Not even Covid-19 can stop young Filipinos math and science geniuses from hauling medals from international competitions in 2020.

The Department of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI) recognized 1,395 students in its Youth Excellence in Science (YES) Awards held virtually on October 29.

Screen capture from the 2020 YES Awards video presentation

The number of awardees is down 14 percent from 1,631 tallied in 2019.

But for DOST-SEI Director Dr. Josette Biyo the number remains impressive given the challenges faced by the organizers of the international competitions themselves.

“This year’s number of 1,395 medalists—with a total of 3,672 awards amassed from 67 competitions—is proof that despite the pandemic, many of us continue to push for excellence.” Biyo said in a DOST-SEI news release.

“Many of our teachers and parents continue to believe in our youth’s innate talents. Many of us in the science community hold on to your fire as this country’s hope and strength going forward,” Biyo added.

As with last year’s awarding, DOST-SEI recognized this year’s honorees through a virtual ceremony that featured messages from Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña, Biyo, and testimonials from a medalist and a school representative.

“Indeed, the past year has been an unexpected challenge for everyone. Which is exactly why your triumphs are all the more laudable and worthy of celebration, for each of you [students] is here against great odds. You are all truly exemplars of the best young minds in the Philippines,” de la Peña pointed out.

Triumph amid grief

Andres Rico Gonzales III of De La Salle University Integrated School spoke of his experiences in winning gold in the 2020 International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO)

“During international competitions, we fight not only for our own merit but also for our country. That is why, every year, we are all excited for the YES Awarding because it is the culmination of our hard work being recognized by our government,” he said.

“God has given us the talent and passion for reasons bigger than ourselves—that is, to help and share these gifts for the betterment of many,” Gonzales added.

Gonzales began competing in the IMO in 2018 when he settled for an honourable mention. In 2019, he finally bagged a bronze medal. He said he wants to get the goal in his last year of eligibility.

“As for me, my biggest dream is to win in IMO,” he said.

Gonzales revealed that 2020 was especially challenging because of how the pandemic changed his life permanently.

“Last year was the most trying time in the lives of my family because we’re still grieving for the demise of my father who just died two weeks after he was diagnosed of cancer. Our business closed, and a lot of drastic changes came after this,” he narrated.

He added: “Preparing for the IMO is rigid because we all know it is the hardest international math competition for high school students. Then came the pandemic, which delayed the competition, and subsequently coincided with the academic year. It was hard to focus. I had to juggle between studying for school and reviewing for the IMO.”

“I grieved. I prayed. I fought,” Gonzales said, adding he wished to inculcate in the minds of fellow awardees that perseverance and determination truly spell success.

“We don’t know what the future will be. But one thing’s for sure: whatever the challenge may be, science and technology will serve as the backbone and the frontline of the fight” he pointed out.

Gold Ribbon School Award

The YES Awards also recognized institutions that consistently led the medal hauls in international science and math contests in the past three years. DOST-SEI labeled them as Gold Ribbon School Awardees.

Among the finalists include St. Jude Catholic School, Philippine Science High School (PSHS) Main Campus and De La Salle Santiago Zobel School, which had the most number of medals from 2018 to 2020.

In a testimony, PSHS Main Campus Director, Dr. Lawrence Madriaga thanked DOST-SEI for the award.

He highlighted that the school joins international competitions not just for performance metrics but to measure their students’ competency against the best in the world.

“We believe that if we want to continually improve as a school, we have to constantly challenge ourselves and aim to be on a par with our international counterparts. We always look for opportunities to improve the way we nurture our students to become STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] professionals and be part of nation-building in the future,” Madriaga said.

The YES Award is a DOST institutional award for exemplary achievement of the youth in the fields of science and mathematics and shall come in the form of a medal of distinction to be awarded by the Secretary of Science and Technology, or by the DOST Regional Director.

Image courtesy of DOST-SEI photo

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