(PNA file photo by Oliver Marquez)

MANILA – Expertise in science and mathematics is a key to economic progress, prompting Senator Sherwin Gatchalian to file a measure that will establish high schools specializing in these subjects in all provinces nationwide.

Gatchalian said Senate Bill No. 476 or the Equitable Access to Math and Science Education Act is aligned with the administration’s directive to strengthen focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in basic education.

“This specialized academic preparation opens doors to critical thinking, financial literacy, and evidence-based decision-making and is highly critical to the improvement of the nation’s economy as it relies on a workforce proficient in math and science,” Gatchalian said in a news release on Monday.

Under the measure, all provinces which do not have at least one public math and science high school shall work with the Department of Education (DepEd) to put up such institutions.

The schools shall implement a six-year integrated junior-senior high school curriculum that focuses on advanced science, mathematics, and technology subjects under the guidance of DepEd and Department of Science and Technology.

Graduates from the math and science high schools shall be required to enroll in fields such as Pure and Applied Sciences, Mathematics, Engineering, technology or any other field deemed appropriate by the Commission on Higher Education.

Gatchalian pointed out that based on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics data, there are only 186 researchers per million inhabitants in the Philippines, one of the lowest among Southeast Asian countries.

Thailand and Malaysia have 963 and 2,054 researchers per million inhabitants, respectively.

He lamented that based on the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment, Filipino learners ranked second to the last in Mathematics and Science from among other learners in 79 countries.

The Philippines also came out last in both Mathematics and Science in the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study out of 58 countries, according to Gatchalian.

In the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics 2019, only 17 percent of Filipino Grade 5 learners met the minimum standards in Mathematics, he added.

“To fulfill our collective goal to be the next Asian tiger economy, we must address these skills shortage through strategic human capital investments focused on the fields of Mathematics and Science,” Gatchalian said. (With a report from Leonel Abasola/PNA)