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MAPping the Future

S&T as engine for inclusive growth

01:04 AM June 20, 2016

One big challenge before us now is to find the “engine” that can bring us on a sustainable path toward inclusive growth.

But at the rate our population is growing, with accompanying challenges—poverty, peace and order, and others, we need several “engines” to move our country forward.

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Recently, Dr. Bernie Villegas identified five such “engines of growth” at his talk before the Stanford Club of the Philippines: young population, BPO industry, infrastructure, domestic tourism, and Overseas Filipino Workers.

 

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Engine of growth

I requested him to add Science and Technology (S&T) because, without it, we cannot effectively meet those challenges.

No country in the world has progressed without the S&T engine in the frontline or in the center of its development journey.

At present, our ride to inclusive growth is wobbly because our S&T engine and its key, Research and Development (R&D), lack management attention and support.

Scientific management of this S&T engine calls for attention to the five M’s: manpower, money, machines, materials and minutes (or time).

I will just focus here on the two most essential M’s—manpower and money.

On manpower, our S&T engine needs a steady supply of well-trained S&T professionals who can perform various tasks in running the engine—from systematically studying our country’s physical, natural, and other attributes to applying scientific knowledge for practical purposes, such as, creating useful products from our natural resources.

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According to the National Academy of S&T (NAST) we need “at least 3,000 new PhDs each year for the next 10 years.”

In its recent position paper aimed at “Harnessing Science and Technology for Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development,” NAST explained that this number is necessary “to meet Unesco’s critical threshold comparable to the more technologically advanced or progressive countries in the region.”

A few areas have enough S&T professionals, but NAST noted the lack of “local investment to absorb them.”

Due to these shortages, we have low or inefficient productivity and exodus of “highly-trained professionals to countries that are able to provide them the material reward, productive working conditions, and social recognition that are denied them in our own country.”

Our first task, therefore, is to attract our youth to get an S&T education. Various factors can influence their interest. But many of them do not need rocket science measures.

  Role models

First, we need to identify and present some male and female models from the S&T community whom our youth can emulate.

At present, actors and actresses, political leaders, rich personalities, and a few outstanding athletes dominate the iconic space that significantly influences the thinking of our youth and the shaping of their values.

We have outstanding scientists and technologists who can serve as models too, but they often quietly do their work so they remain unknown.

Companies that are good in branding could help promote these new role models in S&T.

Notable exceptions that do not need much promotion anymore include Stanford University alumnus Dado Banatao, who rose from his humble beginnings in rural Cagayan to become a billionaire through his innovative technologies and entrepreneurial ventures in Silicon Valley.

He now serves as an inspiring model to young students, especially in the schools that benefit from his philanthropic contributions.

A few organizations, such as the TOWNS (The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service) Foundation identify and honor individuals who are outstanding in S&T and other fields.

In fact, TOWNS is once again conducting its search for outstanding women to be honored in October 2016.

Two groups pose a big challenge to attract to the S&T field.

One is the children of our farmers and fisher folks so that they will continue their parents’ work but with S&T knowhow and technologies that will enable them to prosper economically.

Based on my interviews of graduating high school students from farming communities, many of them prefer to take up criminology so that they could become “policemen who earn well” or nursing so that they could go abroad.

The second group is young IPs (indigenous people).

They need priority attention not only because they are mostly poor but also because their ancestral domain holds much of our country’s wealth—fertile lands, minerals, forests, and water.

With good S&T education and appropriate technologies, young IPs could help tap these resources sustainably.

Some IP communities also have traditional S&T knowledge that may be applied to address contemporary issues, such as climate change, and may be integrated into mainstream S&T knowledge.

 

 Math, science education

Those who decide to take up S&T education could benefit from the recommendations of NAST to “strengthen support for mathematics and science education at the basic education level (K to 12) and adapt to local schools the standards and best practices in more technologically advanced or progressive countries. ”

But, in addition to improving the content of education, we also need to improve the process, particularly how we teach mathematics and scientific principles to our youth—often in a frightening or boring manner.

Our Science Centrum in Riverbanks, Marikina and the Mind Museum in Bonifacio Global City are helping overcome this problem by teaching the young ones (and the young once, too) S&T principles and phenomena in an enjoyable way through interactive exhibits that the Science Centrum’s sister organization makes and sells here and abroad.

Some companies, e.g., Unilab, have helped build the stationary and mobile exhibit sets of the Science Centrum.

But we need more exhibit sets to serve the needs even just of cities first. And, we need volunteer donors for them. Donating a mobile exhibit set reaps much goodwill for a company.

Another weakness that may be corrected immediately in order to avoid dropouts is the practice in many schools of assigning first-year subjects to new graduates who do not have teaching education or experience.

In contrast, top schools in other countries assign first-year subjects to their best faculty members, with the objective of inspiring their students not only teaching them.

To avoid or at least reduce the exodus of S&T professionals to other countries, the NAST recommends providing additional incentives to them and improving their work environment.

 Social recognition

Earlier, the NAST mentioned also lack of social recognition as a factor for the exodus. Some organizations act on this point by giving awards to recognize excellence in S&T.

The TOWNS award mentioned above is only one of them. The latest is an excellence in engineering award, which a private company offers.

Engineering is the application of scientific knowledge through invention and innovation of products, services and processes.

On processes, policy-making is a critical one at this stage of our development when S&T gets little attention in the policy-making arena or is hampered by obsolete laws, rules, and regulations.

But recognition of engineering excellence is still limited to the invention or innovation of technologies; policy-making is seldom recognized as an important “process” in the work of an engineer.

Societal problems

An important mission of an S&T professional in our country today is to seek and devise solutions to our societal problems with the use of S&T knowledge, principles, techniques, and systems.

In doing so, S&T professionals must not only have technical expertise but also “the creativity, cultural awareness, and entrepreneurial skills that come from exposure to the liberal arts, business, medicine, and other disciplines…”

That quote is from the Management Science and Engineering (MSE) Department of Stanford University.

The Asian Institute of Management (AIM) now offers education along this line through its new Business and Innovation Program for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture, and Medicine) professionals.

On the second M, money, the R&D capability of our country is weak due to the low allocation of resources on it. But we hope  “change is coming” here.

Upgrading of R&D facilities of schools and the research institutions under the DOST should be given priority in budget allocation.

Poor R&D capabilities of our schools must be a major reason why we do not have even one school among the top 10 engineering schools in the Asean region.

Research laboratories are often costly to set up, maintain, and secure safely.

The Science Centrum has tried to help on this matter by making the conduct of chemistry experiments inexpensive.

Balik Scientist Cora Salumbides, a consultant of the Science Centrum, developed a portable chemistry lab in a box, which the Centrum has been introducing to schools.

But R&D needs will continue to rise as we face increasing and more complex challenges, such as, climate change risks. This emphasizes the importance of  public-private partnerships.

 Collaboration

One initiative towards this direction is the setting up last year of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Philippines, which aims to foster collaboration between the academe and business in developing and applying solutions for sustainable development issues.

I hope President-elect Duterte’s administration will develop further and use the S&T engine of growth and will ensure that its R&D key will be well-funded to make our country run faster toward inclusive growth, not just walk in a wobbly way.

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is a life member of the Management Association of the Philippines and is a core member for business of the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development. A Ph.D. graduate in engineering-economic systems from Stanford University, she is a Balik Scientist and TOWNS Awardee for Science and Technology. She is co-vice chair of the MAP committee on climate change, disaster prevention, & sustainability and directs the MAP’s program on seaweed industry development for a blue economy.

Feedback at [email protected] and [email protected] For previous articles, please visit map.org.ph.)

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