Piso sa sapatos: Just how much Filipinos value science scholarships?

“Nagdasal ako. I prepared everything the night before – my clothes, my pencils; nagpatasa ako sa Nanay ko kasi pampaswerte ko siya. And ‘yun, piso sa sapatos. It’s always been a ritual of mine that calms my nerves.” (I prayed. I prepared everything the night before – my clothes, my pencils; I even asked my mother to sharpen my pencils because I believe she brings me luck. And yes, a peso inside my shoe. It’s always been a ritual of mine that calms my nerves.)

This is what Sean Mareon Kanazawa-Manalo, a grade 12 STEM student of Caloocan National Science and Technology High School (CalNatSci), shared when asked about his preparations for the 2024 DOST-SEI Undergraduate Scholarships Examination – an examination that determines who can qualify to the scholarships given to incoming first year college students who wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Education is a basic human right, according to the United Nations. And this applies regardless of where you are from, what you believe, or how you choose to live your life.

But if it is so, then why are there students like Sean who would be so driven and so eager to have such scholarships that they would pin their hopes and put a coin inside their shoes to calm their nerves during the qualifying exam?

The answer already lies in front of us and is very evident during that one examination weekend.

Yes, education is a basic human right. But for many Filipino youth whose families struggle to burn candles at both ends for them to finish high school, go to college, and more so take a STEM-related course, education is like a race, and scholarships are their game-changer.

It is no secret that pursuing the hard sciences, such as engineering, biotechnology, and aeronautics, is a Filipino dream, and for many, it is a pathway to success and a means to rise from poverty. Filipino parents consider it as a valuable asset for their children, one that has a transformative effect on their current and future lives.

However, many are discouraged from venturing into STEM disciplines for various reasons. After all, pursuing the sciences takes courage, determination, perseverance, and let’s face it, money. This pursuit may be like a marathon to some, where one may have to pour their blood, sweat, and tears just to reach the finish line, hence the reason why many decide to pursue non-STEM careers.

Time has shown us how the cost of learning has immensely increased as expensive textbooks and materials are required for learning, research, and training. And this is where the impact of science scholarships becomes life changing, as they alleviate the burden of the costs of STEM education and provide access to this basic human right.

We, Filipinos, have long seen STEM education as an investment for it is the path towards the empowerment of citizens to improve their lives through gainful employment and entrepreneurship, and to engage in research and technology development thereby contributing to national development.

It is, therefore, no surprise when both the public and private sectors actively participate in granting science scholarships for Filipino learners, as they certainly understand how such programs can be instrumental to the growth and development of our human capital.

One of these local scholarship interventions is the Undergraduate Scholarships Program implemented by the Department of Science and Technology – Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI), which aims to stimulate and entice talented Filipino youths to pursue lifetime productive careers in science and technology (S&T), helping ensure a steady and adequate supply of qualified human resources in S&T.

Under this scholarship intervention are two (2) scholarship categories – the DOST-SEI Merit Scholarship Program and Republic Act No. 7687, also known as the “Science and Technology Scholarship Act of 1994”.

Both scholarships are awarded to talented and deserving students with high aptitude in science and mathematics and willing to pursue priority fields in science and technology. The RA 7687 scholarship, however, is specifically awarded to those who belong to economically disadvantaged families whose annual gross income does not exceed the poverty threshold limit.

This 2024, another batch of examinees bravely took the more than two-hour examination that would determine their chances of getting into any of these programs. These students who aspire to be iskolar ng agham are poised to eventually join the critical pool of S&T workforce of the country, who are expected to contribute to bolstering the country’s thrust for socioeconomic progress and development.

DOST-SEI Officer in Charge Engr. Albert G. Mariño ensured the DOST-SEI’s strict adherence to standard procedures of the exam and stressed how such helps maintain fairness and equality in the granting of scholarships. “Of course, equal opportunities ang palaging policy natin dito. We always make sure that there’s an equal opportunity for everyone. At itong exam na ito gives everyone that equal chance to have that affordance in venturing into STEM,” said Engr. Mariño.

For Sean who wishes to take a STEM-related course at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM), coping financially and getting that degree would be a lot unthinkable, but DOST-SEI has just given him and the rest of the examinees the equal chance to achieve what they think is beyond their reach.

Through the years, the DOST-SEI scholarships have proven to improve the lives of so many Filipino students and make significant changes in our national progress and development. They have made countless great and inspiring stories, which can be the same or entirely different among scholars.

As DOST-SEI Chief of S&T Manpower Education, Research, and Promotions Division Dr. Randolf S. Sasota said, “Marami na tayong mga istoryang nakalap tungkol sa mga pagbabagong ito, syempre kasama lagi ang pamilya. At ang kagandahan dito, nakikinabang din dito ang community at ang society, in general.”

Mr. Peter Gerry Gavina, Chief of DOST-SEI Science and Technology Scholarships Division and a product of the Institute’s scholarship himself, can attest to how the Program has provided the Filipino youth with unparalleled access to science and technology education, empowering them to take active roles in propelling progress and becoming instrumental figures in nation-building. “I encourage the Filipino youth to seize the opportunity to become DOST-SEI scholars and utilize their scientific and technological skills to contribute to the nation’s development,” said Mr. Gavina.

For those who have been given the chance to be part of the DOST-SEI scholarships, this is undoubtedly an opportunity to earn an education not only for bright and promising students, but especially for those who are economically deprived and marginalized.

Not all people can afford to go to colleges and universities that offer comprehensive science education programs, and for many, the DOST-SEI scholarships can be the only option to pursue their dreams. Today, as many Filipinos are driven to attain their science dream, the impact of these scholarships for those who are in need becomes by far an overreaching benefit that produces many more opportunities in the future.

And the story of Sean is only one of the many stories that speak of this very science dream and the struggle that comes with trying to achieve its benefit.

It is what makes that one examination weekend beyond the ordinary as it mirrors the aspirations and value of what the science scholarships mean to Filipinos, and how the DOST-SEI Undergraduate S&T Scholarship Programs ensure that dreams are never impossible to reach, that it is not just about a coin in one’s shoe, but the perseverance that goes with what we hope to achieve.

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