Monday, June 17, 2024

SPECIAL REPORT | PH grapples with exodus of science, math teachers

In late July, Sharmaine Sanchez, a 27-year-old former science scholar from the Philippine Science High School and the University of the Philippines (UP), surprised her friends when she suddenly threw a despedida (farewell party).

When asked the reason for the occasion, she told them she had just been hired to teach math at a community high school in North Carolina, in the United States. Her salary, which amounts to P150,000.00 monthly when converted, would give the security she needed in raising her young family, who, in a few months, would join her there.

Two years ago, Rommel Guerrero, a math major from the UP College of Education, came home to the Philippines after a year of teaching in the United Kingdom to marry his girlfriend, Sheila. The two met at Xavier School in Greenhills, San Juan where they both taught math.

After their wedding in August 2003, Rommel towed Sheila along with him to the UK where a teaching job awaited her in an exclusive girls school. Rommel would continue his work, also as a high school math teacher, in Wyvern College in Salisbury near London.

When classes start in September this year in the Western hemisphere and in other parts of the globe, a number of newly hired teachers will be foreigners. Most of them will be tasked to teach science and math. And most likely, the bulk of these teachers will come from the Philippines.

It was only recently, however, that the general public had got wind of this growing phenomenon. The public affairs program, The Correspondents, aired on television station ABS-CBN, was the first to feature a Filipino math teacher who was recruited to teach in a school in Houston, Texas.

But the massive recruitment and emigration of Filipino teachers actually started in the early 1990s, reaching its peak in 2002. It slowed down in 2003 but went up again in 2004. From 1992 to 2004, a total of 3,269 teachers fled the country, half of them to the US to teach science or math subjects.

Is there reason to be alarmed? Assessments from stakeholders indicate there’s enough basis to do so.

Intellectual Hemorrhage

In a recent forum sponsored by the Science Education Institute (SEI) of the Department of the Science and Technology, educators are one in saying that the current exodus of qualified teachers is aggravating the deteriorating quality of science and math education in the country.

They argue that unless the government recognizes the gravity of the problem, the country will find itself in a deep hole in the future. After all, science and math education is the foundation by which a nation can achieve technological progress.

The direct relationship between technological advancement and achievement in science and math is supported by the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS). The test is conducted in most countries all over the world and is held every four years.

Students from highly modernized countries such as Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea have consistently occupied the top spots in the TIMMS survey. On the other hand, less developed economies, like the Philippines and other countries from South America and Africa, consistently ranked at the bottom of the standings.

“Philippine policy makers and educators have cause for concern regarding the increasing number of elementary and secondary science and math teachers being deployed for work abroad,” remarked Dr. Ana Maria Tabunda of the UP School of Statistics in her paper entitled “Deployment, Emigration, and Shortage of Qualified Science and Math Teachers.”

What is making it more alarming, the author noted, is the fact that even before the recent aggressive recruitment of Filipino teachers, the country had been experiencing a chronic shortage of science and math teachers at the secondary level.

“Lack of adequately trained science teachers was, in fact, already a serious problem in the 1950s. By SY 1997-1998, the country had only 29 percent and 56 percent of the required number of secondary level science and math teachers, respectively,” she said.

This shortage, Tabunda stressed, contributed greatly to the dismal performance of the country in the 1995, 1999, and 2003 TIMMS survey. In the result, the Philippines ranked either third or fourth from the last placer.

“Aggressive recruitment for work abroad of the country’s most qualified, experienced science and math teachers can only result in further deterioration in the quality of science and math instruction in the country unless even more drastic measures are taken to train the remaining teachers handling science and math courses,” Tabunda warned.

Tracing the trail

Based on available data, the US stands out as the primary destination of Filipino teachers. Half of all teacher deployments go to the US because of growing teacher demand in that country.

According to Tabunda’s paper, the US Department of Education has estimated that, as a result of increasing enrollment and teacher retirements in their country, two million new public and over a half million independent school teachers will be needed over the 10-year period 2001 to 2010.

In various sources that Tabunda gathered, it was revealed that Filipino teachers recruited to work in the US are hired to teach math and science subjects in inner-city high schools.

These teachers, usually armed with master’s degree and teaching experience, are provided with H1-B visas. This special form of visa is good for six years, allowing them to convert to immigrant status.

To this, Tabunda presents a troubling scenario: It is likely that emigration of science and math will increase in the future, as those who are deployed are likely to convert to immigrant status once they become eligible.

For the period 2000-2004 alone, Tabunda estimated that 818 Filipino teachers, most of them science and math teachers, were deployed to teach at the secondary level in the US.

