Friday, June 29, 2007

About Pisay (or PSHS)

[Photo Caption: Group picture of PSHS Class of 1977 during its silver jubilee homecoming in September 2002]

"Pisay" is the term coined by newer batches and it refers to Philippines Science High School ( ) or PSHS. This school started in 1969 as a single campus in Quezon City. As of this year (2007) PSHS is already a system of 9 campuses in different regions of the Philippines.

I belong to PSHS Class of 1977 (the 10th batch) of PSHS Diliman, the main campus. We have a
batch e-group ( ). I am one of its moderators. We started from 150 students in 1973 but only 125 graduated in 1977. One of my batchmates, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, or Iye as we call her, has a regular column at ABS-CBN's online newspaper (

When I was a student at Pisay (or PSHS) I never thought that I would be the director (or principal) of the school someday. Well, I became it's director in 2002 to 2004. (More on this in another article.)

Below is Iye's provocative article about Pisay, which I am reproducing here in this BLOG:

“Balancing equity and excellence”



(Source: )

How to correct this accumulated discriminatory situation where students from lower class backgrounds are unable to compete on equal footing with higher-income students who can afford to pay for a good private school education is a classic dilemma between equity and excellence faced by our state universities and special public high schools.

What are the chances a grade six public school pupil will make it to Philippine Science High School (PSHS)?

Very slim. According to Dr. Jessamyn Yazon, OIC Director of the PSHS main campus in Diliman, in her mail to our PSHS Batch ‘77 e-group: “The faculty and administration of PSHS are quite disheartened with the low number of public school entrants. Just like UP [University of the Philippines], our parking space on campus is now filled up with fancy cars and vans as more and more students from well-to-do families are admitted to PSHS . Last year, we only had 30 out of 240 students coming in from the public schools.”

We are told that six or seven of the eight regional science high schools that have been created as part of the PSHS system are also showing the same trend.

How to correct this accumulated discriminatory situation where students from lower class backgrounds are unable to compete on equal footing with higher-income students who can afford to pay for a good private school education is a classic dilemma between equity and excellence faced by our state universities and special public high schools.

On the one hand, schools like PSHS and UP are intended to provide good subsidized education only for the best. It is an acceptable elitist policy that privileges through the allocation of taxpayers’ money those who show merit. The aim is to reward and nurture excellence on the assumption that the beneficiaries will pay back to the government and the people the investment in the form of services and prestige to the country.

At the same time, the question of who has been benefiting from this privilege is equally relevant, if not in fact disturbing. (We use the term privilege because under international human rights standards, the basic obligation of the state is at the primary education level only. However, the state should support primary to tertiary, public and private, sectarian and non-sectarian education through other means like tax exemption privileges, subsidies and scholarships but not necessarily through free education all the way up.)

While excellence is the goal, the question of equity cannot be brushed aside. When state institutions predominantly benefit better-off families and more prosperous cities and provinces, discrimination becomes institutionalized and social and spatial disparities are perpetuated.

Reverse discrimination becomes necessary. We see this reverse discrimination in quota systems implemented in state schools. In Malaysia, for example, university slots are allocated based on race. Higher quotas are reserved for the historically disadvantaged ethnic Malays, and less for the descendants of the Chinese and Indian settler population. I remember one Malaysian professor saying that if not for this policy, he would still be husking coconuts to this day, just like his forebears.

In the US, reverse discrimination comes in the form of slots for women and blacks in universities in order to undo generations of male and Anglo-Saxon domination of tertiary schools and professions.

Reverse discrimination is also more positively and perhaps less confusingly called affirmative action.

The PSHS and UP have been compelled to take affirmative action because of the alarming threat of becoming schools of the rich, a situation that is best parodied in the lack of parking space faced by their prime campuses. It is also a situation that puts school officials on the defensive every time they face Congress to ask for bigger budgets, or when pressured by House members to put up more campuses to serve disadvantaged areas even without assured sources of funds.

UP’s affirmative action comes in the form of the “palugit,“ some kind of bonus points for students coming from public schools and the provinces to enhance their chances of getting accepted at UP. The institution of a socialized tuition fee system where those with higher incomes pay more and those falling under certain income brackets are given full or partial tuition fee discounts and book and living allowances is supposed to even out social disparities among students who eventually get in. This year’s increase in tuition fee by 300 percent is justified by the capacity of most students to pay anyway. Affirmative action is supposedly further served by an increase in the allowances of poorer students, since past rates were unbearably low.

Since its creation in 1964, PSHS has also been implementing different measures to enhance the chances of the socially disadvantaged. For one, the main campus has increased the number of students it takes in to 240 (only 120 or so during our time). At one point, it introduced a quota system based on provinces to ensure a better national representation.

The PSHS campus in Diliman has reverted to the 240 top scorers since the other campuses are now servicing the provinces. The downside is that this campus has become the domain of the higher-income/better-schools regions of Metro Manila, Rizal and Central Luzon.

More recently, one other step was taken to increase the intake from public schools.

For different reasons, a good number of passers at UP and PSHS choose not to enroll. In the case of UP, since the palugit is already built into the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT) score, those in the waiting list, ranked according to scores, are simply taken in.

For its part, the PSHS prioritizes public school graduates in filling up the no-show slots, especially if the no-show rate is high. Those from the public schools are prioritized provided they meet the cut-off scores for the math and science portions of the exam. This is also to ensure that they have the basic capability to excel in the fields emphasized by the school.

Because of this, Jessamyn happily tells us, about 65 public school graduates are joining the school this year.

Although disadvantaged by less exposure to state-of-the-art resources, poor nutrition, and financially tight family circumstances, these 65 or so promising young fresh persons now have a chance to hone their capability for excellence and to prove that excellence and equity measures can go hand in hand.

1 comment:

Nikki said...

But isn't there a deeper problem in this issue?

That only the well-off and *gasp* the rich from Metro Manila and Central /Southern Luzon dominate the entrance exams implies that students coming from provincial public schools are not getting adequate support from their schools!

I think this simply reveals the deteriorating quality of public elementary education in our country!