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Do the math: Why Filipino students don’t fit the Asian stereotype


COLUMBIA, Missouri—I know how to use chopsticks. I eat lots of rice. Still, I don’t exactly fit the stereotype of an Asian graduate student in an American university.

I don’t like noodles. And I don’t possess mind-blowing skills with numbers.

Though Asians are often stereotyped as natural number crunchers, Filipino students seem to be trailing their Asian counterparts in Mathematics and Science.

I guess you can count me among those who lag behind.

A global survey ranks the Philippines 115th out of 142 countries in perceived quality of Math and Science education. Our tiny neighbor Singapore tops the list.

These results are based on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report for 2011-2012, which ranks Taiwan, 5th; Hong Kong, 11th; and South Korea, 12th.

The survey asked business executives around the world to rate the quality of education, among other things, in their respective countries.

I am no longer surprised that a Korean student is admitted every year in my doctoral program at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Aside from other qualifications, Koreans are usually known for their skills in statistics, an important competency in quantitative media research, which is what we usually do in my program.

Master statisticians

In academic conferences, I always come across Asian researchers presenting studies that use advanced statistical analyses, such as structural equation modeling (SEM).

I understand these numbers now. I also know how to run most of these quantitative tests. I am getting solid training in quantitative research here at my university.

But the process wasn’t easy for me (even if my parents and my younger brother are all engineers).

I had to reread quantitative analysis textbooks, ask my professors and classmates for help several times and, when everything else failed, watch helpful YouTube videos on how to use statistics software.

But for my other Asian colleagues, working with numbers seems to come naturally.

The same global survey ranks Malaysia 23rd, Japan 24th, Brunei 25th, and China 31st in perceived quality of Math and Science education.

Our neighbors Indonesia (53rd), Vietnam (59th), Thailand (60th), and Cambodia (97th), as well as Bangladesh (106th) in the Indian subcontinent, also outrank us in the WEF survey.

This means our own business managers in the Philippines, who offer jobs to our graduates, are not impressed by our Math and Science teaching.

The fact is we cannot avoid numbers.

Some students take journalism in college, thinking they can escape Math. They are wrong.

As journalists, when we report on crime statistics, trends in business or even results of opinion polls, we deal with numbers.

Of course, Filipino students have the advantage of a good command of English.

Learning, however, is not—and should not be—a zero-sum game.

We can make our students proficient in English while also improving their Math and Science skills and scores.

As I am discovering in my own doctoral studies, learning about numbers is useful, important and fun.

The author is a Fulbright scholar and a Ph.D. student at the Missouri School of Journalism. His research is focused on the sociology of message construction, including that of news and social media messages. He uses both qualitative and quantitative approaches in his research.

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Tags: Asian , education , Filipino , Migration , US

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