Jose Carillo's Forum


Open Forum: The state of education and teaching

This open forum aims to help find ways to develop a better-taught, much better-educated citizenry. You are invited to freely post here your opinions, perceptions, ideas, observations, suggestions, and experiences about education and teaching in the Philippines and in other parts of the world. Of course, you are also most welcome to post a response to any of the postings.

Photo by Luis Liwanag, The International Herald Tribune

Please confine your postings largely to your own views, knowledge, and experience. If you need to cite long references or background material on the web, just send the links to us and the Forum webmaster will take care of setting up the links with the sites you have indicated.

No signs of reform even now in Philippine science and education
By Flor Lacanilao

“From global terrorism and the spread of disease to the dangers of global warming, we are increasingly facing the sorts of threats for which governments everywhere will need to turn to their scientists.” (From “The scientific impact of nations,” Nature, the International Weekly Journal of Science)

We have already been getting such threats. But we have yet to see in place the needed preparations to handle them. Crucial are improved science and education. How can our country ever handle the threats if we don’t have enough properly trained scientists—in the natural and social sciences, in engineering, and in math? And how can we produce more of them if national institutions in science and education are not run by such trained scientists and educators? The same problems beset our major universities.

Properly trained scientists refer to those who have contributed to knowledge through research. “The easiest way to assess if one has made any major contributions to one’s field is with the ISI data base called Web of Knowledge.” If you have no free access to the ISI data base, you can get the same information (published papers and citations), but not quite as complete, from Google Scholar. The number of citations per paper is a useful measure of the quality and impact of one’s output. 

Most papers you will get by Google Scholar are not valid publications. Hence, you have to count only those published in journals covered in Science Citation Index or SCI (for science, technology, engineering, and math) or Social Sciences Citation Index or SSCI (for social and behavioral sciences). Our failure to use such objective, internationally accepted criteria is the major reason for the poor state of Philippine science and education. 

Let me cite as a specific example the National Research Council of the Philippines, which shows continuing problems. These problems become evident if we apply the above indicators for assessing the capability of those making and implementing national programs, starting from the top officials.

I will now quote from the NRCP President’s Report dated June 21, 2011 (click this link for the full text):

“When I was first elected President of the National Research Council of the Philippines in 2009, I laid out my vision clearly and projected where I wanted to lead the agency in the scientific community… 

“One of the innovations I introduced, which is now being pursued by NRCP, and which the Governing Board supports, is the establishment of an Online Journal. The idea behind this proposal, which the Board hopes to finish within 2011, will have all research studies in the basic sciences funded by NRCP published in the Online Journal, instead of in the usual old journal printed annually by NRCP and distributed to each member of the Council during its annual General Membership Assembly…”

What is the sense in putting up academic journals without enough properly published researchers? Besides, there are already thousands of such journals in existence, journals that are competently managed and adequately peer reviewed (e.g., SCI and SSCI journals), and from which our researchers can learn how to do research better and teach more effectively.

If you look at their websites, you will see similarly conceived and implemented programs in our other science and education institutions—the DOST, NAST, CHED, DepEd, and TESDA. You will see how we have been addressing our national problems with hardly any progress, as I have reviewed in my article “Basic problems in Philippine science and higher education” that has been previously posted in this Forum. That documented review is also the basis of another article of mine, “Democratic governance impedes academic reform,” that has also been posted in this Forum.

As I discussed in those two articles, the innovative incentive system started at UP for outstanding publications using objective criteria (like ISI-indexed publications) resulted in increased research output during the last decade. That incentive system, however, has undergone an unexpected change. Last year, instead of raising the requirements to higher standards like those of higher-impact ISI-indexed journals (covered in SCI or SSCI), as has been done by our neighbor countries, UP made it a requirement for cash incentive the publication of a research study in the Philippine Science Letters, which is not even ISI-indexed. This makes UP set a bad example to other universities. 

With substandard approaches like this, how can our total of 178 SCI-indexed publications catch up with those of Singapore’s 3,600, Taiwan’s 10,800, and South Korea’s 16,400 in the year 2005?

Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

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Rotting fish due to fish-kills: another food for thought
By Flor Lacanilao

Most fish kills in lakes and coastal waters occur where fish farming activities are excessive. A common suspect is pollution build-up—industrial & domestic wastes, agricultural fertilizers and pesticides, and fish feces and excess feeds. These dissolved nutrients can trigger phytoplankton or algal blooms and subsequent decay (using oxygen). The decay may be blown by wind in one area or settle at the bottom, then brought up by upwelling caused by wind or temperature changes. Algal blooms in coastal waters may also involve poisonous phytoplankton that, in high concentrations, cause red tide. The specific causal pollutant or factor in these environmental changes or fish kills is largely unknown.

What is known is that organisms have a capacity for tolerance to environmental changes, like pollution. The tolerance is limited and varies among organisms and with the kind of change or pollution. The tolerance is widest for survival, less for growth, and least for reproduction.

A given level of water pollution, for instance, may prevent an organism to reproduce but will allow it to grow. A higher level may arrest growth but will allow it to survive. At the limit of tolerance for survival, any factor of environment, whether man-made (e.g. pollution) or natural (e.g. temperature), can trigger fish kill that affects all species with similar tolerance properties.

Let me tell a story on fish pens in Laguna Lake, which in the 1980s was the site of fish diseases and deaths. It shows how unregulated practice of aquaculture give rise to conflict of interest, causing serious ecological, social, economic, and political problems. 

In 1961-1964, when there were no fishpens at the Lake, the annual fish catch was 80,000-82,000 tons. In 1968, a survey showed that some 10,000 fishers used the Lake as a communal fishing ground. Harvest of shrimps and molluscs was about 240,000 tons; the bulk was used for animal feeds in the duck-raising industry.

There were 23 species of fish caught in Laguna Lake, with the goby (biyang puti) and perch (ayungin) as the dominant species. Carp, catfishes (hito and kanduli), snakehead (dalag), and tilapia were also caught in addition to migratory species from Manila Bay, through the once unpolluted Pasig River. 

In 1971, the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) introduced fishpen culture with a 38-hectare pilot project. Milkfish (bangus) was chosen because of its market value and because it feeds on phytoplankton, which was abundant in the lake. The project gave encouraging results, producing 3.5 times more fish per hectare over that in open waters. The potential of the Lake fishpen aquaculture was estimated at 20,000 hectares and annual production value of P320 million. This prompted businessmen and entrepreneurs into fishpen culture. Development expanded to 4,800 hectares by the end of 1973; gross annual value was P77 million.

Data in 1982 showed that fishpens—then 31,000-hectares or one-third of the Lake—produced 62,000 tons. And the small fishers’ harvest from the open waters dropped to only 19,000 tons. They added up to a total Lake harvest of 81,000 tons, same as the yearly catch of the small fishers in 1961-1964 without the fishpens. This result was easily predictable from the start because both the cultured milkfish and the wild fishes depended on the Lake’s natural food.

As would be expected (because of competition for natural food), the uncontrolled growth of the fishpen industry led to longer rearing time—stretching the 4 months to 8-15 months. This led to supplemental feeding, which also allowed increasing the fish stock. Note that water would circulate in and out of the fishpens, bringing in natural food and taking out fish feces and excess feed that would then pollute the open-waters or settle at the bottom.

The conflict was between the community of poor fisherfolk (in the 1980s, more than 15,000 families) and the group of a few hundred rich fishpen operators. In a report published in the newspapers, the LLDA identified an elite group of fishpen operators owning 10 of the largest fishpens that add up to over 4,000 hectares (despite the fact that the the law says that no person or corporation can own more than 50 hectares of fishpen concessions). The list showed members of prominent families, including politicians and ranking military officers.

What the fishpens industry did was rob the small fishers of their traditional rights—by reducing their fishing areas and navigation lanes, by competing over the Lake’s budget of natural food, by polluting the waters, and by reducing their fish catch. Further, they ruined the Lake as a resource, which is important not only for fisheries but also for such other uses as water supply, irrigation, and navigation.

