Teachers from the CALABARZON region in action at Unilab’s Amherst Delta Laboratories during the Teaching Factory program

Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0) where humans have to work intelligently with the machines.  According to a 2018 report from the World Economic Forum, over 75 million routine jobs worldwide will soon be rendered obsolete by automation. In the Philippines alone, 51% of employees will need upskilling to remain competitive as the country rapidly transforms into a highly technological society.

The smooth transition of businesses into the workplaces of the future lies in the cultivation of specialized skills that are difficult to automate among present and future employees. Such skills include creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and complex problem-solving – all of which are typically developed in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses.

Recognizing the Philippines’ urgent need to arm its populace with “future-proof” skills, Unilab Foundation (ULF) launched its flagship program known as STEM+PH in 2018. Headed by Ms. LilibethAristorenas, Executive Director of ULF, STEM+PH aims to strengthen local STEM education through teacher capacity-building, learners’ engagement, and public policy advocacy.

Beyond the technical and cognitive skills that the program emphasizes, STEM+PH is unique in that it also acknowledges the importance of developing socio-emotional skills – encapsulating this through the ‘+’ in its name. In doing so, STEM+PH strives to ensure a steady pipeline of holistic scientists, engineers, and researchers who can continue to drive Philippine innovation and prepare today’s learners for the work of the future.

Empowering local educators through industry partnerships

Teachers are at the frontline of STEM education as they engage and guide learners to develop the necessary skills for future success. However, the newness of the STEM program in the senior high school curriculum is accompanied by birthing pains and a steeper learning curve. There are problems with teacher capacity, learners’ output, and instructional resources.

These gaps provided the impetus for the establishment of STEM+PH’s first initiative earlier this year: CISTEM, or the Center of Integrated STEM Education, is an institute for teacher training and research in STEM led by Dr. Sheryl Monterola from the University of the Philippines College of Education.

One of CISTEM’s ongoing programs is the Teaching Factory, which Monterola describes as a firsthand picture of how STEM skills are enacted in an actual industrial setting. The Teaching Factory starts off with a 10-day immersion for teachers at Unilab’s Amherst Delta manufacturing plant in Biñan, Laguna, where they perform experiments using industry-grade equipment and interact with various plant personnel. This is followed by another immersion for select STEM students.

The program culminates with executives from Unilab’s manufacturing plan visiting surrounding schools for career talks to Grades 9 and 10 students. Although only two runs of the 10-day teacher immersion have been completed, CISTEM is already planning to hold the Teaching Factory more frequently and expand its scope to Pampanga.

For Aristorenas, the Teaching Factory is the “perfect example of an industry-education collaboration,” and she hopes that other companies can soon follow suit.

Engaging stakeholders for a smarter Philippines

Keeping up with the breakneck speed of IR4.0 while nurturing a STEM pipeline requires different stakeholders converging to create an enabling ecosystem. This entails not only empowering teachers but also creating tailored educational programs that address both industry demands and community needs.

The development of such programs, however, is only possible with a strong government-industry-education strategic collaboration that can simultaneously target STEM capacity-building and curricula development. Thus, STEM+PH, in cooperation with the US-based STEM Leadership Alliance (SLA), will be holding the First Integrated STEM Leadership Summit in Asia from November 21-24, 2019 at the Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort in Cebu, Philippines.

The Summit will provide a rare opportunity for stakeholders from the government, academe, businesses, and local communities to engage in cross-sectoral dialogue and exchange ideas on aligning workforce needs with educational preparation and creating a culture of innovation. As such, its roster of speakers is a veritable who’s who of STEM across Asia, Europe, and the US – including Dr. Steve Swanson, former NASA astronaut and ISS Commander, and Dr. Manabu Sumida, Director of the Japan Society for Science Education.

Investing in the future by investing in young learners

The Summit will also be a launchpad for STEM+PH’s newest initiative: the STEM Leadership Alliance – Philippine Affiliate (SLA-PH), the first of its kind outside of the US. A collaboration between the government-industry-education sectors supported by a tripartite MOU among Dep Ed, DOST and DTI with Unilab Foundation. It is envisioned to become a much-needed unified, influential voice in linking STEM education with careers of the future that could someday leverage public policy. With SLA-PH’s unique potential to drive future workforce development and cultivate a culture of innovation, it’s no wonder that some of the Philippines’ biggest corporations have already signed up.

One project in the works for some members of SLA-PH is the establishment of “Specialized Schools for STEM”. An idea that was also brought forth at the first roundtable of the industry-education alliance was that some schools would specialize in a particular company’s thrust. A company like Manila Water can adopt a science school in Quezon City, and specialize in environment or water resource engineering. Similarly, “Unilab can support a science school where it operates and make it a center of excellence for healthcare, or pharma,” stated Aristorenas. Moreover, graduates from these schools are then empowered with new opportunities and are well-equipped to potentially join the sponsoring company later on.

Another intriguing possibility is the setting up of “Entrepreneurial Innovation Labs,” where the industry and education sectors partner up yet again to develop research projects that specifically address an industry-specific or community problem. The “Labs” will serve as an incubator for the research projects, providing companies an unconventional way to bring ideas to value while further developing the STEM skills of young researchers.

Embodying the spirit of bayanihan for STEM

For STEM+PH’s advocacy to succeed, collective effort – or bayanihan – from diverse sectors is a must. After all, STEM+PH is an initiative that goes beyond Unilab Foundation, and transcends industry competition. STEM can create transformative opportunities not just for corporations, but also for individuals by equipping them with in-demand skills that could lead to better economic opportunities and a means to deliver impact. For many, the hunger for a STEM career is fueled by a deeper passion, dream, or call to purpose.

Join the STEM+PH advocacy by taking part in our initiatives, and in turn, play an active role in building a STEM-literate nation ready for the future economy.

Dr. Sheryl Monterola, head of the Center of Integrated STEM Education (CISTEM), conversing with participants of the STEM Leadership Alliance – Philippine Affiliate roundtable