The state of a country’s science and technology indicates its capacity to develop. By this measure, there is cause for grave concern in the Philippines. Consider science education. Poor facilities, unqualified teachers, unproductive pedagogies, and inadequate state promotion have worked against efforts to upgrade science education. Thus, the Philippines has trailed other Asian countries in number of scientists, volume of scientific research, student performance levels, and the quality of its universities.
Thankfully, there are some bright lights in the landscape. One is the inspiring story of the couple Christopher and Ma. Victoria Bernido. Coming from privileged families, both earned their doctorate degrees in physics from the State University of New York. They headed the National Institute of Physics at the University of the Philippines in the 1980s, recognized for their teaching and research excellence. They stood at the top of their profession and were well respected in the world community of physicists.
Then, in 1999, the Bernidos surprised colleagues by moving to the poor, remote municipality of Jagna, in Bohol province, to run an old, struggling high school—heeding the request of its owner, Christopher’s aging mother. It was not just filial duty, however, that led Chris and Marivic to devote themselves, as the school’s president and principal, respectively, to the Central Visayan Institute Foundation (CVIF). They knew it was more practical to simply close down the school; but they also glimpsed a challenging opportunity. Running CVIF would force them to come to grips with the problems of basic education in the Philippines. Marivic says, “For us, it has always been the bigger picture, the country. We both wanted to do something for the country.”
It was not an easy transition but they faced the challenge in a determined, methodical way. In 2002, they introduced a revolutionary way of teaching science and non-science subjects, which they called CVIF Dynamic Learning Program (DLP). A cost-effective strategy focused on strong fundamentals, DLP devotes 70 percent of class time to student-driven activities built around clear learning targets, aided by well-designed learning plans and performance-tracking tools. The program also uses a "parallel classes scheme," in which three simultaneous classes are handled by one expert teacher with the help of facilitators.
In designing the DLP, the Bernidos wanted to show that poverty need not be an excuse to compromise on teaching and learning excellence. The results proved them right. In the years that followed, CVIF students showed radical improvement in their performance on national scholastic examinations and university admissions tests. CVIF is a small school of only five hundred, mostly-poor students. But the significance of what the Bernidos initiated quickly spread throughout the country. The school attracted national attention, and educators from over three hundred schools visited CVIF to learn about its program.
In 2006, the Bernidos designed the "Learning Physics as One Nation" project, to address the problem of severe shortage of qualified physics teachers. Launched in 2008, the project is now implemented in over two hundred private high schools, on top of the many other schools that have independently adopted the DLP model. The program includes a portfolio of learning activities to be individually accomplished by the students, and closely-associated weekly video-based lectures featuring National Expert Teachers. Real-time teacher-expert and student-expert interaction happens through text-messaging and electronic mail.
In remote Jagna, the Bernidos also hold regular workshops that have drawn the country's physics teachers, international scientists and even Nobel laureates. And they continue to mentor young scientists from various Philippine universities.
In electing Christopher Bernido and Ma. Victoria Carpio-Bernido to receive the 2010 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes their purposeful commitment to both science and nation, ensuring innovative, low-cost, and effective basic education even under Philippine conditions of great scarcity and daunting poverty.
Recovering from the shock of learning about the award, I googled the life of President Ramon Magsaysay. He was often talked about by my parents, my father having served in the army against the Huks in the 1950's before becoming a Recovering from the shock of learning about the award, lawyer. I read the Credo of President Magsaysay in the Foundation website. Allow me to quote two lines:
"I believe that he who has less in life should have more in law."
"I believe that this nation is endowed with a vibrant and stout heart, and possesses untapped capabilities and incredible resiliency."
What a realization for me! These were lines often spoken by my parents—they who showed a deep love of country. No wonder that I would be fascinated by the proposal of Chris when he wrote that we should get married because, among other reasons, "We are building a nation here.
Chris and I have endeavored each day to ensure that "those who have less in life should have more" in education, be it for a child or for a nation at large. The challenge is, "Can we give these children of farmers, fishermen, tricycle drivers, and laborers, the education at par with elite schools in Manila, in Berlin, or in New York? Clearly, facilities-wise this should be impossible. But then, we do not look at the material aspects. Rather, we focus on the mind, the spirit and the heart of each child, and there we see "untapped capabilities and incredible resiliency." With this, we have realized that, far from being barriers to education of the highest standards, poverty and scarcity allow us to systematically zero in on the core of the learning process. And we are delighted as we continue to discover how this core is universal, transcending differences in race, socio-economic and cultural background.
I therefore accept this award with a renewed commitment to the ideals engraved in my parents' hearts by the noble example of great men like President Magsaysay, which they passed on to their children, and which we now pass on to our students.
We remain deeply grateful to the Foundation, to those who have been with us — our teachers and staff, our students and their parents, our families, friends, colleagues, the Fund for Assistance to Private Education, the Department of Science and Technology — and above all, to our Heavenly Father who has been most gracious to us from the beginning.
However, we are still far from achieving our vision for our school, for schools in the Learning as One Nation initiative, and for our country. The joy you share with us today, your support and prayers, spur us on to work with renewed zeal, hope and faith, even as we face with excitement the many new results in the neurosciences that would usher in profound transformations in education in the present century.