Over a 16-year period, from 1988-2004, the US accounted for 72.8 percent of the total number of teachers deployed abroad. Other popular destinations for Filipino teachers include Canada (12.4 percent), Australia (9.2 percent), Japan (1.9 percent), and Germany (0.9 percent). Other countries make up for the remaining 3.5 percent.

The figures stated above refer to documented teachers who actually landed teaching jobs. There are teachers, inside and outside of the US, who went out of the Philippines but were not able to secure work as teachers.

Apart from the attractive compensation package, the prospect of obtaining permanent residency in America has enticed the best and the brightest local educators. During the forum, a participant cited the case of a highly regarded dean of a college based in Cebu who resigned from her job to become a classroom teacher in a US high school.

The salary of a prospective recruit is usually based on his or her expertise and teaching experience. Thus, a supervisor or master teacher can command a higher remuneration package as against someone who has no teaching experience at all.

In the case of Sharmaine, the science scholar mentioned earlier who is a chemical engineer, her new job is her first foray into teaching. This could only mean that if a neophyte and non-teacher like Carla can be recruited, those with more extensive teaching experience are more vulnerable targets for recruitment.

At the UP Los Banos, for example, the faculty roster of its chemistry department is being depleted primarily due to teacher migration, either for work or graduate study abroad.

Dwindling Supply

While other countries, particularly the US, continue to benefit from the steady supply of science and math teachers from the Philippines, the number of education students majoring on these subjects in teacher education institutions (TEI) is low.

Based on the 1997 and 1998 data obtained by the SEI through a survey of TEIs offering bachelor of secondary education (BSE) programs, only about 15.3 percent of BSE graduates majored in mathematics and about 15.1 percent majored in science, Tabunda observed.

She noted the lack of material incentives has generally discouraged the “better students from enrolling, thereby resulting in lower graduation rates in science and math education programs.”

The results of the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET) also paint a rather obscure picture. While the number of applicants to math and science teaching licenses did increase for the period 2001 to 2004, these annual increases can be attributed to the large number of repeaters.

This has prompted Dr. Milagros Ibe, a noted math professor and dean of the Graduate School of Miriam College, to comment in her report “Licensing and Professionalization of Science and Mathematics Teachers” that the “quality of the licensees leaves much to be desired.”

The present situation can be summed up as thus: only a small number of education graduates right now is specializing on math and science; and repeaters have caused the abnormal increase in the number of license applicants who majored on these subjects in recent years.

Brain Drain

Is there a silver lining to this problem of teacher migration? For Tabunda, the answer is similar to the “spillover” effect that the nursing profession is undergoing today.

“Continued recruitment of quality Filipino science and math teachers by the US could, in the short run, provide the material incentives that would attract more and better qualified students to take degrees in science and math teaching, just as global demand for nurses has attracted more and better students to the country’s nursing programs.”

The country will benefit, she said, from spillovers if the supply of such students exceeds US demand. Another benefit, Tabunda added, is that a strong US demand for Filipino teachers will bring up to world-class standards the quality of science and math teachers being produced in the country.

But in terms of knowledge being actually passed on to students, the Philippines is now on the losing end, argues a paper authored by Dr. Merle Tan of the UP National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development (NISMED), Dr. Julieta Savellano of the UP College of Education, and former University of the East president Josefina Cortes.

In their work titled “Teachers Leavers: Brain Drain or Technology Transfer?”, the authors concluded the country is undeniably receiving the raw end of the deal. Tan, who presented the report in behalf of her colleagues, said the Philippines is currently “experiencing brain drain and reversed technology transfer.”

“There’s no technology transfer happening right now. There’s no knowledge flowing back to the Philippines as a result of this emigration,” said Tan, current NISMED director, during an open forum presided by Dr. Bee Ching Ong of the science department of De La Salle University.

In explaining why the trend continues to persist, Tan et al said in their paper the reasons can be categorized into two: Economic and non-economic.

In a survey they conducted among Filipino science teachers regarding the reasons why they left the Philippines, the writers obtained these answers: to seek for financial security and proverbial greener pasture, gain international exposure and experience, career advancement, and adventure.

The economic factor is obvious: most teachers receive at least $30,000 (about P1.65 million) a year based on teaching experience, they are allowed to bring with them their families, they are also provided with housing or rent discounts, they are paid during summer vacation, and can attend seminars with stipends, and other perks.

This stand in sharp contrast to a 2003 Ibon Facts survey which the authors also cited to explain why teachers continue to leave the country: low pay, delayed salaries, unpaid benefits, long working hours, overcrowded classrooms, lack of facilities, sexual harassment, and lack of tenured positions.

