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Philippines Pilot School Programme Promotes Nuclear Science and Technology Education

17 October 2018
How much will these children from the Eastern Philippines know about nuclear science and technology when they graduate from high school? 
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Quite a bit – according to new plans by the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology and the country's Department of Education, who are working on rolling out a nuclear science and technology education programme that has been piloted in selected schools in the capital region. 
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The teaching material and its lesson exemplars were developed as part of an IAEA technical cooperation project involving several countries across Asia. 
Hands up all who know about the benefits of radiation. These Grade 9 students at the San Francisco High School in Quezon City are part of a pilot project, learning about the benefits of radiation and the importance of its safe use. 
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The pilot phase involved over 1,300 teachers and 24,000 students in five countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, as well as the Philippines.
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"I hope that as a result of this initiative, the negative stigma often associated with nuclear science and technology will be overcome in the new generation," said Micah Pacheco, regional science supervisor with the Department of Education in the national capital region.
Following a review of some of the beneficial uses of radiation, Grade 9 science teacher Acza Jaimee Kalaw is asking the students to work in groups and identify the "good" and "bad" effects of radiation.
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Radiation safety is at the core of the curriculum – students learn about radiation protection for workers, patients and the environment. 
The students, working in groups, are reviewing articles on the many peaceful uses of nuclear technology in energy, agriculture, health care and industry.
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The activities and resources captured in the compendium are designed to generate enthusiasm in the nuclear field, making the subject approachable and fun.
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"We need to find the next generation of nuclear scientists, but unless students know this science exists, they won't find any information," said Gemima Estrabillo, a science supervisor from the region north of Manila. 
The board fills up by the end of the class, with both the benefits of radiation and the dangers of its unsafe use listed.
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"You can control insect populations and identify the right amount of water rice plants need – this is quite amazing," said a Grade 9 student, when the teacher asked which were the most surprising uses of radiation they had learned.
Grade niner Allyza Martina Sanchez recounts her own experience with radiation: a recent medical procedure. This allows her teacher to introduce the importance of patient safety into the discussion.
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Said Allyza: "I am very interested in studying science and enjoy learning about radiation. I want to be a lawyer when I grow up – and having a solid understanding of science will help in my work, particularly when it comes to litigation." 
In higher grades, students get to conduct experiments related to nuclear science. These Grade 10 students are building a small cloud chamber to see the effects of radiation. 
In a cloud chamber, originally developed in the early 1900s, an alpha or beta particle interacts with water vapour in a sealed environment. It knocks electrons off the gas molecules, creating a trail of ionized gas particles, around which the water vapour condenses. These condensation droplets are visible as a "cloud" with unique shapes.These Grade 12 students, who have chosen higher level science, are measuring the impact of distance from a source on the level of radiation.In this simple experiment Grade 12 students simulate the half-life of radioactive substances: after tossing 100 coins, they separate the heads ("radioactive") from the tails ("no longer radioactive") and measure the time it takes them to perform the separation. They then toss the heads again, and again, until they have only one or no coins left.
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"The curriculum from the IAEA includes many ideas like this which are inexpensive to implement," said Ms Pacheco, the regional science supervisor who was part of the team that spearheaded the implementation of the pilot.And what is the impact? These Grade 10 students are considering taking higher level courses in science, as part of a project to encourage girls to study maths and sciences. Many of the girls have said that the knowledge they have acquired on radiation and nuclear science has poked their interest in science. 
For the project to scale and reach millions of students, the first step is to educate teachers and education policymakers. Here the Department of Education's regional and divisional science supervisors, heads of science at the Philippine Science High School System and campus directors from across the Philippines are conducting the Grade 12 cloud chamber experiment at a forum organized by PNRI. The Institute is working with the Ministry of Education to integrate lessons on radiation and the basics of nuclear science in high schools across the country. 
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"Our goal is to get this project into as many schools of the country as possible within two to three years," said Nydia C. Medina, Head of the International Cooperation Section at PNRI.The initiative is already helping the new generation make more informed decisions about nuclear science and its use, including the possible re-launch of the Philippines' nuclear programme, halted in the late 1980s. 
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"I have grown up in a family that was firmly against nuclear power, but now I see that that view is based on misconceptions and lack of information," said Sofia Isabel Baja, a Grade 12 student at the Quezon City Science High School, which also participated in the pilot project. "Without these classes it would not have occurred to me to question what I heard from my parents in this area."Photos taken and interviews conducted on 14-16 August, 2018 in Quezon City, Manila and Tacloban City, the Philippines.
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<strong>Text:</strong> Miklos Gaspar/IAEA
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<strong>Photos:</strong> <br />
1, 2, 4-8, 10-11: M. Gaspar/IAEA<br />
3, 9, 12-13: Joan L. Tugo/PNRI

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