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More engineers and scientists, please

/ 05:10 AM September 12, 2019

The Inquirer editorial, “Addressing science’s ‘image problem’,” (7/20/19) brought to the fore something that has long disappointed me. When it said: “It’s no exaggeration to say that science — and allied fields like engineering and technology — in this country suffer from an image problem.” It went on to say, “as early as the elementary years, children imbibe negative attitudes toward science, arithmetic or math, and any subject that requires rigor of thought and attitude.” Why, as the Inquirer points out, are law exam results on the front page while science degrees somewhere around page 20, if at all?

I watch and love crime stories that enhance the image of lawyers and cops. I’m still looking for a series on the skills and (exciting?) lives of engineers. Maybe that’s the problem — we need to glamorize engineering.

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Lawyers play an important, nay, essential role in maintaining a just and peaceful society; and a reason why societies have survived for millennia. But it’s engineers and scientists that created the modern society we now enjoy. Law has been with us for millennia, engineering in its life-changing manner a scant 300 years or so. Before then, the bulk of people (that would be us today) lived short, brutish lives. There was no comfortable middle class. Engineering and science created the base for that. The incredible world we live in today of planes and trains, TVs and cell phones, refrigerators, cars and zips were brilliantly invented by scientists and engineers.

As an aside, I was delighted to see one nation that has recognized that brilliance, even if ever so late, by putting the image of Alan Turing on the English 50-pound banknote. You probably don’t even know who Turing was. He invented the computer during World War II, an invention that saved thousands of lives at the time (watch “The  Imitation Game,” a fascinating true-story movie). Our smartphones, which we can’t leave home without, are the result of his invention, an invention that triggers almost everything we own in one way or another today, that revolutionized the way we live. Yet people don’t even know his name. Now you do.

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The engineering mind is a strange one (ask my wife, she’ll tell you). They become absorbed in development of ideas to the exclusion of people. They’re happy puttering around with “things.” The gregariousness of lawyers is not there, so the public recognition sinks into the background, which is fine. But for nations to prosper in the ever-increasing technological world of the future, they need to have R&D (research and development) at the top of the list, if they are not to be left behind.

In the latest Global Innovation Index (GII) report, in the sub-category of Innovation Input, the Philippines ranked poorly at 76th. Singapore topped this sub-category, with other Asian countries ranking higher: Malaysia (34th), Brunei (35th), Thailand (47th) and Vietnam (63rd). In a world being engulfed in technology, the Philippines has a lot of catching up to do on R&D. If a country is to remain relevant in such a world, it must have many more engineers and scientists, and must look after them well—keep them here, and not force them to escape to distant shores because of scant support.

It’s good that President Duterte has signed the Balik Scientist Law and the Philippine Innovation Act, which allots a budget for innovative business ideas and start-ups. But that’s not enough.

Engineers and scientists build the house that lawyers keep in order. Yet I know of only one college that puts engineering first — Don Bosco, for whom I have a great affection. Our top colleges have law as their primary course. It’s time that changed and the sciences brought up to equal footing in importance. It’s time our primary school teachers introduced excitement into math and make it fun to do, and laboratories put into secondary schools so kids can see what the books teach them.

If we are not to be left behind in this fourth Industrial Revolution, we’ll need many more engineers and scientists, ones trained in the modern technologies and agile enough to adapt as technology changes.  Our educational system needs to be changed to accomplish this.

Engineers are happy in the background, but maybe it’s time they weren’t. Maybe it’s time kids were actively encouraged to join this technological world, and engineers brought into leadership roles so the Philippines can lead and not be left behind — again.

Email: [email protected]

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TAGS: engineers, Global Innovation Index, Like It Is, Peter Wallace, scientists
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