With teachers leaving by the droves, public and private schools in the country are slowly feeling the pinch. Teachers with no specialization in science or math are compelled to teach those subjects.

In a study done by the Department of Education, it was found that majority of science teachers (physics 73 percent, chemistry 66 percent, general science 58 percent, and biology 58 percent) and significant percentage of math teachers (20 percent) do not have the necessary specialization required to teach the subjects.

The desperation that hangs in the air due to scarcity of qualified teachers is also illustrated by a case in a school based in a province where a math teacher unexpectedly got pregnant out of wedlock.

Aware of the morality clause in her employment contract, she prepared herself for some disciplinary action or the prospect of even getting fired from her teaching job.

But instead of a reprimand and seeing that no one is qualified to take her place, the school principal asked the unwed mother to just take a leave of absence and come back after delivering her child.

Rewards System

Is there still a chance the Philippines can get back the science and math teachers currently employed abroad?

Unless the country is able to match what they’re currently receiving, that won’t likely happen, according to Tan. “What we can do is to improve the rewards system here to prevent them from leaving. Actually, Filipinos are easy to please even if you give them just small tokens.”

In their paper, Tan and her co-authors said rewards could come in the form of recognition of competent professionals, placing them in top positions in government, industry and education, or providing them with scholarships, including financial support for those attending international conferences and meetings.

This recommendation was seconded by UP’s Tabunda who said that more than the emigration phenomenon, it is the lack of teacher training and rewards system that is hurting the education system the most.

“In terms of quantity, the effects of overseas deployment and emigration on the shortage of science and math teachers are negligible compared to the accumulated effects, through several decades, of poor incentives for pursuing careers in education, in general, and science and math in particular.”

She emphasized, however, that the current exodus is making the situation worse. “Overseas deployment has greater, un-quantifiable, and far-reaching repercussions on quality of science and math instruction in the country. Most of those recruited to teach abroad were among the country’s best and were teaching in the country’s leading secondary schools, the science high schools included. Students will thus be all the more inadequately prepared for pursuing science and technology courses at the tertiary level.”

Higher Salary

The Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), through programs and standards director Catherine Castaneda, said the government is aware of the existence of the problem and is addressing it by proposing a higher compensation package and other forms of incentives to make the teachers stay.

She said one of these proposals is to persuade Congress to enact a law that will put teachers with specializations in science and math on higher salary level and with lower tax rate. A Congressional approval is needed since this would directly conflict with the Salary Standardization Law, she said.

But since Congress has not passed any law to that effect yet, CHEd has taken the task to itself by issuing a recent memorandum creating a faculty development program with science and math as priority fields.

The CHEd is also proposing the establishment of “centers of excellence and development for teacher education in every region in the country.” The agency, she said, will also strictly monitor the performance of TEIs in the licensure examinations.

“If an institution or university has a passing rate of five to eight percent for a number of years, then it’s time to close down the program,” Castaneda said.

To foster interest in math and science, the CHEd, together with the DepEd, is also recommending the setting up of “comfortable and intellectually stimulating laboratories” in schools all over the country.

In a reaction, Dr. Paz Lucido, dean of the School of Education of the Centro Escolar University, said the CHE’s current initiatives are good but some are not feasible since the government has no money to finance them.

Added Complication

Dr. Tabunda also pointed out that current civil service rules give an added complication to the problem of shortage of qualified science and math teachers. This is because government teachers cannot be replaced even if better qualified graduates are churned out by the educational system.

She noted that government teachers constitute about 74.3 percent of teachers employed at the secondary level. “Hence, the number of available teaching positions each year does not cover the shortfall in science and math teachers.”

She thus recommends that programs which address the shortfall of qualified teachers as well as those that improve the skills and knowledge of those already in the system be expanded. She referred to RISE (Rescue Initiatives for Science Education) and MUST (Mindanao Upgrading of Science Teachers) as projects that should be implemented on a larger scale.

The RISE aims to directly address the shortage of qualified teachers in the elementary and secondary levels by providing non-degree training on content knowledge on science and math for teachers who did not major on these subjects.

The MUST, on the other hand, is also a non-degree training program that provides 90-hour training on teaching capabilities and competence for elementary science and math teachers of pupils from Muslim and ethnic communities in Mindanao.

Tabunda acknowledged, however, that expanding these programs will require huge budgetary outlays from the government — something which it lacks right now.

But if the government is really sincere in addressing the problem, it should put its money where its mouth is, Tabunda says.

“Unless the government makes the necessary investment, however, deterioration in science and mathematics education will simply proceed at a more rapid rate in the face of growing demand for science and math teachers abroad and will eventually threaten even the viability of such a demand.”

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