by Rebekkah M. Alawi
It was a scene evocative of a sensei-disciple dialogue, exemplifying the ancient tutelary tradition. A small group of teachers, mostly science teachers, gathered around this lady of substance to listen, in rapt attention, to helpful tips for success in one’s chosen career.
Mention of her name was greeted with an audible gasp of surprise and awe. “The scientist Biyo after whom a planet has been named?” It was indeed Dr. Biyo, Science Education Institute (SEI) Director, for whom a minor planet has been named after emerging the winner in The Intel Excellence in Teaching Competition in 2002.
Posted on: Wednesday, May 02, 2018 Posted by: Anonymous It was a scene evocative of a sensei-disciple dialogue, exemplifying the ancient tutelary tradition. A small group of teachers, mostly science teachers, gathered around this lady of substance to listen, in rapt attention, to helpful tips for success in one’s chosen career.
Of all her feats and the challenges she had to face up to as a career woman — a high school teacher and Director of the Philippine Science High School Western Visayas Campus, Iloilo, her battle to bring honor to the country in that international competition was the most trying and exciting. She went to the competition in Louisiana, Kentucky armed only with primitive materials — some coloring pens and Manila paper, but beat 4,000 contestants and made it to the roster of ninety semi-finalists till there were only five left standing. While girding for the final race to the Prize, she learned that a laptop was needed. Unable to comprehend her SOS appeal to barrow a laptop, the Asian finalist, a Chinese, hurriedly shut close her laptop. It was a baffling gesture that Dr. Biyo did not have the time to interpret. She was desperate to find a Good Samaritan willing to lend her his/her laptop.
The Good Samaritan was an American finalist who, to her chagrin and amusement, briefly “lectured” on the parts of the unit and its commands to orient her to the use of the laptop. The man ostensibly took her for a Neanderthal!
The rest was history. When it was announced that an Asian won, the excited Biyo stood up not caring whether it was the Chinese or she whose name would be announced. Was it instinct? Or intuition? Or simply a reflex? She proudly romped away with the Prize as the champion.
Dr. Biyo’s humble provenance prevented her from pursuing a career in Medicine after completing her B.S Biological Science program at UP-Visayas. She finished her M.S. in record time — one and a half years — despite taking on three jobs on the side, for her upkeep and other needs.
As a young teacher of science research and biology at the state-run Philippine Science High School, she could not even afford to buy a laptop for her personal use. On earning her doctoral degree, she resumed teaching in high school – a choice that provoked not a few to pose the question: “But why limit yourself to high school teaching?” All the world could have been her stage.
But she knew from the outset that rural community teaching is her calling. She has found in it her niche position and her world. There were opportunities and offers galore of more lucrative positions. These did not lure her away from her vocation – teaching the young and training science teachers despite far from ideal conditions – “lack of equipment, lack of materials and infrastructure support, working longer hours than what one is paid for”. She sees such conditions as “challenges, just part of the job. They have never overwhelmed me.”
She unabashedly expressed pride in her use of primitive materials as teaching aids and, in fact, armed herself with the same when she set off for the international contest in Kentucky. “No need to pretend about my place of origin – a Third World country.” As she confidently averred: “The teacher is still the best method.” Just believe in yourself,” she added.
What a serious practitioner needs is a vision, a clear purpose in life. Material profit or gain is, or should not be the primary consideration. “Just give your best and most, and it will come.” She found her raison d’ etre in rural community high school teaching and training teachers who wish to upgrade their competencies and dare to ask her “how to be you”.
Of effervescent personality, she is one who cannot, and will not, be cooped within the four walls of the classroom. Her innovative and Deweyan approach often brings her to the field and great outdoors – the great laboratory — where her students study the population structure of trees, flowering plants, and birds in mountains in Panay Island. They make their own discoveries through “research on the potential medicinal properties of corrals, sponges, mangroves, sea grass and other organisms of the wild.” For her novel teaching methods, Dr. Biyo is revered as an icon and institutions, here and abroad.
The lady is also an artist. She loves painting and has a penchant for Impressionist painting, expressly mentioning Monet as a favorite. Biology. Research. Science. Pedagogy. Art. A contemporary Renaissance woman, this Dr. Josette Biyo.
Certainly not a jack of all trades. She does not just dabble in what she takes a fancy to. She strives for excellence. It is little wonder she has tucked under her belt a number of awards and titles: one of the country’s Ten Outstanding Teachers (an annual Search sponsored by the Metrobank) in 1997; one of the Fifty Great Men and Women of Science (by the Department of Science and Technology) in 2008; a TOYM awardee in 1998: and Best Science Teacher (for all seasons).
She came. She saw. And she conquered the hearts of all those (including this author) she indulgently regaled with amazing Herstory. She shines bright in the firmaments, with a planet named for her. But this woman of substance only wants to be remembered as a high school teacher who rose above her humble beginnings by doing the best and giving the most to whatever endeavor she applies herself.