EDITORIAL – Wanted: More Scientists

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Highly competitive countries invest heavily in innovation and encourage their young people to pursue careers in science and technology. In recent decades, however, enrollment in S&T courses in the Philippines has been disappointing. This could be due to weak basic science and maths education – a problem the government has only started to tackle seriously in recent years.

A related problem has been highlighted in a study prepared by the Institute of Science Education in the Department of Science and Technology. The DOST-SEI study, which used data collected from 1990 to 2015 by the Philippine Statistics Authority, showed that most graduates of S&T courses ended up in non-S&T jobs or working outside of their field of studies.

Data from the Women in Science study showed that only 3.7 million of the 10 million bachelor’s degree holders had S&T degrees. And of the 3.7 million, only 24% were engaged in S&T professions or activities. A significant number, mainly in health care such as nurses, worked overseas. The country’s three main occupational clusters for S&T are nursing and midwifery, engineering and related fields, and other health professions.

DOST offers more scholarship slots for less popular S&T fields, including physics, chemistry, mathematics, and statistics. In the age of pervasive misinformation using social media, emphasis should also be placed on promoting courses related to digital technology.

In the globalized economy, innovation plays a vital role in national competitiveness. If the government wants to nurture a culture of scientific and technological innovation, however, interest in S&T must be nurtured from an early age. The nation needs teachers who are sufficiently trained not only to impart S&T knowledge, but also to inspire sustained interest in the fields of S&T and mathematics.

Innovation requires not only education, but also an ecosystem that nurtures S&T. Scientists need access to funding, facilities, knowledge and ease of patenting as well as production and commercialization assistance to make S&T ventures profitable. Research and development can take years and require considerable funds and other resources.

In the COVID pandemic, virus testing has received a significant boost thanks to the RT-PCR swab test developed by a local company, Manila HealthTek Inc., led by Filipino microbiologist and infectious disease physician Raul Destura. Science and technology have a significant impact on many other aspects of life, and governments that invest in it always reap rich benefits.

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