Filipino Youth Collaborate as Volunteers to Teach Science, Math Online for Free

The shift from face-to-face education to online, distance, or remote learning has brought out the best and worst responses in the Philippine education system.

The struggle is real, and adaptation has not been a walk in the park. 

As teachers, in particular, play a vital role to make education possible, just as our healthcare workers serve as frontliners in this battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, young people are also taking initiatives to help other students during these trying times to learn essential competencies in science and mathematics through free online tutorial services—a proof that there is hope among the Filipino youth. 

Joanne Micaela Dizo and Edrian Paul Liao, Grade 12 students of Philippine Science High School – Cagayan Valley Campus (PSHS-CVC), started their advocacy to augment mastery of science and mathematics for high school students in the country.

Calibrated for a bigger audience last December 25 as a Christmas gift to those who need academic assistance, the π-oneers (read as pioneers), as the founders call their group, believe that the limit in generosity, hope, and learning amidst the pandemic surely does not exist.

The Pi Symbol 
The Pi symbol divided into two represents the two major components of our cause: the organization itself (blue) and its fellow constituents (red). It resembles two persons standing side-by-side, which manifests one of the organization’s advocacy, which is to guide and help passionate students towards success.

The Infinity Sign
The infinity sign that binds the two components symbolizes the coherent connection between them. It also manifests the organization’s tagline: “The limit does not exist”. 

The Color Palette
The red, blue and yellow color palette symbolizes the globally competitive organization’s origin that is the Philippines. The dark shade of the color scheme exhibits the organization’s deep devotion to service and strive for excellence in the academe.

With approximately 350 members or what they call ambassadors, the tutors focus on biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

 π-oneers executive committee and core group meet online

The group aims to use this project to offer quality STEM education by providing free aid to high school students who lack the resources and access to quality education.

They intend to offer their services during the pandemic to those who are having difficulties acquiring mastery of science and mathematics competencies as they are still adapting to the new normal mode of learning. 

The group currently has 60 registrants all over the Philippines. They are hoping to increase it to the hundreds after New Year.

Sense of purpose

Liao and Dizo’s interest in teaching other students about math started in August 2019 when they were invited by their seniors at PSHS-Cagayan Valley Campus to join Iskolarium, a Service, Creativity, Action, and Leadership (SCALE) Program that aimed to help their schoolmates in lower year levels. Their good math record, distinction, and experience in competitions opened opportunities for them to share their skills as volunteers.

“At first I was skeptical if I can teach a large audience because back then, I was only used to helping and teaching a few of my friends whenever they have difficulties with math. But I decided to take the risk, as I was trying to be more open to opportunities. I invited Edrian Liao to join me if he can lend some of his time,” said Dizo, who has received various awards by joining the American and Australian Mathematics competitions (2016-2019) and Canadian Senior Mathematics Contest (2019), among others.

Dizo plans to pursue BS Applied Mathematics – Masters of Data Science at Ateneo de Manila University. With Pisay, she said that was able to appreciate science more and found herself enjoying and excelling more in my STEM subjects.

“Since I was young or maybe during my elementary through high school years, I would always answer to my peers whenever they ask for my help even if it means putting aside what I need, Dizo said.

The volunteers chosen as tutors are grouped according to their academic strength and classified into department per subject area.

Liao, on the other hand, confessed that at first he honestly didn’t think of joining peer group tutorial sessions because he knew he didn’t have enough patience to teach students. 

“All these years if you ask my batchmates, I really lack the understanding that some really find Math difficult which is true. For example, when I am teaching a lesson in Trigonometry, I will have to teach them again the lessons prerequisite to the full understanding of that concept, and I have to go over it again. I honestly hated teaching Math to my peers. But everything changed when I joined this SCALE Program headed by our seniors,” said Liao.

According to Dizo, Iskolarium was just a one quarter activity of their seniors, so when it ended, Liao and I talked about starting our own study group focused on contests and helping others to pursue their passion for math. However, the plan was postponed due to the pandemic.

“Edrian reached out to me last May 2020 if I am willing to join him in starting our own tutorial services, π-oneers. At first I thought that I just accepted his invite because I have some free time and why not? But later I realized that what I’m most passionate about is to be able to help anyone in need as far as I can do,” Dizo added.

Liao from Cauayan, Isabela was accepted at Duke University where he plans to study mechanical engineering and pursue a certificate in aerospace engineering and a minor in computer science. A part of the Philippine delegation in the 2019 Sakura Science Exchange Program held in Japan, Liao has won in international math contests in China, Singapore, United States, and Australia and national science competitions, receiving multiple DOST Youth Excellence in Science (YES) Award.

