Science education realities

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Apart from a few universities that shifted their calendar to August, the new school year will start for public elementary and high school in a few days. Nothing much has changed as student-teacher and student-classroom ratios have not improved. We expect worse in Yolanda-devastated areas where even basic housing needs have not been addressed yet.

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Classrooms are scarce, but the situation for science laboratories is even worse. The Department of Education reports a serious lack of science laboratories in both elementary and high schools all over the country. According to DepEd data, in regions III, IV-A, X, XI, and XII, only one school has a science laboratory out of every 10 public elementary schools. In the National Capital region, this ratio is 3 laboratories for every 10 elementary schools. The public elementary schools in the other regions don’t have any science laboratory to facilitate science learning.

Preliminary results from a survey done by Raymond Pingol from the VISSER project show that only around 20% of high schools have laboratories with non-traditional “modern” equipment. Unfortunately, these “modern” equipment are typically no more than the combination of a computer and an LCD projector.

The lack of science education facilities is reflected on the poor quality of basic science and math education seen by the low achievement scores of Filipino students in various tests. The passing rate for the national achievement test (NAT) for grade 6 is only 69.21%. This was already a 24% improvement compared to the 2005-2006 passing rate but is still below the passing rate of 75%.

On the other hand, the NAT passing rate for high school is 46.38% in SY 2009-2010, which is a slight decrease from 47.40% in SY 2008-2009.The last time we participated in international surveys like the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the Philippines ranked 34th out of 38 countries in HS II Math and 43rd out of 46 countries in HS II Science; for grade 4, the Philippines ranked 23rd out of 25 participating countries in both math and science. In 2008, even with only the science high schools participating in the Advanced Mathematics category, the Philippines ranked lowest among 10 countries.

Teaching preparation of public school teachers in science is also a factor in learning. There is only a small fraction of teachers in high school that qualified and capable to teach Physics, Chemistry, Biology and mathematics. Although these numbers have increased for public schools due to scholarship efforts of the DOST-SEI, there is still a need to have programs for the continuing professional development such as training programs and conferences.

The implementation of the Kto12 basic education program does not bode well for science education. Science education will start only at Grade 3, which is not comforting for the improvement in basic science and math education. We need to develop critical thinking skills of our Filipino students at an early age. The time allotment for laboratories and non-lecture activities is also limited.

According to the UNESCO Science Report of 2010 on the Philippines, there were only 81 researchers in research and development per million people in 2009. Without our industries, science and engineering graduates will not even be able find suitable engineering and science work in the country. Thus, they are rarely allowed to contribute to the industrialization of the country.

Problems at the PAGASA reflect this sorry state. Last year, PAGASA Administrator Dr. Nathaniel Servando resigned from his public post after 23 years of service to teach in Qatar. This year more PAGASA weathermen resigned to work as airport weather forecasters and communications specialists in Qatar. These experts deferred their plans to quit last year since the government promised to make their compensation equal to that paid to people working in high-risk conditions.

Those who stay are exposed to high risk jobs as the recent news of scientists from the Bureau of Soils and Water Management who died in a plane crash while on their cloud seeding activity. A weather specialist was reported to have died during the height of the storm surge in Tacloban City when Supertyphoon Yolanda hit the place. He stayed behind to continue his work in tracking the storm.

The whole PDAF scam have showed that we have billions of pesos that should be channeled for the improvement of our public school science laboratories, training programs of our public school teachers, and benefits for our science workers. The Magna Carta for Science and Technology workers has yet to be fully implemented to provide more benefits for those who stay here to work.

The government’s plan for improving science and math education remains limited to scholarships and a few projects. This has to be improved and expanded to address not only the supply side of science experts but also to build industries that will utilize them. We need radical solutions to reverse the current backward science and technology situation of the country.

The author of today’s AGHAM Prometheus Bound column, Noel Marbella Jalmasco, is a member of the Agham national secretariat. He recently obtained his BS Biology degree from the PUP.

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