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The science dilemma in Philippine schools

Friday, September 28, 2012

It is believed that Math and Science are excellent subjects to test children because these subjects are taught and tested devoid of culture and emotion. It is no wonder that, other than Language, Math and Science are part of the three kings of school subjects worldwide.
However, a student’s exam results in these subjects cannot predict his success in life because grades are greatly conditioned by teaching itself.
A person may be labeled as poor in Science not because he is dumb but because of the low quality of science education he has received. This early labeling works against a child as it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy later in life. It will be an injustice to generalize that Filipino children are bad in Science considering that children are naturally inquisitive.
Under the new Basic Education Curriculum (BEC), we start teaching Science as a subject only in the third grade. Whereas before, we teach Science early in the hope that we could produce students who could excel in this field, teaching Science in Grades 1 and 2 now does not seem to matter because students remain laggards in the said subject.
Lack of training of teachers, overpopulated classrooms, dull curricula, outdated teaching methods, lack of equipment, and books offering Mickey Mouse lessons – these are some of the factors that lead to the poor state of science teaching. This is worsened by the general culture that undermines scientific thinking and technological innovation in favor of “bahala na” (“what will be, will be”) and “puwede na” (‘no need to excel”) in our daily national life.
In the end, the educational system, family and government fail to effectively inculcate scientific thought that is necessary in the development of science and technology. This one whole system must be responsible in the large-scale dumbing down of generations upon generations of Filipinos in the field of Science.
In the1999 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the Philippines ranked 36th in 2nd year high school Science out of 38 countries. By 2003, the country yielded a similar devastating result in the same study, ranking 23rd in Grade 4 Science, among 25 countries. The shock reverberated as the country started talking about a crisis in the Philippine educational system. In the high school level, we ranked 42nd in 2nd year Science, among 45 countries.
The Philippines did not participate anymore in the 2007 TIMSS.
Significantly, Asians are the ones topping the TIMSS. These countries are our East Asian neighbors known for their discipline and ability to unite as a people. These are Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong (China) and Japan.
Filipino students sometimes top international Science competitions, but they usually come from science high schools with special programs.
The country ought to have a strong science education program. Science and technology have propelled the economies of our Asian neighbors, successfully using these two fields in business, crime prevention, transportation, education, art and e-commerce.
If Philippine schools want to be very good in science, they must do that which is difficult and not just what is convenient. They must resist the culture of parents or intermediaries requesting them to just pass the flunked children. Philippine society, unfortunately, remains feudalistic in terms of social relationships where social ties matter more than real merits.
The country has not yet really transcended influence-peddling based on social bonds, to the detriment of the collective system. By allowing this to be practiced in schools, educational institutions become active agents in training the new generation not only in the dirty world of corruption but also in the world where scientific thinking is alien to them.
An alumnus and former faculty member of UP Diliman, the author is president of the Darwin International School System. He studied in Osaka University (Japan), the University of Cambridge (England) and at the University of Leiden (the Netherlands).


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