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No Free Lunch
A high-yield public investment

By Cielito Habito
First Posted 00:24:00 08/27/2007

Filed Under: Education

LAST WEEK, two students from the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) won the top prize in the Regional Ozone Quiz Competition organized by the UN Environment Programme (Unep) in Bangkok, Thailand. Lawrence Medina and Paulo Manzanilla, fourth year students at PSHS, bested competitors from various Asian countries, winning a $1,500 project grant and bringing honor to the country and to their school.

Three months ago, four PSHS students won individual and team awards in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Isef) held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, from May 14 to 19, 2007. Ivy Razel Bernardo Ventura, Janine Cindy Santiago and Mara Elaine Villaverde of the PSHS main campus in Quezon City won fourth place in the team category for their study that explored the potential use of nudibranchs (sea slugs) in tumor research. Hester Mana Umayam (PSHS Cagayan Valley Campus) also bagged a fourth grand award for her research into Kalinga natives' use of mathematics in their woven fabrics.

Critical mass
These are but the most recent instances where students from the country's foremost public high school have demonstrated that they can stand up to the best of their peers in the world arena. Through the decades, PSHS students have reaped top honors in some of the most prestigious global, regional and national high school competitions. And through 43 years of existence, the school has produced thousands of graduates who have permeated and excelled in the most strategic areas of the Filipino economy and society, and indeed, of the global community.

It was on June 22, 1963, when then President Diosdado Macapagal signed into law Republic Act 3661 establishing the PSHS. The school welcomed its first batch of students on Sept. 5, 1964, into a unique five-year curriculum (subsequently reduced to four years) designed to provide gifted Filipino students with special training in science and mathematics. The goal was to develop a critical mass of science-inclined youth to become the foremost professionals and leaders in science and technology in the country.

Cream of the crop
Truly the cream of the crop, only elementary school graduates within the top 10 percent of their class, or those certified by their school principals as having special aptitude in science and mathematics, are allowed to take the PSHS National Competitive Examination. The exam is difficult, and the screening rigorous. But once accepted, the successful entrant enjoys a scholarship that provides a partial to full subsidy (depending on the family's income) for the cost of his/her superior high school education obtained at PSHS.

So superior and so advanced is the training of the PSHS student that the University of the Philippines had to develop a special program for its graduates to keep them challenged, accelerate their progress and optimize their educational experience. But so intense and pressure-laden is the high-school experience of the PSHS student that not a few have dropped out either within PSHS or beyond it, in college--not for academic inadequacy, but from intense emotional pressure and burnout that some PSHS students and graduates unfortunately succumb to.

Hall of fame
Among the first batch of students to enter its doors in 1964 (class '69) were Reynaldo Vea, the school's first valedictorian and now president of the Mapua Institute of Technology, former DOH Undersecretaries Mario Taguiwalo and Rhais Gamboa, top cardiologist Ernesto Baello, Cultural Center of the Philippines president Nestor Jardin, Ibon Foundation's Antonio Tujan, popular film and TV director Lore Reyes, and many more.

The school's second batch (class '70) included AFP Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon, Navy chief Vice Admiral Rogelio Calunsag, Canon Law expert and Opus Dei priest Fr. Jaime Achacoso, UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Dean Zosimo Lee, noted San Francisco lawyer and civic leader Rodel Rodis, along with many more who were my distinguished classmates in proud "Pisay," the endearment by which we have come to call our alma mater through the years. Future batches were to produce writers Jose "Butch" Dalisay and Jessica Zafra, first woman dean of the UP College of Engineering Rowena Guevara, and many more illustrious alumni who make up a veritable hall of fame.

Having produced prominent as well as quiet pillars in our society not only in science, but in the arts as well, PSHS is truly one very crucial public investment that has paid off well for the nation as a whole.

Calling all alumni
A number of alumni activities are lined up to commemorate the school's 43rd founding anniversary next week. Last weekend saw the premiere of the movie "Pisay," which reaped multiple awards in the recent Cinemalaya film festival for acclaimed director Aureous Solito (of "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros" fame), yet another PSHS alumnus luminary. The Pisay Cup Golf Tournament will tee off at the Navy Golf Club at Fort Bonifacio early morning of Aug. 28. A benefit Alumni Concert (dubbed Pisay@43.com2gether: I Am What I Jam!) will showcase musical talents of the first eight batches of graduates (classes '69 to '75) of the school--including special solos by some of those named above--on Aug. 30 at the AFP Theater in Camp Aguinaldo. All these culminate in the Grand Alumni Homecoming at the PSHS Gymnasium on Sept. 1. All alumni, family and friends are enjoined to come. More information on any or all of these may be obtained by calling 924-0655 or e-mailing me at chabito@ateneo.edu.

Previous columns:
Heads you win, tails I lose ? 8/20/07
Medicines can be cheap ? 8/12/07
Receipts and good citizenship ? 8/06/07
Unstable equilibrium ? 7/30/07
Revisiting the Asian financial crisis ? 7/23/07

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