Chalk + Talk = Physics?

The weak condition of science and math education in the country is a reflection of the underdevelopment of our economy and the skewed priorities of government.

Prometheus Bound/Manila Times
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 19, June 15-21, 2008

The economic growth of a country requires the development of skilled science and technology practitioners to serve the needs of a thriving domestic industry However, without a local industrial base, there will be no impetus to have an adequate number of technologically-skilled manpower.

The weak condition of science and math education in the country is a reflection of the underdevelopment of our economy and the skewed priorities of government. The training of graduates in science and technology should be towards the development of a local core of experts and not towards the continuing labor export. Adequate support should be provided to educational institutions, especially the state colleges and universities.

A case in point is the BS Physics program, which I recently finished, at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). Ten years ago, I was offered to take up the course, with only a few freshmen enrollees and even fewer graduating students from the course. More than seven out of 10 freshmen Physics students did not choose this course willingly. Most took it because there were no more slots in other colleges or were advised by the school registrar. Our learning was through “chalk and talk” discussions with very little exposure to hands-on physics.

During our first and second years, we were able to use the remaining instruments like Vernier calipers, micrometers, beam balances and stopwatches; and standard experimental setups like the force table for studying vectors.

But as one advances to the third and fourth years, more and more experiments on higher Physics subjects are left to “chalk and talk” discussions as no equipment was available. The students move on even without exposure and familiarity with standard physics laboratory equipment. In my own field, acoustics, there were no oscilloscopes for experiments that are vital in visualizing sound waves.

Advanced experimental physics courses become a gedanken or thought (imagined) experiment. One discusses the concepts and the procedure; and the instructor just provides the data for the students to analyze since no setup could be used.

Although students had been paying laboratory fees, there are no computers for our numerical analysis subject. Programs on paper cannot be tested to compile since there is no space to type it in. Some students are able to test theirs on their home computers but those without one found it hard to grasp computer programming and were uncertain if their program will run correctly. Even the professors use the computers and projectors at their expense to be able to teach the class.
Before 2006, there was only one professor who handled nine subjects for Physics majors. This led to uneven focus on some of these subjects, undermining the understanding of the students regarding those subjects. New faculty were hired to bring new ideas and expose students to new physics researches but they eventually left the college because there were better job offers outside PUP.

Yet some alumni are bringing hope to PUP. Those who finished their Masters degree are returning to teach. They become thesis advisers and coordinators. They teach advanced courses and help widen the horizon and perspectives of the physics students with seminars and trainings to develop scientific skills.

Despite obsolete and outdated facilities and materials, students find other ways to gain knowledge and expertise by attending conferences, trainings and congresses. Student theses are being compiled and exhibited on cabinets to highlight a tedious and painstaking period of research. PUP physics students continue to bring pride and honor to the university in contests, winning the Champion and First-Runner Up slots in the 2008 Technological University of the Philippines Luzon-Wide Physics Contest.

The state of the physics program in PUP is a direct result of how the government has misprioritized education. Even with the recent incentives for students to enter science and mathematics, the corresponding support structures in universities, such as laboratories, teachers and classrooms, still need to be augmented. The BS Physics in PUP needs better physics laboratories, more qualified instructors and research collaboration with well-established institutions to reach its goal of becoming part of a recognized center of excellence in physics in the country.

The situation is not one to deter the PUP student. With our strong tradition of upholding our right to education, we actively participate in actions to promote quality and free education. We continue to strive and make science meaningful both to ourselves and to others. Manila Times/posted by Bulatlat

Mr. Reynold V. Luna, a new physicist member of AGHAM, teaches Physics in PUP and is taking up MS Physics at UP Diliman. He is the 2008 PUP class valedictorian and graduated magna cum laude in May.

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