Slum boy living near Pisay makes it as a scholar to… Pisay

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A son of a balut vendor living in a depressed area in front of the main campus of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS), affectionately known as Pisay, is making a name for himself for hurdling the tough entrance examinations of the country’s premier secondary institution.

“I just live across Pisay,” he said as he introduced himself as Robert John P. Pecayo, Grade 7, and a resident of an urban poor community along Agham Road.

PSHS grade 7 scholar Robert John P. Pecayo is a son of a balut vendor and lives in a depressed area just across the main 'Pisay' campus in Agham Road, Quezon City
PSHS grade 7 scholar Robert John P. Pecayo is a son of a balut vendor and lives in a depressed area just across the main ‘Pisay’ campus in Agham Road, Quezon City

He describes his residence as “maraming beses nang nasunog”. His father is a paraplegic, while his mother sells balut (duck egg with developed chick) to provide for the family’s needs.

His elder siblings — a sister who is in high school and a brother who is in college — are separately sent to school by two aunts, he said.

“I didn’t know much about Pisay although it’s just across our place. It was not very open and I didn’t hear much about it in the media,” he admitted.

“When my classmates told me they were taking Pisay’s entrance exam, I told myself, ‘Why don’t I try it too?”

It was worth the try. Robert John is one of the 40 percent public school graduates who passed Pisay’s National Competitive Exam (NCE), a scholastic aptitude test designed to measure the scientific ability, quantitative ability, abstract reasoning, and verbal aptitude of applicants. This may not be a real surprise as Robert John is the class valedictorian and had shown strength in science subjects.

Iskolar ng Bayan

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which has jurisdiction over the PSHS, is encouraging more students from public schools to apply for admission to the PSHS campus nearest to their community.

PSHS officials, led by Larry L. Cabatic (with mic) answer questions from the media during a recent media tour
PSHS officials, led by Larry L. Cabatic (with mic) answer questions from the media during a recent media tour

“We are reaching out to our youth who may be less fortunate but can be competitive in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering,” DOST sec. Mario Montejo said. “This is one way of broadening our prospects in building a pool of S&T experts who will someday become the country’s leaders.”

Montejo reinforced the message of PSHS executive director Larry L. Cabatic last week that the current PSHSS management wants to “accommodate more qualifiers from less fortunate families”.

According to Cabatic, a number of qualifiers from well-off families prefer to enroll in more expensive schools anyway. Thus the new PSHS management intends to focus on students who really need and deserved to study in the country’s premier S&T (science and technology) secondary school.

Ten years ago, it was reported that 90 percent of Pisay qualifiers were from private schools. Until recently, Cabatic said, the percentage went down to 60 percent for qualifiers from privileged families.

Cabatic’s explanation on how it was to qualify for Pisay scholarship makes one appreciate Pisay’s P140,000 per student spending per year. According to Cabatic, one should have an above average score in all of the four exam categories.

For example, in one category, if the average score all 23,000 applicants is 60, then one has to get an above 60 score, Cabatic explained.

“Even if one gets 100 percent in one category, but gets a below average score in another category, the applicant is automatically disqualified,” disclosed Cabatic.

Qualifiers get ranked — the main campus in Diliman, Quezon City gets the top 240 qualifiers among its applicants; and each regional Pisay campus admitting the top 90 qualifiers in their respective areas.

Such stringent qualification requirement is just the beginning. All throughout the schooling of Pisay students, they get immersed in science, mathematics, and research. But this is not to say that they are all academics. They also get very good grounding in humanities, arts, social sciences, and sports.

Awards are just a bonus

Last school year, Pisay students shone in various competitions here and abroad. But the awards are just a ?bonus?, quipped Cabatic.

“We don’t intend to push them into getting these awards,” he said. “We just want them to have a taste on how it is to have S&T projects. We want them to fully bloom when they go to college.”

Robert John admits that it’s not easy to stay in Pisay. “I had a hard time,” he admitted when asked how he coped with Pisay life.

Dati mabagal ang pacing sa dating school ko (Pacing of lessons was quite slow in my former school), he recalled. “We used to discuss one lesson in one week. Now, we take up a lesson in two to three days only.”

Used to being on top of the class when he was in elementary, Robert John realized that everyone in class is intelligent.

Nahirapan ako nung una, pero nakakapag-adjust na din (I had a hard time at the start, but now I am adjusting),” he admitted.

Investment actually

When he found out that he passed the NCE, Robert John thought it was just “swerte” (good luck) that he can continue schooling and be called “Iskolar ng Bayan”.

How much does the country pay for the “Iskolars ng Bayan” like Robert John?

According to Ma. Concepcion Sacay, finance chief of the Pisay system, the 13 campuses as a whole have a budget of P1,439,431,000 in 2015. A big chunk of the budget goes to the students who receive monthly stipends worth P500 to P4,000, depending on financial need.

“But rich or not, they are all given free books to be returned at the end of the school year,” said Sacay. Other benefits include the annual P1,800 uniform allowance and one-time round-trip transportation allowance to those eligible.

“We are looking at these spendings not as gastos (expenses) but as an investment,” said Cabatic. “We are investing for the future of these students. It is the future of future leaders we are talking about here.”

“We prepare our students to be leaders, though not necessarily in politics,” shared Cabatic.

“I always tell our students that if you will be good, for example, in medicine, leaders will come to you for medical treatment. In that way, you become a leader yourself because you influence those who are on the top,” he added. “Pisay scholars are the leaders of tomorrow and they can influence the future of our country.”

Students interested to apply to any Pisay campus can log on to http://www.pshs.edu.ph or the PSHS Facebook page for more information. Pisay’s NCE is usually held every August and applications are accepted starting May. The PSHS system is composed of science-oriented secondary schools operating under the DOST. It offers scholarship for high school students who will be trained towards careers in science and engineering. PSHSS currently has 13 campuses all over the country, with three additional campuses to be opened by 2016. The newest campus, PSHS-Calabarzon in Batangas City, will open in June this year.

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