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Philippine Science High Schools’ Culture and Campus Life

It’s true what they say about Science High Schools: they offer an experience that no other institution can. Enrollees study under a lifestyle and culture that’s part of the signature and the image of any Science High School. In fact, a considerable number of applicants go to Science High Schools not just for the excellence that they cultivate, but also for the ideals and ways of life that thrive there.

Liberalism Lives

Science High Schools have been dubbed “Little UP’s” to show how similar they are to the premiere state university, as well as to imply that students are groomed in that direction. Part of it also describes the liberal environment, which often gives culture shock to many new students, particularly those from conservative private schools.

One of the unique things about Science High Schools is that they’re a lot less strict about rules and decorum than typical public high schools. Students are free to speak their mind, question a teacher’s statements and try different forms of self-expression. Members of the faculty and administration concede that Science High School students have more to say than most other kids, and so give them a freer rein.

Curiosity is also welcomed in the Science High School environment. In fact, it’s a trait that teachers are supposed to encourage as part of the schools’ mission-vision to cultivate the next generation of scientists and researchers.

The Constant Competition

Of course, competition is a natural consequence of having so much talent in such close proximity with each other. It’s common for students, especially those in the same section, to vie for the same honors and rankings. Many students in Science High Schools are very grade-conscious, and will go to great lengths to get a mark that’s even one notch higher.

It’s a common misconception that every single Science High School student performs very well academically. Even within the elite ranks of admitted students, some still do better than others in certain fields. In fact, there are even students who tend to specialize in just one area, doing poorly in all the others.

Teachers and administrators welcome the competitive spirit that often flares up in the Science High School environment. It’s an excellent motivation for others to perform, and it’s often expressed by comparing grades or going to tournaments – never violent.

A Complete Collection

Whereas the typical high school usually contains a fairly homogeneous student populace, the Science High Schools are host to the entire gamut of backgrounds and personalities. A good number of students come from far away, and so have to get on-campus housing. Stay-in students make up a large part of the student population in many campuses.

Science High Schools see a cross-section of the whole socioeconomic pyramid. Almost every level from the impoverished to the very wealthy are represented in Science High Schools, a unique mix in a secondary institution. Some students live in abject poverty, while statesmen and scions also regularly send their children to Science High Schools.

To be sure, any Science High School offers a learning environment that’s far from the ordinary. A more communicative faculty, competitive contemporaries and a very liberal status quo make up the multi-faceted and truly unique culture of a Science High School.

Financing Your Studies in Philippine Science High Schools

Beyond their reputation as centers for excellence in science and technology, many students also vie for slots at Science High Schools because studying there is extremely affordable. For many middle- and lower-income families, entry into a Science High School is the ticket to a quality education without the five-digit price tag.

Scholarships for Scientists

Part of the mission-vision of every school in the Philippine Science system is to provide free quality education to young scientific talents. That’s why each and every school in the system from the main Philippine Science High School campus in Diliman to its branch campus in Southern Mindanao requires no tuition fee payments from any student.

This arrangement, however, does not come without strings. Before finally enrolling in the system, each student is required to sign an official and notarized contract that binds him or her to the terms of Philippine Science scholarship. Among those terms are a return service clause (students are required to give service to the government after college) and a requirement for travel clearance when going abroad.

In addition to the free tuition, the Philippine Science system also gives students monthly stipends, the value of which depends on the student’s socioeconomic background. Many students who study in a campus far from home rely largely on this monthly allowance.

Bills, Bills, Bills

Throughout the course of four years, it’s inevitable that students incur some costs while studying. Project expenses, field trips and special events are just some of the hidden costs that, though few, can add up to quite a considerable amount. How do students deal with all these financial burdens?

In most cases, the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) and the respective student councils make allowances for students who are underprivileged or are unable to deal with the expenses. A sponsor system is usually in place, wherein a parent or a third-party pays the cost of a student’s participation in an activity. In some cases, the cost of the extra student may be divided and paid for by all the other paying participants.

The organizations and institutions in the Philippine Science system place higher priority on everyone’s participation than making sure that everyone is paid. Countless students have been able to go on field trips to the provinces or attend Junior-Senior prom, despite their lack of financial capacity.

Asking for Help

Should a student require financial assistance for things not directly related to school, he or she has several options in the Philippine Science system. Cooperatives that operate in each campus, for example, typically offer loans at reduced interest rates compared to banks. Other groups like the school foundation – a non-profit company – and personal sponsors may also be approached directly for financial support.

