I am a product of a science high school in the Philippines, Manila Science High School. Without doubt, it is one reason why I became a scientist. Public high schools with a specialized science curriculum are regarded as the place for the cream of the crop. Enrollment in these schools usually require passing an entrance exam. Moreover, the perceived greater challenge in the curriculum adds both value and prestige in the diploma received from any of these schools. During my high school days when we were still required to take the National College Entrance Exam, the verdict on the quality of the education we received in a science high school was quite clear. Our scores in the exam placed all of us within the top 1 percentile of all test-takers. Such feat is probably comparable to what Rhonda Rosenberg highlighted in her article in EdWize, "The Great Divide in High School College Readiness Rates". As any fresh graduate from high school, I did not really grasp then what our performance really meant, but Rosenberg sparked a real concern by presenting the following figure in her article.
This is troubling when only a fraction of all the schools is really delivering its promise of preparing children for higher education.
That was how our high school class compared with the rest of the country. A more recent study by the Science Education Institute at the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in the Philippines is even more disconcerting. By looking at the students' performance on international standardized exams in advanced math and science, the following table is one of the findings.
Manila Science High School falls under the category S&T Oriented HS. Only two students reached the Advanced Benchmark from these schools but both came from Quezon City Science High School. Not one came from Manila Science High School.
The authors of the DOST study wrote in their recommendations:
Results of the study have shown that PSHS lived up to its reputation as the premier secondary school in the country. The interplay of its unique and best practices, such as the stringent selection of its students through a competitive examination, allowing teachers with undergraduate preparation in the mathematics and sciences, not only those who passed the national examination for teachers, to teach and its customized curriculum is the major factor behind the current status of PSHS.
In view of this, there may be a need to revisit the implementation of curriculum in other science schools, which generally performed far behind the PSHS. Periodic evaluation of the effectiveness of the special curriculum being followed in the other SHS may be done in order to determine the improvement that would have to be done in SHS that have gone “nominal” (Science High School in name only, but not in essence). These schools may also look into the curriculum and practices of PSHS and the schools teaching advanced mathematics in other countries or them to improve their performance. In particular, policy-makers in education may consider the drafting of a special provision for SHS, specifically an exemption from its existing hiring policy that will allow BS graduates of specialized courses in science and mathematics to teach at the secondary level, such that basic content in engineering, for example, will be taught at high school in the proper context.
The other issue that needs to be addressed with science high schools is whether these schools are indeed contributing to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) of the country. Unfortunately, except for my case and a few people I know, I do not have the data that measure how many among the alumni of these science high schools actually become scientists, engineers and mathematicians. I think such study is warranted.
The American Psychological Association currently has an ongoing research project that examines the "Impact of Specialized Public High Schools of Science, Mathematics and Technology". The team has some preliminary results. And the following figures may be informative of how a similar study may be done in the Philippines:
The study asks for the motivation behind entering a science high school.