Forum on Education of The American Physical Society
Spring 2006 Newsletter



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A Physics Teacher Education Program in the Philippines

Ed van den Berg[1]
AMSTEL Institute
University of Amsterdam

Jocelyn Locay-locay, Marilou Gallos
University of San Carlos
Cebu City, Philippines


Many high-income countries experience great difficulty in attracting talented young people into physics teacher education (e.g. Smithers & Robinson, 2005). The USA and Canada even recruit science teachers in the Philippines which itself experiences a serious shortage of qualified and competent physics teachers. How can one develop an exemplary physics teacher education program and attract a critical mass of students? The Philippine program described below increased its enrollment from 1 to 30 students per year and provides some answers to this question.

The Philippines is an island archipelago with 84 million inhabitants in SE Asia. It was a Spanish colony for about 350 years and then an American colony until 1946. The US established an education system for all, which was functioning quite well at the time of independence (1946) but has declined in quality since (Philippine Congress, 1993; TIMSS, 1999).

The Philippine High School covers grades 7 - 10. The science curriculum consists of General Science (mostly Earth Science plus some Physics) in grade 7, Biology in grade 8, Chemistry in grade 9, and Physics in grade 10. Higher Education starts after grade 10 instead of grade 12. Nationwide only 8% of the Physics teachers majored in Physics and about 20% of the Chemistry teachers majored in Chemistry. The other Physics and Chemistry teachers majored in subjects such as Mathematics, English, Social Science and Physical Education, and are forced to teach Physics or Chemistry. Even General Science teachers are often poorly prepared to teach Physics, as non-physicists often teach college level physics. As a result much High School physics teaching is superficial, memory oriented, frequently erroneous, ineffective and boring (Berg et al, 1998; Somerset et al, 1999).

Few universities offer a major in Physics or Chemistry teacher education because they lack laboratory facilities and qualified instructors. Most universities, which do have teacher education courses, have enrollments in the single digits. Thus Physics pre-service students enroll in whichever physics courses are offered (usually engineering physics) and then take teaching methods courses together with students of other subjects such as English, Social Studies, and Mathematics.

Through a cooperation program with the Free University (Amsterdam), financed by the Netherlands' Government, The University of San Carlos (USC, Cebu City, Philippines) invested in science teacher education. A deliberate choice was made to focus on pre-service teacher education and on recruiting a critical mass of 30 students per year. World-wide experience shows that several weeks of in-service teacher education does not lead to major improvements in teaching, particularly if the main problem of teachers is weak subject matter knowledge. Science concepts take years to develop, just like trees. The key issues identified in developing viable pre-service programs were: a) promotion and recruitment of students; b) the development of special science courses for prospective teachers; c) the development of science education courses which are subject specific; and d) support graduates in their first years of teaching and professional development.

Promotion and recruitment

The first step in producing better teachers is to attract top students for pre-service program. Every year we run a massive promotion campaign. Lecturers visits High Schools with a show of Physics and Chemistry experiments. Philippine students take great interest in the shows and it is easy to maintain attention of 100 - 200 students. Schools near the university are invited to semi-annual science exhibitions put on by pre-service students. The shows and the exhibitions do stimulate student interest and many take the selection test (500 - 800 annually). Only 10% pass and are interviewed. Of these, about half enroll making for an annual admission of about 30 students. The typical enrollment before the project was about 1 student per year.

Many students initially want to become engineers, lawyers or accountants, not teachers. They enter the program because of the scholarships and the possibility to go to the best university in the province rather than a 2nd or 3rd rate one. Through the block sections in Physics and Physics Education courses, the group atmospheres, and the inspiring dedication of lecturers, most students eventually commit themselves to a teaching career.

Science courses: Making science and mathematics interesting

Once you have top students, you have to keep them by offering an attractive program. This matches neatly with our first priority for improving Philippine science and mathematics teaching: to make lessons more interesting.

Seventy percent of the Physics and Chemistry teachers in our region are teaching more than one subject, so we opted for a Physics-Chemistry and a Physics-Mathematics teacher education program. The Physics is offered in one block section for the two programs together, while Chemistry and Mathematics are taken together with the BSc in these respective subjects so that class size is still about 30. An added advantage of the teacher education double science major is that the total number of required credits in science courses remains below a BSc program such as BSc Physics, so prospective teachers cannot apply for industry jobs. Many science experts will consider this a "questionable" advantage, however we developed a Masters program for the alumni that includes more physics content (see below).

