Participants from UPOU gather for a group photo at the lobby of the Fort Ilocandia Resort, Laoag City. Photo Credit: Robert Kevin Alindayu 

Organized with the theme “Transdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education for Sustainable Development”, the 6th National Research Conference in Science and Mathematics Education was held on 5-6 March 2020 at the Fort Ilocandia Resort, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. The scholars conference is annually conducted by the Department of Science and Technology – Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI); furthermore, it is an activity under the Capacity Building Program in Science and Mathematics Education (CBPSME) of DOST-SEI that provides student and graduate recipients of the scholarship under the CBPSME with opportunities to present, share and discuss their studies and projects among fellow scholars. 

This year, 20 DOST-SEI scholars–19 who are currently enrolled and 1 who has already graduated–under the PhD in Education program offered by the Faculty of Education (FEd), University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) participated in the conference. Through a series of informative discussions alongside poster and oral presentations, the students were able to interact with fellow scholars from various consortium-universities and enjoy the entire learning experience. 

An Empowering and Eye-Opening Event: A Closer Look at the Conference

In preparation for the event, the participants ensured that they were physically healthy and mentally fit to travel and attend the two-day conference. For Mr. Robert Kevin Alindayu, a strengthened immune system and an open-minded and critical outlook were imperative in providing sound feedback to presenters’ research outputs. Other scholars like Ms. Princess Lydia Sepnio and Ms. Janisse Gas-ib also took the initiative to conduct research on the conference theme and study the book of abstracts of previous presentations, respectively; updating themselves on recent studies concerning science and math education (SME). Moreover, everyone was excited and prepared to socialize with their fellow classmates and colleagues.

The conference proved to be an amazing and meaningful experience for the student participants regardless of whether this year was their first or successive attendance. For first-time participant Ms. Jacqui Lou Valenzuela, she was moved by the strong conviction and unwavering dedication of all speakers in their eye-opening presentations and discussions. Ms. Johanna Thea Lupo added to this, expressing that it was a great learning experience for her to improve as a mathematics educator. Regarded as an enriching investment of time, experience and learning, Ms. Khimberly Del Mar has also shared that she always looks forward to this yearly conference because it stimulates and inspires her as a DOST scholar. Surrounded by insightful plenary sessions and quality research output presentations, the scholars gained newfound knowledge on learning approaches and practices they could apply in both their classrooms and research efforts. 

Through the event, everyone was reminded of their responsibility as DOST scholars to lead the charge on the inclusive improvement and development of STEM education in the Philippines. As stated by Ms. Cledelyn Cuya, “this blessing is coupled with an important task” of uplifting the quality of education in the country by adapting to the ever-changing demands of society and learning needs of students in such a technology-driven age. Further research into effective and sustainable pedagogical approaches for these disciplines are needed now more than ever, given the Philippines’ low quality ranking in international assessments such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This is greatly supported by physics educator Ms. Charibel Sarte, who has stressed the vital role of SME in building the nation; furthermore, Ms. Lupo has said that it is their responsibility “to ensure that Filipino learners get the best education…to find ways on how to mend this problem, through research efforts.” By means of acknowledging educational gaps, reprioritizing personal ideals, cultivating timely studies and applying relevant approaches, these scholars are positive that the country’s STEM education standard can be raised. 

Examining the Quality of SME in the Philippines

Based on their experiences as students and professionals in the fields of SME, these scholars have observed that although there has been quite some improvement over time in the forms of altered student assessments, rising numbers of DOST scholarship program takers, victories of students in international competitions and beneficial research initiatives; the quality of SME in the Philippines is still far from ideal with a long way to go. According to Mr. Alwielland Bello, with his position as a physics educator in a higher education institution (HEI), he has observed that incoming college students lack the required fundamental skills to manage their chosen courses; greatly attributed to the learning gap found in the country’s basic education system. Furthermore, both Mr. Bello and Ms. Valenzuela have pointed out the apparent lack of observance of supposed track alignment among students; meaning that non-STEM senior high school (SHS) graduates enroll themselves in STEM courses despite their lack of experience with preparatory courses. This is what Mr. Bello sees as the reason why students have difficulties with their subjects; for Ms. Valenzuela, this is the reality of her students who are forced to join other tracks due to the unavailability of STEM tracks in their hometown. 

Additionally, SME in the country also falls behind due to the shortage of qualified instructors, lack of learning resources, facilities and laboratories, insufficiency of applied research outputs in classroom settings and prevalence of students’ negative attitudes toward these subjects. There is an utter need to showcase the application and relevance of SME in Filipinos’ lives for them to realize that these are not abstract concepts but in fact, in the words of Ms. Lupo, “important and essential tools for the success of a nation.”

Consequently, a majority has acknowledged that these fields are gravely undervalued in the country due to concerns of expensive costs of resources, lack of much needed STEM programs, ineffective and outdated learning activities and undervalued researches. On the other hand, both Ms. Roselynn Grace Montecillo and Ms. Sarte have pointed out that these fields are in fact, sufficiently appreciated with the abundance of scholarships and projects for science and math teaching through institutions such as DOST-SEI and programs like CBPSME. 

PhD students and graduate from UPOU take a photo with DOST Secretary Fortunato T. De La Peña. Photo Credit: Robert Kevin Alindayu

Uplifting the Future of SME: Transdisciplinary STEM Education for Sustainable Development

Ultimately, everyone is aware of the duty that they must carry out as scholars of the nation; both as DOST-SEI grantees and UPOU students, to improve the quality of the Philippine education system. Mr. Arman Santos, a PhD in Education – Mathematics Education student and mathematics educator, would take it upon himself to find “solutions to the grassroot problems in the field” through further research into elementary mathematics education. 

Mr. Alindayu, Ms. Gas-ib, Ms. Lupo, Ms. Montecillo and Ms. Sepnio have also expressed action through research; specifically to address problems in classroom learning and develop meaningful transdisciplinary pedagogies for SME. 

As educators, Ms. Del Mar, Ms. Cuya, Ms. Sarte and Ms. Valenzuela have chosen to utilize their platforms by advocating life-long learning, upholding expected ideals, developing up-to-date resources and sharing their knowledge with others who need it the most. 

Inspired by the conference, Mr. Bello hopes to develop a theory that “could explain and predict the learning behavior of our students and later formulate a sound innovation to address the gap towards meaningful trans-disciplinary learning.”

Moving forward, it is everyone’s hope that the rates of scientific and mathematical literacy in the Philippines will rise; furthermore, that the quality of local SME be at par, if not beyond, those of globally competent and innovative countries. Such may be done if educators instill SME in students as a way of life, equipped with relevant research-based instructional programs and modernized interactive “media room” classrooms, as suggested by Ms. Valenzuela and Ms. Sarte, respectively. 

Moreover, students from all walks of life should be able to look forward to SME. It is Ms. Lupo’s hope that the government provide all students and teachers with equal opportunities to attend trainings, participate in conferences and pursue further studies worthy of international recognition in working toward the elevation of Philippine SME. With that, Ms. Sepnio envisions that these students apply their learnings in making sound judgments concerning decisions of social relevance and national welfare. 

Although the road to progress is still a very long way ahead, events such as the 6th National Research Conference in Science and Mathematics Education inspire our SME educators and scholars to continue on and contribute to the ever growing body of research for these fields’ sustainable development. Thanks to this conference, UPOU PhD students are more enlightened and empowered than ever before to fulfill their responsibilities as Iskolars ng Bayan, Para sa Bayan; doing their best to bring about beneficial and inclusive change in the country’s SME system. With their presence and perseverance, the future of Philippine SME is promising indeed.