By Mark Ivan Roblas | Special to the BusinessMirror
It would have been another school day but he was in for a surprise. Fifteen years ago, in the idyllic city of Tuguegarao in the Cagayan Valley, geology graduate-student John Warner Carag did not expect that his eyes would be opened to the vastness of the universe before him. For the first time, since he began schooling, he saw and used a laptop.
“I was around 9 years old then, and I remember being overwhelmed with the technology, having no previous experience operating computers,” he recalled.
Carag then was one of the many student beneficiaries of the Mobile IT Classroom (MITC) bus, a project of the Department of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI) that sought to break the digital divide in the regions by bringing and teaching IT modules to the students.
“The Mobile IT Classroom experience was one of the very few times I saw a laptop computer then. This was the norm for elementary students in a far-flung province in Luzon, where only kids from rich families could afford a PC [personal computer],” he said.
Carag said that for him, his first encounter with a laptop was a disaster, because he did not even get to finish his module but, nonetheless, inspirational.
“It opened me to the idea that there is a lot more that I can learn and experience with the use of a computer. I knew right then and there that there is a vast body of knowledge and services that was waiting for me to discover and consume. At that moment, I decided that I will get my hands on a computer as soon as I can,” he said.
He eventually got admitted to the Philippine Science High School main campus and later on finished a bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of the Philippines Diliman under a DOST scholarship.
Carag currently works as a researcher at UP Diliman, working on the development of climate envelope models for assessing climate-change risk for milkfish aquaculture in coastal ponds under the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Meteorology.
By some twist of fate, Carag would be riding the same bus again—15 years later but, this time, as a facilitator for the Science Explorer, the Philippines’s first and only mobile science learning facility.
The Science Explorer has been using the same MITC bus but in a different way, as it goes beyond learning IT modules and features topics in other fields of science.
Carag remembers the challenges he needed to overcome when he entered familiar grounds but as a different person, a budding scientist in geology.
“I learned a lot of things about teaching, handling a class, and managing the power dynamics between facilitator and students. My first time in teaching at Science Explorer challenged me as a student myself. I could only impart as much as I know,” he said.
Carag handles modules on River Geology, Volcanology and, for the first time, Marine Micropaleontology, which he will run in the upcoming Science Explorer Roadtrip to Davao Occidental from February 20 to 24.
Since its inception in 2009, the Science Explorer has brought to more than 15, 000 elementary pupils and high-school students an exciting and enticing experience in science through fun and interactive science, technology, engineering and mathematics modules, facilitated by budding scientists from their respective fields.
The Science Explorer has traveled to eight regions in the country, as far North as Dumanleg, Ilocos Norte, and last year to Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan)-stricken towns of Samar and Leyte.
Carag said each roadtrip for the Science Explorer is a different experience for him as a facilitator, as he encounters students from different backgrounds.
“My most memorable experience was when I saw how enthusiastic a student was when he zoomed in on the Philippines on Google Earth. There, he saw the rivers, mountains and other topographical structures, which are only seen from that vantage point. I saw he was surprised by what he could see on the laptop. I hope that he shared the same enthusiasm as I did when I realized the immensity that could be known and discovered after the activity on the bus,” he said.
Carag expressed optimism with the youth’s eagerness to learn, especially in the field of science. He said the youth’s openness to learning, unhampered by the prospects of getting a high-paying job, is a fertile land ready to be sown seeds of curiosity and nationalism.
“Young minds are more open to ideas and future careers not so hampered by the thoughts of securing a usual high-paying job. [Many] career options are available to these students. With the additional training, I think module facilitators/developers could be a greater source of inspiration to young students who would rather put their good minds in the pursuit of science to help in nation-building,” he added.
Carag said he dreams of being a well-published geoscientist tackling important environmental research aimed at improving the understanding and popularization of science.
He said for the immediate future, he intends to get a doctorate degree abroad and bring back to the Philippines the research experience he will be getting through a competent research team and a well-equipped laboratory in a research institution in the country.
Carag urged the youth to get into careers in science and be part of the growing community of science professionals in the Philippines. “Be foolish and adventurous! Science is all about reaching for the unknown and discovering new things. Read a book! There is a joy in knowing how things work and come to be. And, of course, consider science as a career path.
“Now, more than ever, the country needs people who are interested in knowing the nitty-gritty of how things work, because they will be essential in answering the most pressing issues and challenges in the country: food security and self-sufficiency, national industrialization, public utilities, scientific and mass culture, and caring for the environment,” he said.
Image credits: SEI