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A Filipino researcher/STEM communicator now leads Philippines’ space education.

The Philippines hosted APRSAF annual meeting in 2016 (APRSAF-23). Dr. Ruby R. Cristobal, Chief Science Research Specialist at the Science Education Institute (SEI) of Department of Science and Technology (DOST), talked about science education activities in the Philippines to APRSAF secretariat.

APRSAF Secretariat

Have you ever attended at APRSAF annual meeting?

Ms. Ruby R. Cristobal

For the APRSAF it is my first time at an international level but we have been doing a lot of programs at the national level.  In fact our institute has been participating to APRSAF annual meeting and water rocket event for the last 9 years since 2007.  We also send our representative who would do the coordination for the project so we can be able to calibrate our national competitions and our programs with the APRSAF competitions.

And about 4 years ago we have designated a Focal Person for the Philippines Space Science Education Program and that is Dr. Rogel Mari Sese, so that we can have an astrophysicist; an astrophysicist who can guide us as well, the one who would be attending to the technical sessions of the APRSAF so we would be better guided as to what other possibilities and opportunities we can avail of such that we can improve our space education program in the country.

Secretariat

Thank you.  Could you briefly introduce yourself and your background and your role within the Science Education Institute?

Cristobal

I am a biology graduate of the University of the Philippines and I practiced doing science for quite a while.  After doing that, I went into Development Communication.  What I do is I try to communicate science technology – engineering and mathematics to young people and to the public because I enjoy writing, I enjoy broadcasting, I am a radio announcer as well.

My position in the Department of Science and Technology is with the Science Education Institute.  I am the head of the division; it is called the Science and Technology Manpower Education and Research and Promotions Division.  So, my job would practically be on designing innovative programs, not just the traditional ones.  Children are learning new things every day, so we should be able to cope with the kind of exposure that the children would have.  And so we should be teaching the way they are enjoying their lives using technology.  So what I do is to bridge science and the public by doing science communication and that is now my area of expertise.

I am a Development Communication person, I have my graduate degree in Development Communication and right now I am a Ph.D. candidate in Communication, I am doing Science Com for my topic and research.

Science Education Institute is a premier human resources development arm in science and technology of the country; so we run and administer a big scholarship program where we increase the number of graduates in science and technology at the Bachelor, Master and Ph.D. levels.  We have about 20,000 scholars a year and we accept around 6,000 new scholars, combined undergraduate and graduate scholars per year.  It is a huge program and on top of that we also do STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) promotion so that the young people will be prepared and will be encouraged to take up science and technology careers.

And we also try to innovate the way teachers would learn.  Science and math teachers should be able to cope with the new trends in teaching and education such that they can teach science more creatively and innovatively.  So these three programs that we handle are really very challenging for us, considering that it is such a small organization in the Department of Science and Technology.  We have just barely 100 people and we are catering to a lot of scholars.  So we have established a network of universities, the ones who would run the academic programs, and also with the basic education institutions through the public and the private sectors.

“Space science is important not just for sending people into space but also for utilizing and taking advantage of the applications that can be used for the industry, the environment, and the economy.”

Secretariat

This year the Philippines hosts APRSAF annual meeting for the first time.  And you also host Water Rocket Event and Can Satellite Competition.  What is the significance to host these international events?

Cristobal

It is very crucial that we inspire our students by having them experience what the space scientists do.  Because astronomy is an inspirational science, it is something that they don’t normally get from the school or even from other sources of information because there are very few people in the Philippines who are into space-related sciences or disciplines.  In fact, we only have three astrophysics graduates.  Dr. Rogel Mari D. Sese, a consultant of the Department of Science and Technology and a Co-Chair of Space Environment Utilization Working Group is among these three.  Another one is a lady who just came back from her fellowship abroad and now she is handling Big Data and also inspiring kids.  She is with the private sector and she is also doing something like a social enterprise that would create a lot of awareness in space science and other disciplines.  The last one is teaching advanced physics in a university in Southern Philippines.

So you see, we do something to make children know how important and how valuable space science is, not just to send people to other planets but to realize that the products of space science and technology are here for us to utilize and take advantage of.  They would not know that unless they know what are the basic principles of space science and other related disciplines.  We inspire them.  We use these programs, Can Satellite and Water Rocket Competition to make them know and experience about these kinds of endeavors that space scientists do.