In his essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin points out that “the Tragedy of the Commons is an example of the class of problems with no technical solution. . . Therefore, any solution requires that we, as a society, change our values of morality” (Hardin 1968).

1. Lacanilao F. 1987. Managing Laguna Lake for Small Fishers. SEAFDEC Asian Aquaculture 9(3): 3-4.
2. Davis J, Lacanilao F, & Santiago A. 1986. Laguna de Bay: Problems and Options. White Paper No.2, Haribon Foundation.
3. See also “Extensions of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons” by Garrett Hardin. 1998. Science 280:682-683.

Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

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Rejoinder to professor’s comments on my views on academic reform By Flor Lacanilao

In his commentary entitled “Strange phenomenon: A response to Lacanilao” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 11, 2011 issue), Dr. Ramon Guillermo disagreed with several points in my commentary, “Democratic governance impedes academic reform” (this Forum, 03/14/2011). I showed that the use of peer judgment has been a major cause of declining academic performance in the Philippines, but that this has been reversed by the use of objective measures. Guillermo challenged my article concerning the use of valid publication and citation counts (objective measures), but he discussed only their misuse instead of the useful information they provide. 

The assessment tools are the ISI-indexed journals and the ISI indexes (ISI is Institute for Scientific Information, later also known as Thomson ISI). These are internationally accepted and widely used indicators of research and S&T performance. But his objections centered on the misuse and abuse of ISI-indexed journals. The usefulness of a tool—like the kitchen knife or the gun—can only be as good or as bad as the purpose or the person using it. 

Dr. Guillermo favored the prevalent practice of peer judgment and democratic governance, instead of ISI measures, citing historical and emotional events of nationalist struggle for democracy and academic freedom. He failed to show how these relate to peer judgment or enhanced academic growth, like improved research and teaching. On the other hand, using hard data, I showed that the introduction of ISI measures improved research output after decades of decline.

Below are some important uses worldwide of ISI-indexed journals and ISI indexes. They will clarify the issues raised by Guillermo. They also give pointers on how to improve academic research and evaluate academic performance.

1. In developed countries, they supplement peer judgment of academic performance. In fast developing countries, for lack of experts, they are the reliable measures of evaluating research and S&T performance.

2. They are commonly used in ranking nations, universities, and scientists, which are published in leading journals like Science and Nature. The commonly used ISI indexes are the Science Citation IndexSocial Sciences Citation Index, and Arts & Humanities Citation Index.

3. The number of journals covered in each of these indexes is as follows: sciences (3,786), social sciences (2,876), and arts & humanities (1,603). They reflect the research output from each field group—75% average of journal content in the sciences, 50% in social sciences, and 25% in arts & humanities (ISI study). This disproves Guillermo's claim that ISI indexes are unfair to social sciences and humanities.

4. Guillermo's claim, that the dominance of US and UK in English-language journals is disadvantageous to non-English speaking countries, also has no basis. The top six countries with the highest number of ISI-indexed publications are dominated by non-English speaking countries—the US, China, Japan, UK, Germany, and France—with China increasing its number of publications twofold every five years in the last two decades, and predicted to overtake the US soon (Thomson ISI report and others).  

5. In addition to titles and authors of selected published papers and books, ISI indexes also give their citation data; hence, solving Guillermo's worry of ISI’s bias against books. The number of times a paper or book is cited is a recognized measure of quality. A correction factor is used to remove distortions due to different citation rates in different disciplines, solving another problem raised by Guillermo.  

6. Further, Fred Grinnell says in his book, Everyday Practice of Science, that the easiest way to assess if one has made any major contributions to one’s field is with the ISI data base called Web of Knowledge (showing authors, published titles, and citations). You can get the same information, but not quite as complete, from Google Scholar, he added.

7. The stature of top scientists in various fields is reflected by their scores in ISI indexes—for quantity and quality of published work. On the other hand, most of our prominent academics, scientists, so-called experts, and even National Scientists—selected by peer judgment—lack the number and citations of their publications. You can find out from Google Scholar (Item 6), Google or Yahoo search, and also from “Celebrating the UP Centennial.”