The two began the tutorial services on June 3, 2020. 

They started with just a small group with seven members who wanted to help their schoolmates with their math subjects. Back then, they didn’t have any actual school classes, so it was just something to continue learning amidst the pandemic.

“We decided not to limit our services to the Pisay community and offer our services to anyone from any school and not just offer math subjects. So we re-launched π-oneers on August 22, 2020 with more to offer to a larger crowd,” Dizo said.

When actual school classes started, the number of students attending the tutorials dropped down. Dizo and Liao talked about the causes and what they can do about it. They realized that maybe they were not targeting the right clientele and that they did not apply to themselves the π-oneers motto: “The limit does not exist.”

“What motivated me to pursue this project is my yearning to grow and to be pushed beyond my limits (my comfort zone). And with this project, I am thankful that we were able to help students adjust to the new normal setting in our current education system,” Liao added.

The mathematical components of science make some topics challenging for students. With peer tutorial, certain concepts become easier to understand, especially in online learning.

Dismal reality 

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2019 (TIMSS) revealed on December 8 that the Philippines only scored 297 in mathematics and 249 in science assessment for grade 4, which are “significantly lower” than any of the 58 participating countries.

In mathematics, only 19% of Filipino students were on the Low benchmark, which means that they had “some basic mathematical knowledge,” while 81% did not even reach this level.

The Philippines ranked in the low 70s in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a student assessment of 15-year-old learners across 79 countries done by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  

Filipino students categorized low in mathematics and science, with 353 points and 357 points respectively against a 489 OECD average for both categories.

In a 2019 statement, the Department of Education (DepEd) said the Philippines joined PISA for the first time in 2018 as part of their reform plans on quality basic education. The results of the assessment program, it said, would be used to establish a baseline to global standards and benchmark the effectiveness of succeeding reforms on education.

DepEd said the PISA results, which reflected students’ performance in the National Achievement Test, showed the “urgency of addressing issues and gaps in attaining quality basic education in the Philippines.”

Consequently, DepEd launched the “Sulong Edukalidad” program to implement “aggressive reforms” to improve the country’s quality of basic education. According to the DepEd, it would focus in four key area: the review and updating of the K to 12 program, the improvement of learning facilities, upskilling and reskilling of teachers and school heads, and the engagement of stakeholders, such as parents and guardians of students, for support and collaboration.

Confidence in the Filipino youth

“This initiative [of Dizo and Liao] underscores the Filipino youth’s passion to value education and to serve their age group despite having their own struggles in remote learning,” said Lilia T. Habacon, Executive Director of the PSHS System.

Habacon explained that by focusing on tutoring others to understand their STEM lessons, π-oneers assist their fellow critical thinkers, increase science literacy, and enable the next generation of innovators to work together in small yet significant ways that can create a ripple effect.

“It must be understood that it is never too late to help Filipino students develop a sense of community that aspires to emphasize the significance of STEM in education. Through free tutorial services, the volunteers promote collaborative learning that has been shown to not only develop higher-level thinking skills in students but also boost their confidence and self-esteem as well,” Habacon added.

The Philippines needs to take serious and urgent actions to improve its education system. Results of national and international assessments speak a loud voice on the competence and skills of Filipino learners.

Judicious reforms based on empirical data must be prioritized. Collaboration among concerned government agencies and the private sectors shall take effect towards informed policy discussions and creation at the national level.

“We must remember that to value education means we have to welcome alternative methods to learn and grow from each other. As a nation, we must guide and train young people to respond to issues within their sphere of influence. We must develop mindfulness and grit among young Filipinos to be leaders of positive change. All these shall begin when we support them to take actions without prejudice to accountability and genuine service,” Habacon said.

Under the new normal in education, students will need all the support they can get to learn their lessons. This is something they should not be denied.

With or without the pressure of getting high scores in international assessments or getting passing to superior grades, students must value love for learning, acquisition of skills, and refinement of character. This is where their innate and infinite power to achieve their dreams and inflict positive social change emanates.

About the Author

Aries Oliveros has written textbooks on grammar and creative nonfiction and is currently an executive assistant at the Office of the Executive Director of the Philippine Science High School System – Office of the Executive Director.

He was formerly Chief of the Curriculum and Instruction Division and adviser of the school paper The Central Scholar. He studied Bachelor of Secondary Education, Major in English at Philippine Normal University, Manila.

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