Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘history’

Green Plants and Philippine Education

Posted by butalidnl on 2 December 2011

A teacher I once had said that you can conclude a lot about the education system of a country by asking an 8-year-old child: “Why are plants green?”. Ask a Filipino 8-year-old (according to my teacher), and the answer will be something like: “God made it so.”, or “the angels work to make it green”. Ask a Japanese 8-year-old, and you will get a story that involves photosynthesis and chlorophyll.

It has been some time since I have been in school, but I think the Philippine education system is very much in the same place as it was in my time. Filipinos are generally taught creationism (in effect) first, and then science later.

A niece of mine was enrolled in an ‘exclusive’ Catholic school. When she was about Grade 5, she recited to me how photosynthesis works. It was straight out of the book, word for word. I wonder how much she really understood of the concept then.

How Photosynthesis Works
I don’t think many students in the Philippines go further than: “plants are green because they contain chlorophyll, and chlorophyll is green. ” If you really think about it, this is only a marginally better answer than “God made them green”. The “plants have chlorophyll” story sounds scientific, but it isn’t, really. A real scientific explanation should go into WHY chlorophyll is green.

The explanation of why chlorophyll is green could be done in various scientific levels. Let’s start with the first one: chlorophyll is actually a family of compounds which absorb light to produce energy. Chlorophyll A & B, the most common forms, absorb red and blue light, and not green. Thus, light reflected from leaves look green. In the Philippines, I think only BS Biology students could tell you that.

Of course, the story goes deeper. [second level] When sunlight hits chlorophyll, it emits an electron, which goes to make Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP) into Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the body’s ‘small change’ for energy. Elsewhere in the plant, ATP is used to make carbohydrates from water and carbon dioxide.  I suspect that BS Biology students don’t even get this far.

[There would even be another level of explanations which explain why the specific structure of the various chlorophyll variants absorb light at certain frequencies and not others, and the mechanism of how ADP becomes ATP, and how ATP is used to make carbohydrates. But this is too deep for our current purpose.]

Back to the first scientific level. Chlorophyll is actually a very inefficient way of turning light into energy. [and that is why plants only transform 1% of sunlight into plant material, thus ‘wasting’ 99%] Chlorophyll reflects green which is potentially a very good wavelength to get sunlight, which has a lot of waves (or photons) around the green part of the spectrum. Chlorophyll is actually one proof that life did not come about as the result of a ‘creator’ or ‘intelligent design’. An intelligent designer would have made plants absorb more light (instead of wasting 99% of it), making them black so that it would absorb all light. If green chlorophyll just so happened to have arisen by mutation, further mutations would just improve on it, instead of making a whole new and more efficient molecule. So, the imperfect (you may say defective) nature of chlorophyll shows that it is not the product of an ‘intelligent designer’.

Leaves become brown when the plant withdraws Magnesium from chlorophyll, turning it into a transparent substance. As a result, the leaf then would reflect red and blue, resulting in brown.

How Students Are Taught
The fact that Filipino students learn that” plants are green, because they have chlorophyll” (which is good for 8 year-olds, but not for university students) shows us how science is taught in the Philippines. Science is taught by getting students to memorize things, instead of getting them to understand processes.

Biology is a tedious subject, where students have to memorize a lot of things. They have to remember how plants and animals are classified, that sort of thing. This makes the whole subject quite boring and daunting. Instead, biology could go into the WHY and HOW species actually develop. And look at things like: polar bears adapting to climate change by mating with brown bears; primitive whales  surviving by swimming in the cold water near the north and south poles and out of reach of huge sharks (in the past, sharks were much bigger than they are today). Biology could be such an interesting subject. And this is the case for more subjects.

History could become interesting, if only it is taught like a series of adventure stories. Imagine the story of Magellan: the various intrigues in the Spanish Court and during their journey; the politics of Humabon and how Lapulapu outsmarted Magellan, and why Humabon was forced to massacre the Spanish; how Magellan’s slave Trapobana (Enrique) was the first man to circumnavigate the world, etc. It could be interesting; but instead, teachers have reduced it to a series of dates and names, in other words – to a boring lesson. Even Yoyoy Villame did it better than the schools, with his song ‘Magellan’ that we can easily remember.

Everybody who says that history is a boring subject, is just saying that they had unimaginative history teachers. When I was in the 3rd year high school, I had a teacher who made history into a set of stories; and I have been interested in history ever since.

Philippine education could be improved a lot by changing the way subjects are taught. While memorization cannot be totally avoided; they will then be in addition to the interesting stories behind them. And researches show that if a concept is made interesting, it is more easily remembered.

But instead of improving the quality of education, the government is now busy with the K12 program, which aims to increase the quantity of education. The plan is to add two more years of monotonous, boring lessons for the poor students, without offering a way to raise their intellectual level. I think that unless education is made more interesting, analytic, up-to-date, adding two years to it may do more harm than good.

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