‘Education shapes a nation’s future’
Team Paref Rosehill School
Margarita Francesca G. Camacho
Therese Marie G. Angangco
Marie Louise B. Boncan
Karen A. Racelis
Glecy G. Gamboa (coach)
Dr. Josette Biyo ardently desires to make her students shine.
“In my aspiration to make stars out of my students,” she says, “I was rewarded with a planet.”
Biyo is the first Asian teacher to win the Intel Excellence in Teaching Award. For her innovations in teaching science research, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory in the United States named asteroid 13241 after her in 2002. Planet Biyo rotates counterclockwise in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Now the multiawarded science teacher from the province of Iloilo is in a better position to make her students shine. She is currently executive director of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) system, the country’s premier training ground for future scientists.
Biyo, who holds a doctoral degree in biology, firmly believes that education shapes the future of a nation and science education, in particular, plays a major role in its development.
As head of PSHS, she has developed and implemented UPLIFT or Upgrading Program Learning Institute for Teachers. Through the program, more than a hundred PSHS teachers from 11 campuses have trained 1,530 high school teachers in Science, Mathematics and English.
The 15-day intensive training to improve teaching skills and empower students to learn was held in May. Another course will be conducted in October.
One of Biyo’s strengths as an educator is her ability to innovate to meet the learning styles of her students. “My way of teaching is student-centered,” she says. “Listen to the students, respect them, and they will open up to you. What a teacher says is important but what you do has a greater impact.”
Balancing life and work
Although she has a very busy schedule, she makes sure that she spends quality time with her family.
Dr. Biyo stresses, “It’s not really the amount of time but it is the quality of time that you spend with them, and communication, that are important. I have to admit my limitations—I do not know how to cook. [You might as well] admit to your limitations as a mother because you cannot do everything.”
Even when they were young, she exposed her two sons to science during her field research. She instilled in them the value of diligence and hard work. The boys were both scholars. She proudly announced one of her sons won the Most Promising Scientist Award in Malaysia and represented the Philippines recently at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Apart from research, Dr. Biyo also likes painting and poetry. She plays the piano, guitar and organ. She is not only a woman of science but, as she says, “I think a greater part of me is also into humanities.”
Biyo says her role model was her father, Antonio Talamera, who was a Social Science teacher. “You can achieve more if you’re a learner,” he would tell his kids. Four of his eight children, including Josette, chose to be not only learners but also teachers.
“What helped me most as a person was that, despite being poor, we had strong self-esteem,” says Biyo. “My father taught us even as young children not to be afraid to express ourselves because we were all equal.”
As an educator, Biyo not only has won several national and international awards but has also given workshops in Malaysia, Israel, the US and other parts of the world to impart best practices in teaching science.
In spite of offers to work abroad, and the comfortable lifestyle that would have been afforded her family, she has chosen to stay and continue serving the country as an educator.
“We are not here to do big things; we are here to do small things with great love,” she quotes Mother Teresa. And these small things, in Dr. Biyo’s case, happen right inside the classroom.
Here is an excerpt from our dream interview with the multiawarded science educator:
Paref: How do you make science interesting and appealing to students?
Dr. Biyo: I don’t give lectures. Most often my class is inquiry-based. I teach Biology, and I’m used to making nature my laboratory because I taught at a missionary school where there was a lack of laboratory resources. Nature is a beautiful laboratory—the plants, the animals, the environment are there.
I teach my students how to observe, how to describe—you also have to develop their communication skills—and, based on what they have observed, how to make an inference.
I like to innovate to meet the needs of my students. For me, it’s not work—it’s fun! It also helped that when I created a lesson or devised an activity, I could test it on my two children when they were young. If they responded positively, if they enjoyed the activity, then I’d know it would also be good for my students.
What is your dream for science education in the country and what steps have you taken to achieve that goal?
Wow, that’s a big question! The only way the Philippines can grow economically, socially and even politically is to develop a culture of science and, for me, developing such a culture should start in the elementary level.
The best way to build a culture of science is to teach science properly. My dream is for every Filipino child to know how to think, to make decisions for himself and, eventually as he matures, to make good decisions for society.
So what are the steps I have been taking? My vision has always been to teach well and to share my skills with other teachers. Even when I was a high school teacher I was organizing workshops to impart my skills in innovation so teachers all over the country could also teach science well.
What is your stand on the relation between science and religion, being a woman of science and a child of God?
As a researcher, my focus is on environmental research—marine ecology, coastal resource management. I dive and study organisms underwater. When I do research, even underwater, I can see that there are patterns in nature. It’s amazing! You can even tell the age of a plant underwater.
Whatever experiment you’re doing, you can see patterns in nature—nothing random. I tell myself that there must be somebody greater than me who has a hand in all these designs. The more I do research, the more I do science, the more I believe that there is a God.
On the road to success, you met some difficulties. How did you overcome them? What was your motivation?
When my husband was at the height of his career in his early 40s, he met an accident that resulted in a spinal injury. My older son was in grade school then and my younger son was just one month old. I had just moved from Manila to Iloilo because I wanted to go back to high school teaching. I wanted to teach research as early as high school. When I was taking my graduate studies and teaching at De La Salle University, I realized that the research we were doing was not the right kind of research.
Barely a month after moving back to Iloilo the accident happened. So I had an injured husband, I was raising two boys, and I wasn’t getting paid much as a high school teacher. We had financial problems. Our life changed, we had to move to a small house because that was all we could afford.
But I’m a person who isn’t easily distracted. The hardships did not affect my teaching. In fact, in the midst of these difficulties, I won the Metrobank Foundation Most Outstanding Teacher Award. The following year, I won another national award. A few years later, I won my first international award.
After winning the Intel award, I think I received 13 offers to teach and do research in the US … I’m sorry (her eyes start to well up with tears) … I’m getting emotional (asks for a glass of water and some tissue paper). My struggle was, if I accepted a job abroad, what would happen to my vision for my country? But whenever I looked at my children, I’d also think, “Am I depriving them of a better life just because of my vision? If I go to the US, I can bring my family with me and they’ll have a better future.” But then I’d also ask myself, “What about the children here? I have the capacity to create change and change their lives for the better, not only the lives of my two kids.”
You know, God is really good. I decided to stay and I kept winning awards that came with monetary prizes and I also wrote a book, so we were later able to build a house. I was worried that I would not be able to give my children a good education but, as it turned out, my sons got scholarships.
My older son has graduated from college and he’s now working. My younger boy just graduated from PSHS … Tomorrow both of us will be leaving for the US. He is representing the Philippines at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh. (They placed fourth. —Ed.) I’ve been invited to present a paper at the Intel Educator Academy, which is a gathering of the best science and math teachers from all over the world. I got invited in October. I didn’t know that my son would win their research competition. We’ll be at different events in the same place.
What advice would you give aspiring teachers?
You cannot give what you don’t have. As a teacher, as a person, you have to be a learner. Teach science well and love your work because if you love what you do, it ceases to be work. And you cannot give your best if you don’t love your students.
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