Pinoy young math wizards beat the odds

Frtizie Rodriguez

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Metrobank Foundation's Math Challenge brings together math whiz kids whose love for numbers is beating the odds in our education system

FOR THE LOVE OF MATH. With only a minute left, these math wizards are mentally calculating complex equations. Photo by Fritz Rodriguez

MANILA, Philippines – 55 students from all over the nation recently came together for a day of crunching numbers while racing against the clock.

While many might already be on a summer holiday, lazily basking on beaches, these students were awing a crowd through their fast and deadly sharp math skills.

This year marks the 11th Metrobank Foundation Inc, Math Teachers Association of the Philippines (MTAP), and Department of Education (DepEd) Math Challenge or MMC, a competition that aims to recognize the mathematical prowess of the Filipino youth. The national finals were a melting pot of the brightest 4th year high school and Grade 6 students.

It’s inspiring to see young students competing, excelling, and actively building enthusiasm around mathematics despite the deteriorating status of math and science education in the country.

Their love for numbers is beating the odds in our education system.

Dismaying test results

A United Nations Development Program report says that results of the yearly-administered National Achievement Test (NAT) are quite dismaying.

In 2006 only 25.3%, or only about one-fourth of schools nationwide, were able to reach the desired 75% cut-off score in mathematics. In science, it was even more disappointing at 8.6%. The mean percentage score in math was only 44%.

NAT scores below 50% indicate a low mastery of the subject. In 2011 the Department of Education (DepEd) admitted that two-thirds of high schools fared poorly in the test.

In the global arena, the Philippines ranked 41st in science and 42nd in math among 45 countries in the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), an international assessment of math and science skills among primary and secondary school students conducted every 4 years.

The Philippines has not improved its ranking since 1999 and did not participate in the 2007 and 2011 TIMSS. This stagnation shows that the Philippine education system is in dire need of improvement.

What’s being done

Education Assistant Secretary Elena Ruiz said that DepEd is trying to do its part. “The K to 12 curriculum in mathematics has been designed to address the gaps in mathematics.”

She added that the declining status of math education is mostly attributed to the students’ attitudes towards math. “They are scared of mathematics and some teachers may have contributed to furthering that attitude.”

For her, teachers must be instrumental in making students appreciate mathematics. To achieve this, DepEd is sponsoring and sending math teachers to schools like Ateneo and the University of Sto Tomas for further training.

Not enough for too many

Various activist groups such as Akbayan still criticize the government’s K12 program, claiming that the additional 2 years will not solve the shortages and declining quality of basic education. Akbayan – along with parents – argues that the government’s budget is incapable of sustaining K12 and will only burden families financially.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) said that the deteriorating quality of education in the Philippines may be attributed to “underinvestment in education.”

This resulted in shortages of crucial educational resources such as teachers, textbooks, and classrooms. Unesco reported that textbook shortages reached 41.32 million books in 2006, which led to 2 or more students sharing a single textbook. And as the country’s population continues to explode, such shortages may also further increase in the next years.

It is common to find a small elementary or high school classroom packed with almost 60 students but with only 1 teacher. Overworked but underpaid, a great number of Filipino teachers have already left the country in pursuit of greener pastures abroad. Meanwhile the average student-teacher ratio in other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia stands at only 20:1.

Budget issues?

DepEd’s Ruiz stressed that the country’s budget constraints did not contribute to the dwindling status of math education. “You don’t need much budget to teach mathematic concepts. Even if you don’t have textbooks.”

Math, she said, should be regarded as a way of life. “There is no need for instructional material; what you only need is motivation, inspiration from the teachers, and making the classroom a very good laboratory for learning.”

On the contrary, MTAP board member Raymond San Juan admitted that the education budget is still problematic. This is especially felt in the more remote parts of the country.

San Juan said that little money is spent per Filipino student. “I’m not a scholar or an authority, but I’m a teacher, so I know from experience.” But he believes that despite the financial constraints, teachers can still find a way to effectively educate students.

MTAP conducts trainings for math teachers and students; it also aims to reduce dropout rates through scholarships and alternative modes of teaching such as the use of the Internet to maximize learning opportunities.