8. There is no question that the quality rather than the number of publications is a better indicator of research performance. Again, to remind Guillermo, we can only rely on the ISI citation indexes for valid citations because we lack experts to judge quality. For example, how can the quality of work done by a Filipino biogeographer be evaluated by his peers in the Philippines if he is the only well-published biogeographer in the country? 

9. It is true that in western countries, where all competent scientists publish in ISI-indexed journals, there is much discussion concerning the misuse and abuse of “numerology.”  This does not mean that numerical data are completely useless. Many who question the usefulness of the ISI-indexed journals or ISI indexes in measuring academic performance can be shown as poorly published.

10. The utility of numerical data can be seen, for example, in a recent paper ("Expert credibility in climate change" published in the Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA) on Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC) that reports, "The relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced (deniers) of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.”

Finally, my call for visionary leadership should not be confused with preference or support for fascist rule. Guillermo's appeal to Philippine nationalism is misplaced. Mediocrity has never been a UP tradition.

Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

Dr. Ramon Guillermo is associate professor at the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, University of the Philippines-Diliman. He received his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Studies from the University of Hamburg, Germany.

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Democratic governance impedes academic reform
By Flor Lacanilao

Group decision has been a major problem in Philippine science and education. It is based on the common belief that two heads are better than one. But is this always true? How can it be improved? Is there a better alternative?

Solving problems together, as in democratic governance, has been a common practice in the Philippines. This is true in the University of the Philippines as far back as I can recall, 50 years ago, when I was an instructor in zoology. Today, democratic governance is often included in vision statements of candidates for top positions in the UP system.

The academic situation in UP and the country where democratic governance has been a normal practice, however, has shown more deterioration than improvement (see my preceding post in this Forum). Data on research performance of UP in the last 30 years have clearly shown this. After two decades of decline, improved research—the most important function of modern universities—was seen only at the start of this century. And this was largely brought about by cash rewards for publications that meet objective, internationally accepted criteria. UP as the national university is now aiming to be the first research university in the country.

How prepared is UP for a role as research university? Officials at all levels and faculties, system wide, have yet to improve their tract record in research. With a group dominated by poorly published members, democratic governance by group decision will not improve research performance. Studies by Chris Frith and coworkers have shown such group behavior in solving problems together; one, for example, is reported in Science,  Optimally Interacting Minds.

The study shows that working together successfully requires members to be competent on a subject. Joint decisions don’t work when half of the members are not competent. In the UP situation, only a low percentage of officials and faculty members are properly published in ISI-indexed journals. The great majority is poorly-published, or doesn’t have the technical knowledge possessed by the well-published minority. The group decision will therefore be worse than that would be made by the published members only. Two heads are not always better than one.

If democratic governance must continue, one way to improve group decisions in research is for the well-published minority to explain the importance of research to teaching and to human development. Adequate explanation would convince most of the poorly-published majority to trust the minority’s judgment. Since not all published researchers (in natural and social sciences) fully understand the importance of research to human development, they will have to start spending part (e.g., to “tithe” 10%) of their professional time and effort to reading and thinking about the benefits of research and S&T (see S&T for sustainable well-being). Our respected academic scientists have been too absorbed in research, and they have neglected their social responsibility. For example, they have been generally silent when their expertise is needed in debates on controversial national issues. The result: debates on science-based and science-related issues have been dominated by nonscientists and largely yields no useful conclusion.

To solve the crisis in science and education, a more effective alternative to democratic governance is to exert executive decision as is done in political and military crises. This needs a strong, visionary leader who is an accomplished scientist. The new chancellor of UP Diliman , the flagship campus of the UP system, is the top Filipino physicist in the country. (Most of the solvers of important problems in the world have been physical scientists.) If Chancellor Caesar Saloma is to succeed, he should assert his competence and not allow himself to be intimidated by superiors or powerful officials in high government positions who are science-incompetent. When a known reformer and physical chemist in China, Zhu Qingshi, was appointed president of a new Chinese university, he clearly and categorically insisted that he would be calling the shots (University Head Challenges Old Academic Ways).

