Recognizing the important role of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in promoting economic and social progress, the Philippine Development Plan (2017-2022) is vigorously advancing science, technology, and innovation (STI) in order to increase the country’s potential growth through innovation. This will be done by promoting and accelerating technology adoption and by enhancing the creative capacity for knowledge and technology generation, acquisition and adoption, and strengthening open collaboration among actors in the STI ecosystem. Education, training and research in STEM will definitely complement this strategic thrust of the government.
Educational institutions in the Philippines are gradually recognizing the relevance of STEM education in supporting the government’s thrust for innovation to drive economic growth. Thus, in a bid to increase the number of graduates who enroll in STEM-related courses at the tertiary level, the Department of Education designed a STEM strand under the K-12 Academic Track of the Senior High School. The STEM strand will provide students with the fundamental concepts related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students study subjects in Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Calculus, Technology, and Research which will prepare them from taking college courses related to Applied and Pure Sciences, Engineering, IT and Mathematics. Moreover, the STEM strand paves the way for broader opportunities for students in basic education to learn and practice science and mathematics, which can prepare them for global education and employment, as well as entrepreneurship.
In the 2020 Global Gender Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Philippines ranked 16th as the most gender-equal country in the world. Although it dropped from 8th place in 2018, still it is the only country from Asia in the top twenty list. A look into the Philippines Country Profile in the same report revealed some interesting gender disparities in the area of education and skills. Clearly, males outnumbered females in the attainment of education and skills related to STEM-related fields such as ICT, engineering, manufacturing and construction, agriculture, fisheries and veterinary (see Figure 1). It is also interesting to note that more females are into education.
Getting more students to enroll in STEM is still a major challenge. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) reported that in 2018-2019, only 38.5% of total enrollment is on STEM-related courses. CHED also noted a decreasing number of STEM enrollments from women. For the academic year 2016-2017, CHED reports that women comprise only 43% of STEM enrollments, lower than previous years and mostly in non-engineering or non-IT fields such as biology and medical sciences.
In order to bridge the gender gap in STEM enrollments, the country needs to encourage more women to take a STEM course in college, and particularly in engineering and IT fields. There are some indications that the following may contribute to increasing STEM enrollments in women:
- High aptitude in math and science in high school;
- Enrollment in a science high school;
- Early training on gender sensitivity will empower women to prove herself in the male-dominated field;
- Early education on the logic of technology and how everything around them works;
- Early introduction or exposure to STEM
Clearly, if we want more women in STEM, the country needs to revisit its Basic Curriculum to include gender sensitivity, logic of technology, early introduction to STEM, and improve the teaching of STEM, in general. The government should also look at establishing more science high schools, or at least more science-oriented classes.
The Philippine Science High School
In the forefront of STEM education in the country is the Philippine Science High School (PSHS), sometimes known simply as “Pisay”. PSHS or Pisay is the premier high school in the Philippines with a strong focus on STEM. PSHS is under the auspices of the Department of Science and Technology and is autonomous from the Department of Education. There are 16 regional campuses of the PSHS System, each offering a unique 6-year curriculum specializing in science and mathematics. Its mandate is to prepare students to become globally-competitive Filipino scientists equipped with 21st century skills and imbued with the core values of truth, excellence and service to nation. PSHS graduates are expected to take up STEM courses in college, eventually contributing to the dearth of scientists, engineers, and technologies in the country.
All students of PSHS are scholars of the government and enjoy free tuition, dorm accommodation, and monthly stipends and allowances. For the 2019-2020 academic year, the PSHS provided scholarships to 9,319 students across the country. These students are expected to enroll in STEM when they graduate and they are usually accepted in the best national and international schools. This year, 99.84% of graduates are pursuing STEM-related undergraduate courses. So far, PSHS graduated 21,390 students who are mostly successful professionals in their own fields.
What sets PSHS apart from other science-oriented high schools in the country is the wholistic education that it provides. PSHS prides itself with its unique curriculum and best teaching practices, and taught by highly qualified faculty. It has a stringent selection policy and only students with high aptitude in science and mathematics are admitted. “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, Executive Director. “Also, 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.”