Not all schools, however, have access to such technologies, which brings us back to the issue of a problematic education budget.

Although the 2012 education budget is 15.2% higher than last year, the Philippines is still behind other nations in prioritizing education. Based on a 2008 Word Bank report, only around 2.8% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) went to education. This is only about half the 6% of GDP recommended by the UN.

Last year’s World Economic Forum said that despite the Philippines’ high enrollment rate, the quality of primary education is still of low quality.

Education, according to Unesco, shall be seen as a “key economic resource” which can become renewable and self-generating – but only if given sufficient attention and funding. Otherwise a country’s knowledge and economy may both suffer.

WINNER. Math champion Russelle Guadalupe is a crowd favorite. He gets a perfect score in the 1st round of the competition and eventually wins the national finals. Photo by Fritz Rodriguez

‘Be interested in math’

This year’s MMC champion, Russelle H Guadalupe, a 4th year student from Valenzuela City Science High School, advised his fellow students to never ignore math as it is an integral part of life. He encouraged students to love math even if it’s a difficult subject.

Pwede naman pag-aralan nang paunti-unti, start muna sa basic, after you master it, higher level naman.” (You can study math little by little, start with the basics, then move on to higher levels.)

His love for mathematics started as early as 1st grade. Russelle’s math teacher noticed his gift and helped him nurture it by participating in various math competitions.

For him, math is all about looking for a missing ingredient, and the search for that elusive answer keeps him interested. “Math triggers your mind.” He also noted that math is important in various fields like science, business, and engineering.

Russelle plans to use the P50,000 he won to buy his own computer. “Ni isang laptop o computer, wala ako. Nakikirenta lang ako sa labas. (I don’t even have my own computer, I only rent one in shops.)

He will use the rest of the money to pay for college; he will study BS Mathematics in the University of the Philippines-Diliman in June. This 16-year-old math whiz dreams of pursuing his studies even further until he becomes a businessman and a math teacher.

Russelle hopes that the government will allot more funds to the education sector. “Nakakatulong ang scholarships sa amin, lalo na kami, kasi hindi naman ako mayaman. Importante yan dahil matutugunan namin ang difficulties sa education. (Scholarships help, especially us who are not wealthy. It’s important because it can help solve our difficulties in education.)


At the end of the numerical bouts, the following students garnered the highest points without cracking under pressure. National winners received trophies, medals, and cash awards on April 21, Saturday.

Grade 6

Individual Category

  • 1st place: Farrell Eldrian S Wu – MGC New Life Christian Academy, Taguig City, NCR-B
  • 2nd place: Dann Lawrence G Llabore – General Santos City (SPED) Integrated School, General Santos City, Region XII
  • 3rd place: Errol John E Suarez – Bicol University College of Education Integrated Laboratory School, Daraga, Albay, Region V

Team Category

  • 1st place: Andrea Jessica D Jaba & Nathan Joseph P Oranga – St Jude Catholic School, Manila, NCR-B
  • 2nd place: Charlotte N Avincula & Errol John E Suarez – Bicol University College of Education Integrated Laboratory School, Daraga, Albay, Region V
  • 3rd place: Cynthia Marie S Avecilla & Vince Walter E Domasig – Pasong Tamo Elementary School, QC, NCR-A

4th year high school

Individual category

  • 1st place: Russelle H Guadalupe – Valenzuela City Science High School, Valenzuela City, NCR-B
  • 2nd place: Mark Joseph C Abang – BHC Educational Institution Inc, San Fernando City, La Union, Region I
  • 3rd place: Marcia P Butastas – Tabunan National High School, Almeria, Biliran, Region VIII

Team category

  • 1st place: Sean Timothy A Cheng & Carl Lester H Tan – Grace Christian College, QC, NCR-B
  • 2nd place: Brandon L Chan & Julius Christopher L Doolittle – Philippine Cultural College-Caloocan, Caloocan City, NCR-A
  • 3rd place: Dave D Didal & Jude Matthew D. Bernal – Potter’s Place School, El Nido, Palawan, Region IV-B


These Filipino students, gifted with much talent and determination, deserve to live in a country where their love for math and learning is not hampered but met with an equal amount of support. –

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