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20/20, 24/7, and a culture of science

Friday, June 19, 2015 02:12 AM    Views : 4040by:Aristotle P. Carandang, Ph.D.

On 19 August 2009, I posted at livejournal.com almost the same article. In fact, it has the same title but I made sure that updates have been made.
 
True enough, the vision of a well-defined culture of science may look quixotic because intellectual snubs believe that science is exclusive for the learned. These intellectual snubs are on top of the food chain but cannot fully understand the very purpose of science and technology.
 
We know that the inability to grasp the importance of science and technology to propel socio-economic development of a nation is not really limited to the bigger portion of the populace whose main concern is how to find food on the table, 24/7. Sadly, symptoms persist in the more privileged sectors and even in the quarantined halls of Congress. Was Aristotle, the great Greek thinker, wrong when he said "The fruits of education are sweet; its roots bitter"?  Because now, what we reap are bitter fruits and inedible roots.
 
I want to believe, however, that in a span of almost five years, changes have started to be felt. Thanks not only to technology but to those who have made communication much easier and faster. And what used to be the poor state of science and technology education in the country has greatly improved because of new developments.
 
True enough, the article of Fr. Bienvenido F. Nebres and Dr. Evelyn Mae Tecson-Mendoza, NAST Academicians, (Educators Speak column, Manila Bulletin, 08 July 2007) posited that developing a culture of science in the country would require multi-layered actions. That would include identification and support of scientific talent, interventions from the top policy makers, supportive markets in the private sector, changes in educational policies and programs, and even changes in cultural practices and norms. The two Academicians presented strategies and identified specific roles of each sector. Admittedly, the actions cannot be done with just one mighty sweep of the mighty magic wand. Noteworthy are the strategies presented that might really hasten the tedious process of building such culture.         
 
Interest, or none of it, in science and mathematics is seen as early as the elementary level. But interest, and much of it, in entertainment and sports is likewise manifested in the same level or even earlier. Here comes the role of the media, traditional and the modern alternatives; the latter is where the younger age groups are very much exposed to. In the 1st Quarter Issue of the S&T Post my editorial talked about science careers. The same issue presented features related to human resources development

In trying to build a culture of science in our case would require the effort of all sectors, all stakeholders who have direct and indirect roles to play. And the role of the media is definitely one of the most critical. They not only help create a good environment and mindset but more importantly develop interest. One cannot discount, however, the influence of the family where  values become the core of personal biases.

It is a popular belief, almost an urban legend in magnitude, that the delay which spans several generations to popularize science among the Filipinos, even to the most educated and sophisticated, is caused by scientists who live in ivory towers. Their discoveries too are not only kept in steel vaults but are also crazily encrypted. Even the most skillful hackers and pestering paparazzi would find it impossible to sneak into their inner sanctum. In this age where one can hold the world at the tip of the finger, no one can simply live in seclusion. Almost every information is already shared and made readily available.

But can we blame the media if there is little exposure given to science topics? Is there a large audience for science stories, in the first place? Is it appealing to businesses when returns on investments are at risk?

Are there less media practitioners who have the courage to take the science beat since the probability of not being featured is deemed relatively low? If no writeup-no byline-no pay, a string of words writers fear the most, is the rule of thumb, will there be takers then? How can we put science stories in the mainstream media? Can science writers be as creative as their colleagues in entertainment? Or do we have to resort to sensationalism?

In another arena, it is believed that one of the biggest factors why students are disinterested in if not afraid of science and mathematics is the teachers. No offense to the unsung heroes but this is a stark reality. There are, of course, the brilliant ones; but they belong to a rare breed---more of an exception than the rule.

Do you remember your math teacher who quietly wrote an equation on the board and asked a student to solve it without explaining a thing? Or your physics teacher who showed nothing but a pendulum, always poker-faced; and never said what friction is all about? Or your biology teacher who never let the microscope out of the cabinet? Surely they were not like your music and PE teachers who ate lunch with you.

There are one thousand and one reasons why we lag behind our Asian neighbors. From the poorly lit and crowded classrooms to the breath-taking halls of the palatial congress, you will find bits and pieces of the puzzle, which would be almost impossible to solve if actions are not made taken cohesively and immediately.

The question is: Who wants to take the responsibility? And if somebody does, will there be support from the national government?

For its part, NAST has started to steer the interest of many. It has gathered not only experts but people who really matter. The Department of Education shares its experiences, so does the Department of Science and Technology and its different agencies. The Commission on Higher Education is also very much into it. The private sector is more than eager. Documented good practices and pockets of success stories from pilot projects and experimental designs abound. But looking closer, one will notice that there is a need to sew them together so that the entire country would benefit from them. But the success of a particular school or project may not be achieved by another school using the same approach or strategy. The same is true for every municipality, city, province, or region for each has specific needs and concerns. No cure-all formula exists for this type of ailment. It would take a lot of work, precious time and resources, and complete devotion for one superbody to bite this mouthful.

Now the bigger challenge lies on the national government. Will it have the will, political or otherwise, to act on these pressing concerns knowing that building a culture of science in the country is no walk in the park?

But with a perfect vision and working round-the-clock seven days a week, building a culture of science in the country may not be an impossible dream for those who want change.

S & T Trivia

" Besides inventing the banana vinegar, Maria Carlita Rex-Doran also produced an ampalaya (bittermelon) concoction for diabetes mellitus and HIV infection. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) conferred on her the Gold Medal in 1989, four years after another Filipina inventor, Olympia Gonzales, achieved the same award. "

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