A LOT of things that enjoyed by the people are powered by STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
From the food that we eat to the cars that we’re driving; to the phones that we use to communicate to our family and friends; and from complex to simple things around us, all these are made possible by STEM.
Despite this, there is still a dearth of scientists and engineers in the Philippines seen crucial to development. And most of competent and expert STEM professionals are working overseas for greener pastures.
According to the Research and Development Survey done by Department of Science and Technology (DOST), there were 36,517 research and development personnel in 2013.
With this, STEM+PH, Unilab Foundation, and Probe Media Foundation organized a workshop for media practitioners dubbed “Making Stem Matter” to bridge STEM closer to Filipinos through stories. The workshop was held on September 12, 2019 in Pasig.
Lilibeth Aristorenas, executive director of Unilab Foundation, said journalists and STEM professionals need to work together to spark interests on STEM among Filipinos, especially the youth.
“Let’s pay attention to STEM, let’s communicate how important STEM is, connect it with economic development and it is through STEM that we can prepare our learners today for the work of the future,” she said.
Probe Media president Data Tolentino-Canlas, for her part, said in order for more Filipinos to understand and appreciate STEM, storytellers must present it in creative and engaging ways.
“STEM can be communicated well through the art of storytelling in multidimensional forms. As media practitioners, this is your strength. As media practitioners, we need to spark engaging conversations where the audiences are, especially these days as they are not only consuming mass media but also making their own media,” Canlas said.
She mentioned children’s programs with STEM subjects are one effective way of telling stories about STEM. This, sparked the suggestion of the comeback of classic children programs like “Sineskwela,” “Mathinik,” and “Hiraya Manawari,” among others.
“STEM concepts presented in creative and engaging ways in children’s programs heightened children’s processing and problem-solving skills,” Canlas added.
While it is true that STEM is not an attractive option for many students before, the industry is starting to see hope.
DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña noted that more students are now taking up tracks in Senior High School (SHS) that are preparatory to Science and Technology courses.
In a Philippine Information Agency report, Department of Education (DepEd) reported 60 percent growth of students taking STEM track in SHS.
DepEd records show that for the school year 2018-2019, there are 105,350 SHS students under the STEM track, 3,023 of the figure are from Davao Region.
More qualified STEM teachers, professionals needed
But with the increasing interest of students to take STEM comes the shortage of quality STEM teachers.
Bernadeth Daran, DepEd’s supervising education program specialist, said graduates of teaching programs may not always be prepared in the techniques and methods of a modern STEM classroom, including inquiry, design thinking, and problem solving.
“Our current action plan includes coordination with DOST on scholarship contracts for students taking STEM-related education. We are also looking at strengthening our collaboration with top universities in attracting their excellent STEM graduates to teach in the DepEd schools,” Daran said.
She also added that the education department is pushing for the “Balik-Scientist Program” in the schools.
Beyond the learning institution woes is the same challenge in the industry. Emerson’s STEM program head Carey Ann Ramento shared that one of their company’s problems is the scarcity of qualified STEM professionals.
“We wanted to hire STEM professionals but we are finding difficulty doing that because we only have few qualified for the job,” she said. Emerson is an automation, commercial, and residential solutions company.
Aristorenas said Unilab shares same sentiment with Emerson as they also need to sometimes import chemist as they couldn’t find people who can work for their R&D division.
“So we thought, we should invest in STEM, not only for our pharmaceutical operations but for all industries because it will always translate to the country’s economic development,” Aristorenas said.
She added they are presently forming an Industry Education Alliance - the Stem Leadership Alliance, an initiative to complement all STEM programs in the country instead of duplication. The alliance will also be the Philippines’ affiliate to the US-based Stem Leadership Alliance.
The creation is expected to be finalized during the First Integrated STEM Leadership Summit in Asia happening on November 21 to 24, 2019 at the Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa in Cebu City.
Speaking at the Summit are international and local experts in various fields to share their pioneering experiences in delivering the STEM education needed to ensure a pipeline of Industry 4.0-ready workforce and the next generation scientists to address the problems of the society.
Promotion of STEM in the Philippines still has along path to take, as what industry movers and shakers put it – “the task may be daunting but when done with people and organizations that have the same passion in supporting and inspiring the next generation innovators, no feat is impossible.”