‘Science Culture’ Needed in Philippine Science Education

Science Culture Needed in Philippine Science Education
Dr. Josette Biyo had a small planet named after her
Dr. Josette Biyo had a small planet named after her
In 2003, senior high school students Dyann Dolour Libo-on and Jillian Marie Ong Oh came up with a calculator specifically for calculations and equations related to chemistry. Two other classmates made a miniature house whose burglar alarm system can send alerts through short messaging system (sms) and appliances inside the house can also be turned on and off through sms.

Proud of these exceptional achievements, Dr. Josette Biyo, the teenagers’ Science Research teacher at the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) Western Visayas, laments that Libo-on, Oh, and their classmates were an exception rather than the rule.

Science culture is all too important in science education, Biyo said, because “science education is not education at all unless we develop among our students the basic skills and attitudes such as observing, gathering correct information, interpreting data, curiosity, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness among others.”

Biyo believes “no country will move forward until it develops a scientific culture”, she argued that basic information is needed in planning, developing, and managing resources, and that “only through accurate research we can generate accurate data.”

The Philippines: Where to?

Biyo’s diagnosis of science education in the Philippines is unenthusiastic. “The Philippines does not have a research culture,” Biyo, the first Asian awarded with the Intel Excellence in Teaching Award in 2002, was blunt in telling IslamOnline.net. “Thus, it does not have a scientific culture.”

“Very little quality research outputs” are churned out by Philippine universities compared with that of other Southeast Asian learning institutions. Research is not a prerequisite for many undergraduate degrees; even undergraduate and graduate teachers are “not actively doing research themselves, making them give importance to form instead of substance,” topped the list of factors Biyo said to be behind the problem.

The lack of connection between industries and universities in terms of the use of research outputs for product development, and very few centers for research in this developing country are also to blame, she added.

She further said, “At the basic education level, science is taught in a passive or inactive manner inhibiting creativity, active participation, and decision making in students. Inquiry-approach or project-based learning is seldom used. These approaches require mastery of skills and concepts on the part of the teacher.”

Biyo is not alone in saying so. Dr. Ester Ogena, the current head of the Science Education Institute, and Dr. Milagros Ibe, both in the University of the Philippines, concluded in their 1998 pioneering study of Philippine science education in the same light blaming “the absence of a science culture” for its state.

“A number of our cultural characteristics as a people are inconsistent with the nurturing of a science culture. Curiosity and observation, which are important precursors of scientific discovery, are not encouraged in homes and schools. In general, children are not encouraged to ask about or pose non-traditional ideas. Teachers prefer ‘well-behaved’ pupils, not nonconformists who seek out things for themselves,” the duo said in a paper published in the “UP-CIDS Chronicle.”

They further tracked down the problem in the poor quality and lack of science and technology teachers. Ibe and Ogena observed that one out of every three college students in the Philippines is studying to be a teacher, but less than one in a hundred has opted to go into science teaching, given the low pay associated with science careers in the Philippines.

Brain Drain

Dr. Jurgenne Primavera believes that brain drain may be part of the problem

Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, a world renowned marine scientist, offers another reason, the flight of gifted Filipino teachers to foreign shores. “Many Filipino professionals and workers go to the Middle East, North America, and almost every corner of the globe” but “this outflow constitutes a brain drain,” she tells IslamOnline.net.

“For how much does it cost to produce a teacher, a doctor, and a nurse and yet it is the developed countries in the United States and Europe that benefit from the educational investment made by our poor country to produce these highly trained professionals,” she quipped in an interview with IslamOnline.net.

If the ‘Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study’ (TIMSS) is any reliable indication, then the Philippines indeed needs some improvement. While neighboring Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were topping the list in 1995 and 2003 TIMSS surveys, the Philippines is near bottom, although thankfully increasing the average science scale scores of eighth-grade students by 32 points in 2003 over 1995.

Despite this, Biyo, in whose honor a minor planet was named, after she won the Intel Foundation Excellence in Teaching Award in 2002, believes it is not a hopeless situation. “While our society may not have a scientific culture at present, we can start to develop this culture among our young people by integrating research in our basic education curriculum.”

Teaching science research for almost 10 years now at the Philippine Science High School she said, “is quite difficult because it requires a lot of dedication, commitment, perseverance, and open-mindedness on the part of the teacher.”

On top of that, the teacher “should also know a little about everything—biology, chemistry, physics, medicine, computer science, math, etc.” and that she or he “should also be a mentor, a friend, and a confidante.”

Biyo is ever optimistic. When she started teaching science research in 1995, no colleague wanted to partner with her to handle the subject offered to junior and senior high school students. “The primary reason is that they have not done research themselves,” she said.

Today, Philippine Science High School (PSHS) in Western Visayas has a pool of teachers who could effectively and efficiently handle science research. “We continue to learn and share our knowledge, expertise, and skills with our students, and with one another. We meet every week to discuss how we can further improve our methods and techniques.”

Science research is introduced to PSHS students in their junior year, where they are exposed to the different types of researches and taught the research process, tools, identifying research topics, proposal writing, and research design testing. In their senior year, the students do the experimentation, data analysis, research paper writing, oral defense, and submission of final paper.

The students further learn from science forums where researchers, scientists, and experts speak about research trends and more, helping the students generate more ideas for their researches. Workshops are also held along with one-on-one or per group consultation with advisers.

To further strengthen the science research curriculum, PSHS established linkages with research and academic institutions around the Philippines, allowing their students to spend summer internships with these private and public institutions.

Biyo said through science research, PSHS hopes to develop its students’ research skills, team work, social and communication skills, along with character traits of diligence, resourcefulness, intellectual honesty, personal integrity, initiative, independence, humility and teachability.

Biyo is positive that their students, like what was shown by Libo-on and Oh, would produce more relevant studies and that students of other schools would be able to follow suit, as she leads the training of more science teachers, in churning out outputs in computer science, robotics, microbiology, medicine, physics and more.

Biyo’s antidote seems not only to be working well but is also in line with what was suggested by Ogena and Ibe in their 1998 study. Ogena and Ibe have a long list of prescriptions for the government, which come down to “cohesive action and shared goals.”

This means more and better faculty development programs, science labs, and curriculum and instruction materials development; apart from the awareness of the importance of science and technology to our future, and the will to implement the reforms and to spend the money needed for us to catch up with our neighbors.

Primavera, world renowned marine scientist, is not cynical either. “In the end, this Diaspora or immigration or outflowing, shows that Filipinos have what it takes to build a scientific culture. We have the mental capacity, also seen in our resourcefulness—many of our backyard shops are excellent in repairing Japanese-designed appliances.”

“So the bottom line,” Primavera remarked, “is that we can have a scientific culture, but we need support systems such as libraries and supply houses. Libraries must be user-friendly retrieval systems for published information so researchers do not re-invent the wheel, so to speak. Unfortunately, most Philippine libraries are like museums—you can see but you cannot touch. Education administrators also need to purchase a minimum of equipment and install infrastructure or scientific supply houses to provide test tubes, air and seawater supply, and so on.”

She tells the teachers that “as mentors, in your hands lie the future of the hope of our country. Teachers must teach all subjects, including mathematics, well. With a minimum of equipment, a few test tubes and microscopes—you can go a long way in imparting basic concepts and principles to the youth.”

“As a biologist, I can only draw from my own experiences at Mindanao State University and more recently with students from University of the Philippines in the Visayas and Philippine Science High School. It is always a joy to have young people join me on field trips and marvel at the diversity of creatures they see in the mangroves and among sea grasses, and at the beauty of our tropical ecosystems. In the end, for students to love learning, teachers must love teaching.”

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