If there was ever a secondary school that did not look at financial capacity, it’s the Philippine Science system. Parents, alumni and administrators alike recognize that not all students can pay their way for everything, hence the creation of all these groups and organizations that offer financial support to students. Whether rich or poor, students in the Philippine Science system are guaranteed the full high school experience.

Phisci, Masci, Quesci Basics and Background

When I was in the seventh grade, I distinctly remember one of my teachers encouraging us to apply for a slot in one of the science high schools in the country.  She was so excited at the prospect of us being accepted that she even got some application forms for us!

It was only later that I understood why:  the science high schools form part of a high school educational system that she wanted us very much to experience.  I ended up studying at a “non-science” high school, but now that I look back, I think she may have been on the right track after all.

While there are many science high schools in the Philippines, I shall focus on three of them in this article:  Philippine Science (PSHS), Manila Science (MaSci) and Quezon City Science (QueSci).

The Roots of the Philippine Science High School System

The PSHS system is the brainchild of one man:  Dr. Leopoldo V. Torralballa.  The esteemed mathematician was a New York University mathematics professor in the 1960s.  He was quite familiar with the Bronx High School of Science, so he figured it would be a great idea to establish a similar system back home for deserving Filipino students.

It took many decades’ worth of hard work, perseverance, and petitioning the Philippine government, but Torralballa and his colleagues eventually succeeded.  It was only in 1998, however, that all the science high school campuses were integrated into the system that we know today.

Many years later, the good doctor’s dream is alive and well—the PSHS system serves as an attached agency of the Philippine government’s Department of Science and Technology.

The History of Manila Science Revisited

While organized under an effective system, the PSHS is by no means the country’s first science high school.  That distinction goes to Manila Science High School.

In MaSci’s case, credit goes to former president Ramon Magsaysay for the idea.  The Philippine Congress acted on his idea and passed several Republic Acts that established the said school.

As is the case with PSHS, MaSci’s curriculum is also patterned after—wonder of wonders—Bronx High School of Science in New York.

Quezon City Science High School

Of the three schools, QueSci is the youngest—it was established in 1967.  Hermingilda Garcia Margate came up with the idea for a science high school in the Quezon City area, and passed the idea on to her colleagues.  The school went on to become the regional high school for the country’s National Capital Region.

In spite of being the “junior” of the lot, QueSci is by no means the runt in terms of academic performance.  Case in point:  in 2004, a group of students brought honor to QueSci and to the Philippines by winning an international competition.  Specifically, the researchers snagged the fourth Grand Award in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair held in Oregon.

All in the Name of Science and Service

These institutions are called science high schools for a good reason:  their basic aim is to prepare their students for a career in science and technology.  Their ultimate aim, however, is to inspire these future scientists to use their talents in the service of the country.

If this resonates with you, then why not try your hand at applying?  The schools are always looking for good students.  Who knows?  Perhaps you’ll be the next one on their list of accepted candidates.

The Advantages of Studying in a Science High School

While surfing the Internet a couple of days ago, I came across an interesting question that someone had posted on Yahoo Answers.  It went something like this:  “Should I study at [insert name of a primary science high school here] or [insert name of alternative, non-science high school here]?”

The question garnered different responses from a number of different people.  Those who argued in favor of science high schools mentioned a few good points, some of which I’d like to share with you in this article.

Please note that when I speak of science high schools, I am collectively referring to these three types:  the DOST-run science high school like the Philippine Science High School or (Pisay); the DepEd-run science high schools like the regional science high schools and the city science high schools (e.g. Manila Science High School (MaSci), Quezon City Science High School (QueSci) and Makati Science High School).

What Science High Schools Offer:  Advanced Training in the Sciences and Major Subjects

There’s no doubt about it.  If you’re a person of science, a science high school is definitely “the” place to be.  The interesting thing about science high schools is that you will get training in science and mathematics courses that are usually taught only at the tertiary (i.e. college) level.  You will be taught advanced physics, advanced chemistry, advanced biology, genetics, and all those exciting science subjects.  You will be running while your contemporaries in non-science high schools are still learning to crawl, so to speak.

This is not to suggest for a moment that the hard sciences are the only things you will learn in science high schools.  Science-focused training may be the main thrust of these institutions, but they are by no means the only things offered in science high schools.  Science high schools take pride in both their science and mathematics courses.  In science high schools, you are just as likely to learn advanced statistics and advanced calculus as genetics.

