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Focus on the sciences


While browsing the web, I noticed an article that says the Philippines is in the bottom of 38 countries tested in the efficiency of their math and science education. The test was conducted among eighth grade students of the 38 countries (second year high school equivalent in the Philippines) to see how effective the current math and science education programs in these countries are.

The Philippines placed well below the bottom in both the math and science categories, beaten even by Thailand and Malaysia.

In 2008, Sen. Edgardo J. Angara lamented that the Philippines was in the bottom third of the global competitiveness list of 117 countries, and he attributed this laggard status to the Filipinos’ general failure to keep up with the advancement in science and technology throughout the world.

At first, it came as a surprise to me because I know for a fact that many young Filipino students who were just average students in the Philippines become honor students in the American school system, particularly getting good grades in math and science subjects. This reflects the high standard of education in the Philippines, I concluded.

On the other hand, I realize now, maybe these Filipino students were really bright students, but the Philippine education system failed to cultivate their intelligence to their rightful level.

Philippine schools probably churn out the highest percentage of college graduates, but many of these graduates sometimes cannot even make simple math calculations nor understand basic science principles, such as why planes fly or what antibodies are for.

There is a tendency among Filipino students to ignore math and science, and to look at these two subjects as undesirable and unnecessary requirements for graduation. But is it the fault of students that they look at math and science with such nonchalance?

Philippine education officials and school administrators need to take a second look at the importance of math and science in the future of the country.
Look at India and China. The serious attention that their schools have given to math and science has led to their leadership in the computer industry. These two countries, which also are among the top countries in the math and science tests mentioned in the article, are producing the most number of highly paid computer experts and executives in Silicon Valley and in other computer meccas.

These two countries have also produced the finest doctors, medical researchers and engineers in the United States. It is no wonder that both China and India are among the richest countries in the world, and their economies are growing at a pace faster than any of the traditional industrialized countries, such as the United States and Germany.

The Philippines enjoys one of the highest literacy rates in the world. But the students’ literacy are not directed towards careers that will eventually bring growth and wealth to the country, such as in computers, engineering, agriculture, and scientific research. Instead, Philippine colleges and universities continue to produce mostly graduates in business and the arts. The country has too many graduates of business management, and very few businesses to manage. It has too many graduates of political science, no wonder every other Filipino wants to be a barangay councilman. It has too many graduates of education, and very few schools to teach in.

Angara lamented that the Philippine educational system is not designed to meet the demand for technological skills. He cited a study of the Department of Labor and Employment showing that firms engaged in science and technology would generate 4 millions jobs in the next five years, but educational institutions can produce only 2.7 million graduates in these fields during that period.

Angara said the educational system could give the Philippines a competitive edge if it focuses on math, science, technology and engineering. He recognized as one of the biggest problems the lack of competent teachers in these fields.

“Some 75 percent of Physics teachers are non-Physics majors. About 50 percent of teachers of Chemistry, Biology, Math and General Science did not major in these subjects. It is like the blind leading the blind. No wonder our students are faring badly in international studies on math, science and technology,” he said.

Just recently, a University of the Philippines professor blamed the deterioration of science and mathematics education in the Philippines to the persistent use of an obsolete discipline-based curriculum that was already rejected as early as 1993 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

Dr. Merle C. Tan, UP NISMED (National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development) director, said the present math and science curriculum has produced questionable results in the performance of students in the yearly achievement tests that are below those in other countries.
Tan said a review of the math and science curricula in elementary and high school showed that “topics are compartmentalized, inquiry is not encouraged, contents are overcrowded, concepts are by rote, and topics are repetitive.”

She said students in other countries are performing better because concepts are dealt with in more depth, ideas and skills are introduced with increasing levels of complexity and in real-life situation, and connections across topics and disciplines and development of scientific literacy are emphasized.

The Aquino government should start listening to the words of Angara and Dr. Tan if it really wants to succeed in putting back the country to economic recovery.

The Philippines should redirect the Filipino students’ energy and enthusiasm in education to math, science, engineering and computer sciences, and feel the impact of growth in the years to come.

By Val G. Abelgas

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