Science teacher education students will teach the way they were taught in science courses, not how they were told to teach in science methods courses. That is why the science courses are more crucial as teacher preparation than the methods courses: the science courses should be exemplary for the future teachers. They should have a stronger conceptual emphasis (McDermott, 1990). All science courses try to model teaching methods, which are possible and interesting, yet currently unusual, in the crowded and resource-poor Philippine High Schools. This has necessitated extensive redesigning of existing courses and in-class coaching of lecturers through team teaching.

The program starts with one semester of physics based on Hewitt's Conceptual Physics (1998) and in the spirit of that book presents many everyday examples of physics, exciting demonstrations, activities, and lots of reasoning. Students find it interesting and frequently read chapters other than the ones being taught. Laboratory work and theory are integrated in 1st and 2nd semester. In the second and third semester an Algebra-based Physics text is used but we frequently use questions and readings from Conceptual Physics as well. In the fourth semester we switch to calculus based University Physics of Freedman and Young (1996). All these books are available in low-priced Philippine black & white editions. Although simple experiments with everyday objects are much emphasized, students also learn to work with modern science equipment and computer-based experiments. The Departments of Chemistry and Mathematics assign their best lecturers to the program and offer varied courses as well. Throughout exciting demonstrations, non-cookbook laboratory activities, and small research projects keep students stimulated and interested. Most science courses emphasize linking of science concepts with everyday phenomena. Instead of an abstract and deductive introduction of concepts, many lecturers try (and were trained) to introduce new concepts inductively through experiments, demonstrations, examples, and visualizations.

Pedagogical content knowledge, the heart of the matter

A series of four courses taught by Physics and Chemistry faculty provides a subject-specific introduction to teaching Science. A first course emphasizes interactive presentations and demonstrations and culminates in a small exhibition of science experiments to train demonstration and explanation skills. A second course focuses on selection and preparation of lesson materials, includes a first school teaching experience, and culminates in a large exhibition and science show. The first batch of students initiated a science theater tradition. Since then students in this course write and perform a play as well with a plot that involves many science experiments. The enthusiastic reactions of audiences reinforce the motivation of the prospective teachers. A third course is on Alternative Conceptions in Physics and Remediation and focuses on typical learning problems in the different branches of physics including diagnostic assessment and teacher feedback. The fourth course is on Assessment in Science, which amongst others provides an opportunity to revisit the nasty scientific details in school science. Throughout emphasis is on teaching methods, which are realistic in Philippine High Schools: 50 - 70 students per class, heat, noise, and lack of textbooks and of laboratory equipment. This means interactive plenary demonstrations (Liem, 1987) combined with individual and small group work during the lessons rather than lecturing and dictation, which are so common (Berg et al, 1998). In these 4 courses physics gets a lot more attention than chemistry and mathematics. Therefore there is still a specialized Chemistry Education course (for PC majors) and two Mathematics Education courses (for PM majors). In the final year there is one semester of full-time student teaching split in two 8-week periods, each at a different schools In spite of model lessons in their science courses and emphasis on interactive and creative subject-specific methods, many students initially revert to the boring and ineffective teaching they experienced in their own high school before. Through intensive guidance from their university supervisors (science lecturers) students improve and develop quickly.

Placement and aftercare

All graduates are required to teach for at least 4 years in Philippine schools. During that time they cannot obtain a passport. Our Dean works closely with the Regional Education Office and with public and private schools in order to place students in High Schools and if possible in pairs so they can assist each other during the difficult first years of teaching. Our first batch established a good name and since then alumni have been much in demand.