Of course there is a lot more, but these are the ones that children are able to do on their own using their bare hands.  And there is this feeling of success every time they fly the rockets really high and hit the target and there is also this ‘Aha’ moment.  They say, "Wow!  I can fly a satellite.  We can make satellites that can be placed inside a soda can."  That feeling of wonder, that feeling of surprise that they can do it is something that we capitalize on,  and which sparks their interest, ignites their interest in doing something better, something advanced the next time.

And as they progress through these grade levels, we try to give them more than what they previously experienced, like we are thinking of new things, so it is quite a challenging job for us.

This event is a good chance for everyone, not just the children but the teachers as well because they now understand that they should be teaching the subjects in a different way and the students are more engaged if they do things by themselves hands-on and you do not just spoon feed them and do lectures.  So the Can Satellite and Water Rocket competition would use this kind of approach in science education.  And that is when we get to provide the teachers the kind of updated pedagogy so they are able to teach not just space science well but all kinds of subjects in science and technology.

Secretariat

So in that sense is the framework of APRSAF useful?

Cristobal

Yes.  In fact, as I listen to the Space Education Working Group, I get to know of more projects, more programs and other means of promoting space science.  In fact next year we are thinking of doing space, marine, and atmospheric science, so you have water, atmosphere, and outer space in one camp.  In the camp they would do plenary at the beginning and then we break them up into groups, and then plenary at the end.  And so one group would learn about the oceans, those who are interested in the ocean; those who are interested in the atmosphere and meteorology and climatology, they do the climate science camp.  And then the other group would do the space camp.

So you have summer having more than 100 students experiencing different kinds of disciplines but learning that these are all connected, that you can do space science to observe the marine environment and whatever is happening in the climate and how it affects the marine environment as well as how space technology can be utilized to monitor both your atmosphere and your marine environment.  So that would be a good fusion for these disciplines.  And so we create not just space scientists, we also create marine scientists, and we create climate scientists and these are all environmental scientists.

We will try this framework in the future, hopefully beginning next year, because we feel that students should be given the chance to choose what they really want.  It is not like, "Okay, go to this camp; it’s a space camp, and just learn from it."  At the beginning of the invitation we would be asking the schools to let the children choose.  If they want to be marine scientists then they should join the marine camp.  If they want to join the atmospheric science camp, that means they would want to become our Bachelor of Meteorology scholar or Master of Meteorology scholar someday.

So early on we have to guide them to those disciplines.  Because if we do not do that, we either fall short of the number we want or we do not get the right people for the right job.  And both errors or mistakes would be not good for the investment and for the future of the country and for the whole world.  So let's make them choose what they want and enjoy what they do in the future.

Secretariat

Do you have any comment or suggestion to your colleagues within APRSAF countries or your colleagues in Space Education Working Group?

Cristobal

I can see that we are in different phases of doing space science education.  And some are well-advanced like Japan of course.  There are countries I guess who are really very aggressive towards reaching a certain goal.  And one of the things that I would like to see is, for us to be able to network with each other better than what we have now through the APRSAF.  Like what the representative of Thailand has mentioned, "We should ask ourselves, what is next after this?"  So, this is a good networking venue but there are new ways of doing things.

So how do we innovate not just the working group performance but each country's performance as they relate to each other, because there has to be more than just doing it individually as participating countries to the APRSAF; but also to do it within the region, that should extend beyond the November event, this thing.  It should be for those countries who are in the same phase of development for the space science education maybe can work together so they do not duplicate the modules, they can share materials.  If one country is more advanced, then just like what JAXA is doing, then maybe you can mentor us and so we can do it, and we can mentor those who I would say have not really taken that kind of pacing for space science education.

It is like networking, mentoring, creating, and exchanging modules and programs that would work for each other.  Like we can do invitational competitions not just one whole of the APRSAF, just to test waters, especially those who are new.  For example, if one country has done the Can Satellite, then maybe we can invite a team or two from that country in the national as special participation.  Then they can be prepared to do their own.

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