‘STEMify’ opens the conversation on strengthening STEM education in the Philippines

24 November 2018

Aiming to strengthen Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education for a healthier and smarter Philippines, the Philippine Science High School, in partnership with Unilab Foundation, launched STEMify: A Forum on the Practice of STEM Education in Philippines and International STEM Education Models last November 27, 2018, at the Philippine Science High School (PSHS), Quezon City.


Over 100 STEM educators, industry leaders, and students from all over the Philippines attended the forum, which focused on increasing awareness on current issues and opportunities in developing a framework for high-quality STEM education. 


Lilia Habacon, Executive Director of Philippine Science High School, said, “This is part of our commitment to improve STEM education. STEM education facilitates the development of 21st century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. These skills are recognized as the requirement for students of today to succeed in work and in life.”


Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara, Undersecretary for Research and Development at the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), delivered the keynote speech. According to Guevara, everyone has a role in STEM education, particularly in encouraging students to love science. She highlighted the importance of cultivating a culture of innovation through research and development, science and technology human resource development, science and technology facilities, and science and technology promotion.


The state of STEM education in the Philippines


The K to 12 program is considered one of the biggest educational reforms in the country, with many areas for collaboration among the different sectors. In a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Sheryl Lyn C. Monterola, Chair of the UP College of Education’s Science, Health, and Social Studies Cluster, educators from different institutions discussed the challenges they face, and the solutions they need.


The panel included Bernadeth Daran, the Supervising Program Specialist of the Bureau of Curriculum Development at the Department of Education (DepEd); Dr. Zenaida Q. Reyes, Dean of the College of Graduate Studies and Teacher Education Research at Philippine Normal University; Edna Bañaga, Principal of Quezon City Science High School; Dr. Lilibeth D. Sabino, Principal of Mapua Senior High School; and Virginia P. Andres, Special Science Teacher V and former Campus Director at PSHS Main Campus.


The panelists discussed the different ways they are working on teacher training, with Bañaga sharing that the Quezon City government strongly supports these efforts through graduate scholarships for teachers. 


As for challenges faced by educators, Daran cited that while there is a steady supply of STEM students, facilities for both regular schools and science schools are inadequate, which is a significant problem in areas outside NCR. “We have very good students, as proven in international research fairs[...] but we cannot push the students—or the teachers—to do the research because we don’t have the facilities. Even if we have just one research center per region, that will help.” 

The panel also agreed that partnerships with industry players for immersions would be beneficial to the students. Sabino added, “Another problem is that with senior high school, the students are minors. Most industry partners do not accept minors for internship or OJT or immersion.” Reyes emphasized that this partnership would benefit not only the students, but teachers as well. Meanwhile, Andres shared one of the practices that worked for PSHS: bringing the experts to the school. 


Global STEM education models


In a separate presentation, Dr. Mia Dubosarsky, Director for Professional Development of the STEM Education Center in Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Boston, Massachusetts, talked about a turning point in their institution’s history. “Industry came to us and said, your graduates know a lot, but they do not really know what we need in the industry.” This led WPI to make major changes in their curriculum. 


First, they realized that the learning environment needed to reflect the workplace, so that students knew what industry workplaces were like. 


Second, they required students to find real-world problems to solve, and to find solutions through research and immersion in the community. 


Lastly, the grading system was completely revised. Students were encouraged to try courses that were not related to their field. If the course was not working for them, students could simply stop, and the course would not appear on their school records. 

These changes led to their Project-Based Learning program, where students not only learned concepts and theories, but also practiced with real-world problems and solutions, alongside industry experts and professionals.


Building the first STEM Education in the Philippines


Among the objectives of the Forum is to build a network of leaders in government, industry, and education to ensure that Filipino students are prepared for the jobs of Industry 4.0.


A roundtable discussion among STEM educators and industry leaders including Unilab, Gokongqwi Foundation, and others produced relevant insights for bolstering STEM education in the Philippines, including trainings for STEM educators to improve their teaching strategies and a call to upgrade learning facilities. These are areas for collaboration that Unilab Foundation’s STEM+ PH program is dedicated to address, in partnership with DepEd, PSHS, and the University of the Philippines and other organizations.


“We will be launching the first STEM Education Center in the country in the beginning of 2019,” said Lilibeth Aristorenas, Executive Director of Unilab Foundation. “The STEM Education Center will be the hub of innovative teaching approach to STEM. It is set to build a critical mass of 100,000 STEM teacher trainers equipped to engage and inspire 5 million students to take up STEM within 5 years.”


Future Filipino scientists and innovators

To cap off the Forum, Unilab Foundation and Pinoy Scientists gathered the International Olympiad Winners for the first time, reuniting thirty winners in Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math, and Informatics from across the Philippines with their mentors.


Miguel Cano, Team Leader of International Earth Science Olympiad, highlighted the importance of building a community for these young leaders. “We [Olympiad teams] are really struggling in terms of getting resources. We are hoping this time it will be sustainable. We are hoping that each Olympiad will be supported.”


Cano added, “It doesn’t matter if you got a bronze, silver, and gold. Because you could be great someday. What [each] Olympiad can teach you is how to love science.” 



For more information about STEMify, you may visit www.unilabfoundation.org.