The most critical period for the development of teachers' classroom practice is the first two years after graduation (Eraut, 2000) when they learn classroom management skills and gain mastery of the basics of teaching. We try to support them through occasional alumni meetings and extensive networking between alumni. Only after the first years can new teachers start applying the varied teaching strategies and skills they learned in their pre-service program. However, many may tend to adopt the more traditional teaching practices of senior colleagues, and assume that the new methodologies, which did not work for them in the first year of teaching, will never work. Therefore within two years, new teachers might benefit from a professional development program. A concrete method of sustaining long-term professional development in a private university is through a Masters program where expenses are covered by tuition. There was a Masters program but it suffered from poor quality control. The Masters program was revamped, better tailored to the needs of teachers, and designed to include a no-thesis option. Enrollment immediately increased. In 2004 about 40 of the then 139 alumni were enrolled. Many alumni are eager to advance their credentials before starting families. The science component of the Masters program requires a BSc or beyond level in several courses.

Support and faculty development

The following forms of outside support have been received during the development of the program: The Philippine Department of Science and Technology (DOST) donated science equipment, student scholarships, and faculty scholarships. The Philippine Commission on Higher Education has provided student scholarships. The University of San Carlos provided a new building and laboratories. The Dutch Government through the Free University provided funds for equipment and facilities, a long-term consultant (6 years for physics education and 2 years for mathematics education), short-term consultants, and short courses for faculty.

Faculty development in the project was focused on gaining knowledge of typical Philippine classroom conditions, on developing pedagogic content knowledge, and on coaching lecturers to improve teaching. This was accomplished through Masters and PhD studies with research closely linked to the development of courses and teaching strategies for the science courses for teacher education, through team teaching in physics and physics education courses, and through joint course development. One Physics lecturer trained for 6 months with Fred Goldberg in San Diego and then implemented a Constructing Physics Understanding optics unit with extensive monitoring of conceptual development of individual students (Rosaroso & Berg, 2003). Teacher education students vividly remembered the intensive reasoning about concepts two years after the experience.

Copying the Experience

The promotion and recruitment campaigns would do well in low-income countries as for many students the scholarship is the only way of continuing their studies. In high-income countries it may not work, as there are many other ways of getting into more attractive and high status studies. However, just like in the Philippines, high-income countries have to invest heavily in promotion and recruitment and once a program is running, its students can take part in this. The important message is that one should strive for a critical number (20 - 30 per year) of students and thus concentrate physics teacher education programs at only a few universities per country. In that way one can create the needed special physics and physics education courses. Alternatively different institutions with small numbers of physics teacher education students could cooperate and organize a joint intensive summer program which emphasizes physics pedagogy and teaching ideas. A large investment in one program is better than spreading investment over many programs with sub-critical mass. In the US one might want to focus recruitment on freshmen and sophomores rather than on High School students.


Berg, E van den., Alfafara, R., & Dalman, T. (1998). Case studies of science and mathematics teaching in the Philippines and lessons for teacher and school development. Paper presented at the annual conference of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching, San Diego, USA.

Congressional Commission on Education. (1993). Making Education Work: An Agenda for Reform. Congress of the Republic of the Philippines. Quezon City, Philippines.

Eraut, M. (2000). Teacher education designed or framed. International Journal of Educational Research, 557-574.

Hewitt, P.G. (1998). Conceptual Physics 8th edition, Addison-Wesley.

Liem, T.K. (1987). Invitations to Science Inquiry 2nd edition. Chino Hills (CA): Science Inquiry Enterprises.

McDermott, L.C. (1990). A perspective on teacher preparation in physics and other sciences; The need for special science courses for teachers. American Journal of Physics, 58(8), 734-742.

Rosaroso, N., Berg, E. van den (2003). The evolution of Philippine student conceptions of the formation of shadows and images.

Smithers, A., Robinson, P. (2005). PHYSICS IN SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES Teacher Deployment and Student Outcomes. Research University of Buckingham: Centre for Education and Employment . Carmichael Press University of Buckingham Buckingham MK18 1EG UK.

Somerset, A.H., Alfafara, R. & Dalman, T. (1999b). Teaching and Learning Science and Mathematics in the Classroom: Effective and Ineffective Pedagogy Compared. Cebu City: SMEI-USC, Talamban Campus.

Third International Mathematics and Science Study (1999). International Study Center, Boston College.

Young, H.D., Freedman, R.A. (1996). University Physics 9th edition. Addison-Wesley.

[1] From 1996 - 2002 the first author was based at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, Philippines, sponsored by the Free University, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

[2] Extensive documentation on project, program, and courses exists and is available from the authors.



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