayo?”
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that statement in one way or another.
Watching the movie made me realize that I am not alone, that there are probably many others on Pisay’s 16 campuses across the country who share my sentiments.
But of course Pisay offers its students a way out. If we want to take up a non-S&T course, we would have to pay the entire cost of our high school education, plus interest — an option that would cost my family hundreds of thousands of pesos.
So I decided to suck it up and stay with the contract. Last year, I halfheartedly applied for approved S&T courses in college, with the consolation — and determination — to pursue postgraduate studies in the social sciences in the future.
I will soon graduate from the Philippine Science High School (Central Luzon). I will do so with a heavy heart.
Nevertheless, I know that the education I received would not be for naught. The principles and values I learned in Pisay are not just for the sciences, but for life in general as well. For that, I am eternally grateful.
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Nicolas Czar B. Antonio, 17, is from San Jose City, Nueva Ecija. He graduates from Pisay next month.
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