Technology education is also a big deal in science high schools.  Do you want to become proficient users of computer and information technologies?  Do you want to learn coding and programming?  Take a number and head on over to a science high school then.

The social sciences and humanities courses are not left out, of course.  For example, you’ll find that Pisay, MaSci and QueSci offer a substantial amount of humanities courses, particularly in English.  Science high schools are also the place to be if you want excellent English language training.  Science high schools believe in furnishing their students with the smarts (science and math training) and communication skills necessary for imparting their knowledge to others and becoming a success in whatever field they choose later on.  Ironically, one student claimed she had developed and nurtured her musical ability in Philippine Science High School.

Now, you have to ask:  why do you need training in all these things?  Why can’t you just amble along like so many of your contemporaries who are enrolled in non-science high schools?

1. Science high schools provide excellent preparation for college

Well, if you want to perform exemplarily well in your college courses, you have to prepare the groundwork as early as possible; and there’s no better way of preparing for your college years than by learning as much as you can in your high school years.  Someone who has been in college for as little as one year will tell you that great preparation is crucial to college success.

So many people I know crawled through their math series, for instance.  Now, if you have already learned about the things that your math series teachers will teach you, chances are high that you will go through your math series in college just fine.  No, you probably won’t breeze through it but still, you’ll get through it with much more dignity than you will have if you have to crawl through these subjects.

2. Science high schools give you an edge in your college application.

Chances are that you’ve probably got your sights set on studying in one of the top colleges in the land, right?  I’m referring to the University of the Philippines, Ateneo, De La Salle University, University of Santo Tomas, and so on.  If that’s the case, then a science high school background will definitely serve you in good stead.  The emphasis on the hard sciences plus the humanities thrown in for balance will count as a major academic advantage if you’ll be gunning for the Ivy League institutions later on.

This advantage is two-fold.  First, your science high school training will give you a great preparation for these universities’ and colleges’ entrance examinations.  Second, since science high schools’ subjects are so attuned to premiere colleges’ curricula, the admission authorities of these premiere colleges are going to look more kindly at applicants from science high schools.

In fact, in the University of the Philippines, the high school grade point average requirements are lower if you are from a science high school.  The logic behind this is simple:  science high schools are expected to be stricter in their student grading so, more often than not, an honor student from a science high school will have a lower average grade than an honor student from a non science high school student.  Thus, the grades need to be standardized so that the “true excellence’ (how pompous; pardon meJ) of science high school students will shine through.

3. Science high schools provide highly relevant training

The subjects and lessons in a science high school are updated often to reflect present circumstances and current reality.  Not for the students of science highs schools are outdated (and often disproved) tidbits of information that you will learn from old textbooks.  Oh and yeah, science high school teachers usually use supplementary materials to keep their lessons updated.

4. Science high schools provide world class training and provide you with numerous opportunities to gain worldwide acclaim.

I’d like to think that all or most of us, at one time or another, have dreamt of making it big on an international scale.  If you’re a student of any of the premier science high schools in the Philippines, you may just get the chance to turn that dream into reality.

Here’s why:  part of your curriculum includes making proposals for science projects and actually carrying them out.  If they’re really, really good, they may just land you a chance at participating in and even winning an international science fair.

Consider the case of Avril Bries and Henrian Bayona, both students of Quezon City Science High School.  Bries and Bayona discovered how to produce bio-ethanol from pineapple peelings and electrical energy from cow manure, respectively.  For their efforts, both of them received gold medals in the Sixteenth Environmental Project Olympiad held in Istanbul (Pssttt… note to the unaware, Istanbul is in Turkey, he he he.  Just kidding, I know you already know that, duh!).

Who knows?  If you come up with something really cool, maybe you’ll win that highly-coveted Nobel Prize someday.

5. Science high schools prepare you for the in-demand and lucrative careers.

While the bulk of your career preparation and development occurs in college, your high school training also has a lot of bearing in the type of career you’ll end up in.

First of all, the variety of subjects will help you gauge your interests.  Thus, you will be able to choose a relevant course when it’s time to go to college.  Second, your science high school training will give you an edge in in-demand and lucrative careers like engineering, actuary, business management, programming, etc.

There are many other reasons for studying in a science high school, but it will all boil down to what you really want.  If you want great, forward-looking education, get a science high school education.  Even if you’re not “nerd” material, you will still find a lot to learn about science and about life in science high schools.