To finish the job, outdated UP policies and practices entrenched by group decisions should be changed. Among them are those practices that are inconsistent with the innovative systems started during the last decade, such as obsolete policies in faculty hiring, in giving promotions, and in giving awards. These undesirable practices reduce the gains achieved by research incentives and objective criteria in performance evaluation.

Such a thorough review is necessary for UP to make the transition from a primarily-teaching university to the country’s first research university. As such, UP can truly become the national center for preparing qualified mentors in graduate schools, in post-secondary education, and in the primary and secondary levels. This should start real reform in the country’s educational system.

Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

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Basic problems in Philippine science and higher education
By Flor Lacanilao

Producing a bigger workforce and putting in more money have been the usual answers of the Philippine government to address the poor state of its science and education. An analysis of the situation, however, does not point to the size of the workforce and lack of funding as the major causes of this problem. It is the government’s failure to attend to the real causes of the problem that has led to the continued deterioration of our S&T and education situation.
To begin with, consider the predicament of the National Science Consortium, which has been put up by the country’s seven top universities and the Department of Science and Technology’s Science Education Institute to pursue the following objectives: (1) “enhance the capability of the Philippine higher education system to produce technically competent PhD and MS graduates” and (2) “address the persistent lack of Filipino scientists and researchers, who would enable our country to compete economically with its neighbors.” These objectives are actually similar to those of past programs that had failed.

Now, the Consortium gives figures that puts our 2009 researcher population density at 1 per 12,300 persons, which was far below that of Singapore at 1 per 164. This means that the Philippines had 7,500 researchers against tiny Singapore’s 28,000. With these benchmarks in mind, the Science Consortium aims to produce 250 PhD and 350 MS graduates per year. But the big question remains: Will this solve the problems of Philippine science and higher education?

Last year, at the international conference in Japan on teaching and research activities, a report of scientific publications of 10 Asian countries showed the Philippines with the least published papers. The Philippines had only 178 valid publications in 2005, whereas Singapore had 3,609, or 20 times more. Since Singapore’s 28,000 researchers were 4 times that of the Philippines’ 7,500, and Singapore’s research output was 3,609 against our 128, then Singapore researchers were 5 times more productive than their Philippine counterparts. How did this happen?

Failed programs

Data in the last three decades show that although the number of researchers in the Philippines has been increasing, publications per PhD even decreased; indeed, the national output hardly increased. A lot of the research funds went to unpublished or poorly published researchers who produced unpublished or improperly published papers—in short, gray literature. Gray literature is not taken seriously, of course, and it doesn’t count in international evaluations of research performance, as the above-cited study of publications in 10 Asian countries shows.

At UP Diliman’s College of Science, which is the country’s best, a reform program in 1983 had aimed at increasing the PhDs in the faculty. It succeeded in doubling the number to over 90 PhDs in 10 years. But the number of properly published papers decreased. It dropped from 24 to 15 percent of total publications, or from only 12 to 5 percent of the papers produced per PhD (See Celebrating the UP Centennial, Table 1). This means that for every 20 papers, only 1 counted in international evaluations of S&T performance.

Further, the DOST launched the Science and Technology Master Plan in 1990-2000. Its R&D budget had increased yearly in 1991-1995, a four-fold growth from P800 million to over P3 billion. In 1992-1998, it implemented the Engineering and Science Education Project (ESEP) with funding from the World Bank. This was to upgrade engineering and science through PhD and MS scholarships. “If one surveys local universities today, one will find that many of the leaders were ESEP graduates,” a report said.

Yet with all the money, effort, and years spent in those programs, the country's S&T hardly improved. The research output remained the same from 1981 to 1995. And the total of Philippine publications in leading journals even decreased in 2000 to 2005—from a mere 185 down to 178, according to the above-cited study of science publications in Asia.

The figures show that although the country’s researchers have increased to 7,500 during the past three decades, the total research output has even gotten worse; it increased in quantity but decreased in quality. Hence, the programs largely succeeded only in increasing the number of poor mentors and decreasing the general quality of graduates.

