I was a short and thin twelve-year-old when I entered the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) campus in Diliman in June 1989. I was ready to study high school at the minor seminary in Bulacan where my older brother was also studying but I found out that I really had no vocation for the religious orders when a thick envelope from PSHS arrived through the mail.
It would be simple to say that that envelope became a turning point in my life (which it was!) but being in Pisay, as we fondly call PSHS, was much more than the good education and training that I got.
I stayed in the then relatively new Boys dorm annex with other freshmen male students from the provinces. I was fortunate than most to have a handful of my elementary classmates to be also going to Pisay with me.
It was a rather disconcerting experience for a young kid to be away from his parents. Everyone was as geeky and nerdy as you can be although some hid it quite well. Dorm food was as good as you can imagine dorm food to be but I had no problems with it because it was already paid for and all I had to show was my meal card.
I was receiving then the handsome monthly stipend of around 400 pesos on top of the books that they issue to you at the start of the year. The dorm and board came also with the package. As I remember it, I was thinking then that I was being paid to study!
Yet I do not really have any strong memories of “study” in Pisay. I do remember my friends, my dorm roommates, the escapades of going to the new SM mall nearby, watching lovebirds around the Parks and Wildlife lake (literal and figurative ones) from our dorm room, and generally just having fun with classmates and barkada. The average height of my barkada then was below 5 feet earning us our moniker Midge.
Afternoons were for watching the volleyball games or hanging out in the back lobby for dormers (and the front lobby for the externs waiting for their ride home). Early evenings were for lining up for dinner and for some– strolls around the campus. Wednesdays were no-uniform washdays and we could wear our T-shirts and jeans and Fridays were for the CAT trainings and for preparing to go home to the provinces.
Weekends were generally slow days in Pisay for those who stayed over since most students spent Saturdays with their guardians or went home to nearby provinces. I spent many of my weekends with my barkada learning to ride a bike at the QC circle, eating at burger stops and generally just hanging out.
One vivid memory was our whole dorm room refusing to stand up from sleep one Sunday morning. The geeky reasoning went like this: no one wanted to expend more calories as no one had any more money for lunch. We only stood up when one of our parents arrived and brought everybody some brunch.
The intense science content in our curriculum made science concepts familiar early in our learning. Yet for me, this is not what made us what we are right now. It was the analytic way of thinking that was drilled to us since freshman year that prepared us, and gave us an edge, in our careers in science or otherwise. That is the legacy of Philippine Science High School to the country for the past fifty years: a cadre of professionals who have the training and aptitude to solve problems—scientific or otherwise.
A lot of Pisay alumni are now making waves in the academe, business, civil society and government doing their share of problem solving. There are even others doing their work changing society in our mountains and hills bringing their talent to the masses that they love. All of us are products of the same idea of developing those with an aptitude for science and nurturing them in a school system that will support their growth. With this training and an attitude of bringing science for the people, Pisay alumni could indeed contribute a lot in nation building.
I belong to the batch that graduated at the last of the eighties. A few years after, Pisay regional campuses were established and now there is at least one in the major regions in the country. Twenty-five years after I graduated, I get to advice students from these regional campuses and get to enjoy working with the next batch of our scientists-to-be.
Government should support Pisay and similar schools. Entrance to it should be made more accessible to our young students especially those with the aptitude. With the changes in curriculum due to the K-12 program, science education becomes more and more crucial for the country. More budget support should be given not only in their day to day activities and building structures but more so for keeping the quality of education high in the Pisay system. Teachers should be given more training and better wages so that they have more reason to stay and shape Pisay students beyond their heroic love for teaching.
I owe Pisay a lot. It is the “search for the untarnished” truth that made me study physics and it is the same phrase in the PSHS hymn that made me look at the relationship of science and society. It is this “fight for the right” that I carry on in trying to make science work for the people in our country.
Mabuhay Pisay@50! Mabuhay the “Last of the Eighties!”