Having a curriculum that is at par with global standards, PSHS has been producing students who are globally-minded, socially-aware, and competitive learners. Students have had quite a success in both national and international contests, bringing home 93 awards. As of early July 2020, PSHS students have ranked in the 93rd percentile in Mathematics in the US-Based Scholastic Aptitude Test and are top-ranked in their performance at the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT).
In terms of gender equality, the student population is slightly tilted towards males with 51% male and 49% female. However, there are campuses such as the Main Campus, Central Luzon Campus, and the Calabarzon Region Campus which have a larger male population (see Figure 2). Interestingly, these campuses are situation in or close to Metro Manila.
#STEMpower Our Girls
One of the recent programs for young women in the country is #STEMpower Our Girls. Evident Communications partnered with the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), with the support of the Investing in Women initiative from the Australian government, to launch a program that hinges on the power of collective action. The program is called #STEMpower Our Girls, the program’s mission is to build, enable, and nurture a strong community of supporters that will help young Filipinas discover their passion for STEM and pursue their dream. #STEMpower Our Girls aims to break the negative thinking of girls towards STEM at an early age so that they gain the confidence they need to get engaged and succeed in STEM fields in the future.
In its pilot phase held in Manila, Cebu, and Davao, STEMpower Our Girls held activities that consisted of workshops, career caravans where they learn about STEM careers, and industry talks that introduced the girls to women with proven success in STEM fields. After school programs that ran for three months trained the girls to use STEM concepts and disciplines to effectively solve real-life problems.
“The next step for us is to widen the reach of the campaign to more schools and more girls as we move to the second phase and continue to plant the seeds for greater inclusivity in the STEM fields…. The pilot phase increased interest and expanded appreciation in STEM not just for students, but the parents as well, as we helped them imagine what else their girls ‘could be’ during the career talks,” added Basillote. “The challenge now is sustaining that interest as they enter high school.”
Women in STEM-Related Jobs
“Women in STEM, A Baseline Study” is a collaborative project of the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (PBCWE), Unilab Foundation’s STEM+PH, and UP Center for Women’s Studies Foundation, to examine the gender dimensions of the STEM economy, identify gaps, and make recommendations to STEM industries towards the direction of policies that might address such gaps.
A total of 134 respondents participated in the study, with 14 in top-level management positions participating in the Key Informant Interviews, 48 in entry-level and managerial positions participating in the Focus Group Discussions and 72 employees participating in the online survey.
Most of the respondents of the online survey have reported that they chose a career in STEM either because it was a personal decision to pursue such career path or because the career prospects in STEM were good. Another reason for choosing a career in STEM, though not as compelling, is having parents, a teacher or a role model in school inspired them. Likewise, considerations that are very important to respondents when choosing a career in STEM include job security and stability, competitive earnings and benefits, opportunities to learn and grow, to do meaningful work, and long-term career prospects.
According to the research participants, some of the enabling factors that promote gender equality in the STEM industries were:
- presence of supportive parents, spouses, other family members, managers and co-workers
- personal interest in STEM-related skills
- positive attitude toward meeting the challenges at work that keeps them engaged
- being in a company that promotes gender-sensitive policies and programs
- media’s positive portrayal of women in STEM
On the other hand, factors that hinder gender equality in STEM industries include:
- male-centered culture and environment in the workplace
- male dominance in leadership and management positions
- difficulty in maintaining work-life balance
To ensure that the practices to promote gender equality in the workplace will be continued and fully sustained, they are counting on the companies to Institutionalize gender sensitivity training across all levels of the organization, recalibrate gender policies, and sustain corporate programs that will build the capacity of women to be ready for leadership roles.
Philippine Science High School website: pshs.edu.ph
#STEMpower Up Girls website: stempowerourgirls.ph
“Women in STEM: A Baseline Study”, https://investinginwomen.asia/knowledge/women-stem-baseline-study/