There are 764 PhD faculty members from our top universities that are involved in the Consortium program. Note that although they produced all of the country's 178 publications, their research productivity is only 0.23 per PhD. This is far below that of the Faculty of Science at the National University of Singapore, where its 154 PhDs produced 389 publications in 1994, or 2.5 per PhD, which is more than 10 times than the output of our best graduate faculties. (The world-class standard is 1 per PhD per year.) Ours can hardly be expected to properly mentor the projected 250 PhD and 350 MS graduates yearly, so how can we ever catch up with our neighbor countries that have left us behind?

The failed programs cited above have been the main reasons for the stunted growth of Philippine science and education. And the major culprit is the persistent practice of peer review or personal judgment by unpublished and poorly published officials and faculty members, who are the ones evaluating research proposals and publications, screening faculty applicants, and giving promotions, recognitions, and awards.

Effective systems

In contrast, objective and internationally accepted criteria for performance evaluation have been successful. When implemented with cash rewards for outstanding publications, these criteria greatly increased useful research output (See Renaissance section of “Celebrating the UP Centennial”). ( At the UP, where a PhP50,000 reward is given per published paper in an international journal, publications increased from 25 to 40 percent of the national total between 1997-99 and 2002. (The combined publication output of La Salle, Ateneo, UST, and San Carlos during the same period increased from only 7.8 to 8.0 percent of the national total; the rest was largely produced by IRRI in Los Baños.) At SEAFDEC in Iloilo, which offered a cash incentive of 50% of annual salary, publications of the 50 research staff—only 9 of them were PhDs—increased sevenfold in 1993 after only 6 years. In fast-developing countries like China and Brazil, other forms of incentives have significantly increased international journal publications.

The results of the above programs show that the stunted growth of science in the Philippines is rooted more in wrong research practices than in lack of researchers and funds, either of which is the convenient excuse given by many for their poor research output or outright failure to do research.

With an incentive system that uses objective, internationally accepted criteria, however, it would be possible for the Philippines to produce the desired R&D output, save on research funds, justify even higher R&D budgets, and find a viable way to really reforming its science and higher education. The National Science Consortium should therefore seriously consider granting research incentives, allotting a substantial portion of its program funds for rewards to properly published papers and providing support for proposals of published proponents.

Because its performance indicators are objective, the incentive system can minimize personal judgment of research proposals and publications by nonscientists, fix the other wrong research practices, allow fruitful use of development funds, improve the performance of the 7,500 researchers, and produce better-qualified teachers and mentors for undergraduate and graduate students.

For its part, the Commission of Higher Education (CHED) should do away with putting up research journals; instead, it should encourage researchers to publish in SCI-indexed journals. CHED is supporting 190 state universities and colleges where only 10 percent of the faculty members have PhD degrees. Worse yet, how many of them are published? How can they manage research journals or review manuscripts when hardly any one of them is qualified to do so? In fact, not a single Philippine journal in science to date has met the criteria for SCI coverage.

Further, it is commonly thought that it is more important to improve basic education than higher education, when experience shows it should really be the other way around—higher education first, basic educations second. As Carl Wieman, Nobel laureate in physics, has observed, it is doubtful that great progress can be made at the primary and secondary levels until a higher standard of science learning is set at the post-secondary level.

In sum, the Philippines should radically reform its approaches to ensure the achievement of the objectives of the National Science Consortium and to give itself a sporting chance of catching up with its more progressive neighboring countries in the science and technology arena.

Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.

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Some food for thought for our best and brightest aspiring for a PhD

For an academic career, a PhD is undoubtedly a basic requirement, the proverbial door to the world of independent research and a feather in the cap of the doctoral candidate. In some developed countries, however, the production of PhDs has far outstripped the demand for university lecturers and researchers. Yet many universities, having long discovered that PhD students are cheap, highly motivated and disposable labor, keep on churning them despite the growing glut in PhDs. And this is happening even as business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, indicating that PhDs are not teaching knowledge that’s actually needed by business and industry.

