The Philippines remains weak in science, as shown by dismal student scores in surveys, such as the Trends in International Math and Science Study, and the scarcity of scientists in the country.
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said, as of 2002, there were only 157 scientists and engineers per 1 million population.
Science is the study of our world, with all its wonders. But many pupils do not appreciate it, as they are forced to regurgitate facts from defective textbooks and incompetent teachers. Deprived of hands-on innovative learning, students find science dry, boring and abstruse, unaware that it has made possible the technologies they now take for granted.
Most schools lack qualified science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers, especially in high school. With the implementation of the Kindergarten to Year 12 (K to 12) curriculum, the lack of good teachers will be even more evident, particularly since the last two years are supposed to prepare students for college or technical school. How many basic education teachers are genuinely qualified to teach college preparatory science courses?
At the same time, many science personnel, from retired engineers to pharmaceutical researchers, have the capability to handle STEM subjects. Several want to teach and many schools want to hire them. But, by law, only education majors can teach.
Professionals, who are STEM majors, lack one thing—they have neither the time nor the inclination to take education units.
In September, Sen. Edgardo Angara, who created the Congressional Commission on Science, Technology and Engineering (Comste), filed Senate Bill No. 3279 or “S & T Scholarships with Teaching Incentives Act of 2012” to deal with this problem.
Angara says, “The proposal wishes to debunk the long-standing assumption that science and math can be effectively taught by education majors who have, at worst, no science training whatsoever or, at best, minimum science or math units added on to their education subjects. It is the proliferation of bad science teachers and teachers of bad science, which leads to the general off-putting attitude toward the subject and low-quality STEM professionals.
“Students—most of whom are intimidated by daunting scholarship requirements, if not by science’s ‘difficult’ reputation—should be given attractive incentives … to go into STEM courses [and] the opportunity to also teach it to high school students.”
The senator adds, “This hopefully creates positive feedback, which would assure a continuing feeder system by generating a wider interest in STEM through quality teaching.”
To be implemented by the DOST’s Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI), the bill hopes to entice STEM students in their last two years of study by giving them scholarships in exchange for teaching university-track math or science (biology, chemistry, physics) or vocational-track courses such as information technology, agriculture, aquaculture, or fisheries technology in high school for at least two years.
Qualified teachers are entitled to a starting salary equivalent to that of special science teacher I in the Philippine Science High School system. They can also choose their schools, whether public or private, with priority given to those in their home regions. Should they not be assigned to their areas of residence, they will be entitled to a one-time relocation allowance. They can also avail of scholarships to take science education courses in teacher training institutions, like the Philippine Normal University.
Prospective teachers have to pass the licensure examination within five years, should they wish to continue teaching in high school.
Professionals as teachers
What I am most excited about is the option to hire retired, laid-off or even currently employed science professionals as full-time or part-time high school science or math teachers.
Gregory Tangonan, Comste executive director, says the industry has already given its support to the proposal, encouraging professionals to volunteer as teachers.
The bill says this public-private partnership will “hopefully … catalyze change.”
Eligible are Filipino STEM graduates “from a reputable university.” They must be at least
40 years old at the time of application, with a college average of at least 83 percent. They must have no service obligation in conflict with DOST-SEI regulations.
The DOST-SEI will give P200 million per year for the scholarships of 1,500 STEM students in the program, until 10,000 teachers have been hired. An equivalent amount will be given to the Department of Education to upgrade the salaries of the teachers in the program.
I hope the bill is passed swiftly.
Contact Comste at 4468745, www.comste.gov.ph, or Andrea Teran at [email protected]
Outstanding young person
DOST Balik-Scientist and AIDS expert Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvana was third in the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World online voting in
August, administered by Junior Chamber International.
Salvana, chief fellow of the Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine of Case Western Reserve University, and University Hospitals of Cleveland in Ohio, returned to the Philippines in 2008 to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He was named Outstanding Young Scientist in 2010 by the National Academy of Science and Technology.
E-mail the author at [email protected]