Educational institutions in the Philippines are gradually recognising the relevance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in supporting innovation and driving future economic growth. In a bid to increase the number of graduates who enrol in science and mathematics-related courses at the tertiary level, the K-12 programme now provides senior high school students with an option to pursue STEM-related fields through the academic track. To this end, significant activity is under way to boost student engagement in these subjects, and teacher quality.
Data from World Economic Forum shows that the quality of mathematics and science education in the Philippines ranks among the lowest regionally, resulting in relatively low numbers of STEM graduates. Of the 645,973 university graduates in 2016, 76,423, or 12%, obtained a degree in engineering, 6828 (1%) were science graduates and 2736 (0.4%) were mathematics graduates. Of those that do pursue a science and technology degree, they either stay in metropolitan areas – with the majority (34%) concentrated in Metro Manila and the surrounding regions of Calabarzon (25%) and Central Luzon (7%) – or move abroad to pursue opportunities.
Working with leading international scientific institutions, a number of pilot projects have been implemented with the goal of steering students’ interests towards a career in STEM. The International Atomic Energy Agency, in partnership with the Department of Education and the Department of Science and Technology (DoST), has begun a four-year project that will train secondary science teachers and students in the basics of nuclear science. Aside from developing new learning resource materials, several workshops and conferences will be organised to provide a better understanding of nuclear applications.
Regional initiatives to improve STEM have also commenced. Davao City has signed an agreement with independent education network Israel Sci-Tech Schools, to implement its i-STEAM curriculum for the city’s secondary schools. Aside from investing in laboratories, the programme expands the traditional STEM education fields to include innovation and humanities so students learn skills such as communication, marketing and entrepreneurship to prepare them for employment.
Stakeholders are making concerted efforts to generate and maintain student interest. The state-run Philippine Science High School System (PSHS), which is overseen by the DoST, has implemented a curriculum specialising in science and mathematics with the goal of encouraging graduates of the programme to take up STEM courses in college. For the 2017/18 academic year, the PSHS provided scholarships to 7882 students in 16 campuses across the country. “To sustain their interest, we try to make the learning process fun, interesting and engaging. We don’t limit the programme to classroom lectures. Instead, we encourage students to explore, experiment and conduct laboratory exercises,” Lilia Habacon, execAlso, as part of PSHS, students have the opportunity to participate in internship programmes and science camps in universities, firms and research institutions in other countries, such as Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Aside from getting exposure to different laboratories and equipment, students are provided with an opportunity to listen to lectures and observe actual scientific experiments. “The Philippines needs to encourage students to pursue STEM-related fields of study to ensure the country has the skills required for the future workplace,” Lourdes Generalao, president of the University of Southeastern Philippines, told OBG.
Current efforts to promote STEM education are largely focused on developing more partnerships with local and international industries. Complementing these with investments in technological resources, infrastructure and teacher development would help to bring the country’s STEM offerings up to global standards.