This is the gist of “The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time,” a report of The Economist for its December 16, 2010 Christmas Special. The situation has gotten so bad, the report says, that the fiercest critics now “compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.”

The Economist cites in its report the following statistics presented by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus in their book Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It: “America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships. Using PhD students to do much of the undergraduate teaching cuts the number of full-time jobs. Even in Canada, where the output of PhD graduates has grown relatively modestly, universities conferred 4,800 doctorate degrees in 2007 but hired just 2,616 new full-time professors. Only a few fast-developing countries, such as Brazil and China, now seem short of PhDs.”

The report concludes: “Many of those who embark on a PhD are the smartest in their class and will have been the best at everything they have done. They will have amassed awards and prizes. As this year’s new crop of graduate students bounce into their research, few will be willing to accept that the system they are entering could be designed for the benefit of others, that even hard work and brilliance may well not be enough to succeed, and that they would be better off doing something else. They might use their research skills to look harder at the lot of the disposable academic. Someone should write a thesis about that.”

Or, at the very least, that should be food for thought for our best and brightest thinking of gunning for a PhD.   

Read “The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time” in The Economist Christmas Special now!

In “Cheaters Find an Adversary in Technology,” an article written for the December 27, 2010 issue of The New York Times, Trip Gabriel reports on an effective new technology now used by some universities in the United States against the cheats in school exams: it analyzes answer sheets by computer and flags clusters of questions answered wrong or right in the same way by so many examinees that the chances of random agreement are astronomically small. “The computers also look for unusually large score gains from a previous test by a student or class,” Gabriel writes. “They also count the number of erasures on answer sheets, which in some cases can be evidence that teachers or administrators tampered with a test.”

Read Trip Gabriel’s “Cheaters Find an Adversary in Technology” in The New York Times now!

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In the beginning in this Forum...

Below are the postings previously being discussed in the Forum. You are most welcome to respond to any of the postings made so far or to post an entirely new topic of your own. Do share with us your thoughts on how honest-to-goodness education and teaching reforms might be achieved in our country.

Tonybau, a medical doctor and former PTA president, paints a bleak scenario of overcrowding, teacher overload and lack of qualified teachers, lack of basic facilities like clean water and libraries, and malnutrition among pupils in his city’s public high school. He then advocates a total overhaul of the educational system that “continues to churn out students, majority of [whom] are products of an environment where teachers are there only to earn their keep.”

Florlaca, a retired university professor and department head with a master’s in zoology and a doctorate in comparative endocrinology, vigorously proposes that improving research performance is essential to real academic reform. He says that publications that meet internationally accepted criteria are the best indicator of research performance and of competence to do other academic work as well. We still have to hear a response to this from academe or from education officials.

Arvin Ortiz, a student-writer, points out that while some professors consider Wikipedia as an unreliable source for students’ research papers and theses, some PhDs in the Philippines have actually cited Wikipedia as a source for the textbooks they have written. What gives?

Penmanila, creative writing institute director and English professor at the University of the Philippines, notes that teachers of English in the Philippines have such a weak command of the English language themselves, and wonders how their English can be improved. He asks: Do seminars and things of that sort really help?

Madgirl109, who describes herself as “just another struggling Filipino worker in Japan,” gives a first-hand view of the problems and opportunities of Filipinos working in Japan. For them to improve their job and income prospects in Japan, she says, they need to become more proficient not only in English but in Nihongo as well.

Meikah, who used to be a university instructor but now works as a web education professional, believes that education and teaching in the country have gotten from bad to worse. She says college students lack comprehension skills because their teachers in grade school and high school had made no effort at all to help them understand or teach them how to understand their lessons.

Maudionisio says that to foist the myth of “one nation, one language,” the Philippine government massively brainwashed elementary pupils in the 1960s to think that the national language was Pilipino, and that the other languages spoken by Filipinos in the other regions were simply dialects. He contends that this brainwashing has not been undone, so some of those pupils—now grown up—still erroneously refer to the various Philippine languages as “dialects.”

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