Popularizing Science

Reposting from Marjorie Pamintuan’s column in the Manila Times, SciPop: Popularizing Science. Marj is a member and an officer of Agham-Youth, an organization of advocates of science and technology for the people. Agham-Youth has just celebrated it’s 10 years of activism and service to the Filpino people last March 29, 2009.

Of course, I’m proud to be one of the founders of Agham-Youth.

SciPop: Popularizing Science
by Marjorie Pamintuan

It was March 1 when I woke up at four in the morning to catch a ride to the Rosario National High School in Cavite. We were to hold a Career Orientation Day for high school students under our SciPop program. After a minibus and tricycle ride, we were facing 200 students eager to hear about careers in science.

The Career Orientation Day is part of SciPop, a program being implemented by Agham Youth and other organizations seeking to enhance appreciation and interest in science, mathematics, and engineering in public elementary schools and high schools. SciPop wants to maximize the potentials of technology, including the Internet and multimedia, in popularizing science, mathematics and engineering. We also want to develop and promote a culture of scientific research at the secondary and primary levels. In pushing for SciPop, we are also introducing the concept of encouraging science and technology students, professionals and organizations to share their skills and knowledge with different sectors of society.

While the Philippines has the biggest number of college graduates compared to other countries, we have one of the smallest number of graduates with science and engineering skills. There is less attraction towards science and engineering courses. Even with students, science continues to be one of the most difficult subjects in elementary and high school, as reflected in the results of the recent National Achievement Tests. Studies of UP NISMED conclude that a large number of Filipino students cannot apply math and science concepts to real life.

In the past decade, the average enrolment in engineering courses in the Philippines was a little more than 300,000, or about 14 percent of all the enrolees. Those in mathematics and information technology comprise about 7 percent of the total while those in the natural sciences make up only 1 percent.

The most popular disciplines for incoming students in higher education are in business and related courses and in agriculture related courses, having 30 percent and 32-percent share of the total enrolment, respectively.

This, in turn, affects the low number of research scientists and engineers in the country. We have less than 150 scientists and engineers involved in research and development per million of our population while we have only around 22 technicians per million. Japan has more than 5,600 scientists and engineers and 864 technicians for every million Japanese while South Korea has 2,274 scientists and engineers and 223 technicians per million of its population.

One of the problems in promoting science and mathematics to elementary and high school students is the complexity of those subject and the perception that science and math are detached from everyday experience. In SciPop, students, teachers and professionals who will be part of the core group of volunteers receive training on how they can effectively communicate with the students throughout the course of the project. A more practical approach to science and math concepts is developed to make these subjects more attractive to the students and the community.

SciPop makes use of the Internet as one of its tools in popularizing science and mathematics. While access to the Internet is still limited in the country, a growing number of Filipinos are now using it as their primary source of information. They also use it as one of the main ways to communicate with each other through their blogs, websites and online videos. One of SciPop’s projects is to encourage the creation of local online content as means to popularize science, mathematics and engineering to the public.

Students, teachers and professionals in various fields are invited to share their thoughts and experiences through the SciPop blog. The site will be used as an online hub of all the volunteers who have been part in all the SciPop activities. The website (www.scipop-ph.org) also serves as an information portal for all the on-going and upcoming activities of the project.

The project seeks to go beyond conventional science and math means nad methods of popularization. There is also the planned science and math virtual fair as a search for the best research project making use of science and math concepts. The culminating activity is a SciPop camp where all participants are invited to share their activities.

In the open forum in the Career Orientation, one of the concerns raised by the students was that college education in itself is already a challenge due to rising costs let alone their choice of course to take. There are of course science and engineering scholarships but these are not enough. With our feet firmly on solid ground, SciPop never loses sight of these realities when we frame our approaches in popularizing science.

(Miss Pamintuan is the vice-chairperson of AGHAM Youth based in UP Diliman. AGHAM Youth recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of its founding as an organization of young advocates of science and technology for the people).

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