The Philippines has only 157 scientists and engineers for every one million Filipinos.  How do you curb this problem and make Physics more interesting for young students in rural areas?  2010 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees Christopher and Ma. Victoria Bernido used the formula: Patriotism + Passion for Science + Greatness of Spirit.  (And add a little leap of faith, for good measure.)

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It’s a long way from the National Institute of Physics in the University of the Philippines in
Diliman, Quezon City to Jagna, Bohol.

Created in 1983 by a presidential executive order out of the Department of Physics of the UP
College of Arts and Sciences, the UP National Institute of Physics prides itself on being the best school of physics in the country. Aside from teaching, its faculty members conduct research in areas such as condensed matter, instrumentation, photonics, plasma, structure and dynamics, and fields and particles physics. Every year, the institute has an average of 300 students for all levels in its baccalaureate degree programs (BS Physics, and BS Applied Physics) and 50 in its graduate degree programs (MA Physics, MS Physics, and PhD Physics).

Jagna is a port town found in the southern coast of Bohol, 63.1 kilometers from Tagbilaran City. Rich in history but poor in resources, its earliest documentation goes back to March 15, 1565, when Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived on its shores and had his flagship San Pedro repaired along Jagna Bay. By 1596, the Jesuits had started their apostolic work in Jagna and on September 29, 1631, both parish and town were founded simultaneously by the Jesuit priest Jose Sanchez with Saint Michael Archangel as its patron saint. At present, with a land area covering 12,063 hectares and a population recorded at 32,034 in 2007, Jagna is classified as a fourth-class municipality.

Most life journeys would start from a municipality like Jagna to a city like Quezon City in Metro Manila. But Christopher Bernido and his wife, Ma. Victoria Carpio-Bernido are not like most people and their life journeys are not like most other life journeys. Theirs went from Quezon City to Jagna.

In rationalizing their journey, Christopher has handy statistics to support the move he made with his wife. It was a response to the country. He explains, “The last time the Philippines participated in the Trends in International Math and Science Studies was in 2003. There, we ranked 42nd out of 45 nations. Our average scale score was 378, and our score was only above three African countries.” Citing an undisclosed survey conducted six years later, he points out that for every million citizens, Japan has 5,084 scientists, Singapore has 4,613, Malaysia has 726, Vietnam has 516, and Thailand has 493. The Philippines has only 157 scientists and engineers for every one million Filipinos. On a more personal level, the journey was also a son’s response to an aging mother’s request to take over the old, struggling school she owned, the Central Visayan Institute Foundation (CVIF).

But more than a response to the needs of country and mother, the dramatic move of Christopher and Ma. Victoria – doctorate degree holders of Physics from the State University of New York in Albany, administrators and professors of the UP National Institute of Physics, university awardees for teaching and research excellence – to poor, remote Jagna in the early 1990s was also a response to their own personal, eventually collective need to help young Filipinos become more prepared for the 21st century. For the future, they wanted to contribute their own solutions that would answer the challenge of achieving “world-class targets in human resource development with (our)meagre resources, (our)present national educational policies, and (our) sociocultural problems.”

Their arena of action shifted from a university institute to a small school of 500, mostly poor students. There they developed a revolutionary way of teaching physics, mathematics and other subjects called the Dynamic Learning Program (DLP), a system of teaching that focuses on student activity rather than on traditional classroom lectures. There they demonstrated that poverty is not an excuse for lacklustre teacher and student performance. Neither is the lack of qualified high school physics teachers, estimated at only 27 percent of all high school physics teachers.

The DLP is their way to see to it that “in the quickest time, with economy of resources,” a maximum number of students with the highest level of mastery in science and math could be developed. Implementation began in 2002. The program limits teacher participation by devoting 70 percent of class time to student-driven activities built around clear learning targets, aided by well-designed learning plans and performance-tracking tools. Locally available teaching aids are used in a “parallel classes scheme” where three simultaneous classes are handled by one expert teacher with the help of facilitators and majority of the lectures are done via video by national experts. Within eight years, the Bernidos “returned” to the UP campus through their CVIF students who not only successfully passed the UP entrance exams but also improved their performance on national scholastic aptitude tests.

Their arena of action expanded. In 2006, they spearheaded Learning Physics as One Nation (LPON), a collective action of educators, scientists, and policy makers to improve high school physics education in the country. It addresses the lack of qualified physics teachers through a year-round in-school rigorous training in Department of Education (DepEd) prescribed competencies; and the needs of students through physics essential portfolios or activity sheets and video-taped lectures. Two years later, the Fund for Assistance to Private Education (FAPE) launched LPON in over 200 private high schools while the DLP continues to be used in many others.

The CVIF is not only home to DLP and LPON. Aside from the high school department that puts a high premium of science, it now has an Education Research Center for continuing development of the science and mathematics learning programs. It also has a Research Center for Theoretical Physics that hosts physics workshops every three years, drawing experts from all over the world including two winners of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Gerard t’Hooft and Frank Wilczek and bringing the global community of physics to the country.

For the Bernidos, physics is just an entry point for a loftier vision of nation building. Ma. Victoria tells her students: “ We want you to be good in science, in math, in the languages but all these are useless if your character is not well-developed. . . True development means that the people of a nation have achieved high levels of civilization. They are honest, industrious, dutiful and can maintain clean, peaceful productive towns and cities in all parts of the country.” In Christopher’s words, “For us, the social dimension of education –education for nation-building- is important especially since the Philippines is a poor underdeveloped country. We share the dream of a peaceful and truly progressive country, a Philippines where Filipinos have a good, creative and productive life. We maintain an inexhaustible hope in a bright future for basic education in the Philippines, the schools being the wellspring of leaders and caring citizens, professionals, entrepreneurs, and highly skilled manpower.

Both husband and wife realize that history ”is like a game of relay where an athlete runs as fast as he can before he passes the baton to his teammate. Our generation (has) to run as fast as we can and work as effectively as we can before we pass the baton to the next generation.

How apt that Christopher and Ma. Victoria have carried out their crusade of blazing new science trails in a small town called Jagna. The name Jagna supposedly comes from the vernacular exclamation “ni hagna na”: the occurrence of boiling oil reaching the stage when it is almost done. Their efforts are bringing students and teachers initially in Jagna but now in many other schools in the country, to some kind of boiling point of science education competence that can make the country take its rightful place among other Asian countries.