Removing Calculus and Trigonometry in the Philippine Education System?


On 17 December, 2015, reported that presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte said if he will be elected president, he will have Calculus and Trigonometry removed in the education system and that Algebra be replaced with Business Mathematics. According to the report, Mr. Duterte said,

Yung Calculus alisin ko talaga yan. Dumaan kayo ng high school, ano ang natutunan niyo sa Calculus, Trigonometry? Yang Algebra palitan mo na yan ng Business Math.

Then he adds,

You know there are crazy things. It does not serve the purpose at all. Pinapahirapan lang ang mga bata

But he seemed to contradict himself when the report said that,

Duterte said subjects such as Geometry and Physics would remain in the curriculum, as these are practical and useful in one’s daily life.

As far as I have learned both Geometry and Physics involves Trigonometry and Calculus in most of their calculations. Anyway, at least Duterte tried to speak of something that make sense and it is about changing the current education system. Finally, a breath of fresh air from the Mar-Digong word war that sadly has made the presidential race sound less than professional for the past few days.

I’m taking what he said as his way of expressing his desire to improve the country’s education system which is very timely especially now that the ASEAN Integration is in the horizon.

Filipino workers will be competing in a world where proficiency in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is increasingly critical.
Filipino workers will be competing in a world where proficiency in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is increasingly critical.
In a civil engineering forum I attended in 2014 in Taguig City, one of the topics there was the impact of the ASEAN Integration to Filipino civil engineers. The speaker started by saying that Filipino engineers, consultants and contractors can now bid for a project in any ASEAN member country with relaxed entry requirements. The problem however is that civil engineers from other ASEAN member countries can also bid for a project in the Philippines, thereby increasing the competition within the country. Given the current number of unemployed Filipino professionals and the country’s limited resources, that could be bad news. The solution of course is to prepare our civil engineering students but I’m not sure how Mr. Duterte’s proposal on removing Calculus and Trigonometry will be helpful.

I understand where Duterte is coming from. There seem to be too many unnecessary subjects and topics in some Philippine schools. It is indeed hard to make a lot of students appreciate a subject when they don’t see any practical application for it. I think it worsens the lack of interest and motivation of a few students to continue going to school. However, in my case, if there would be any subject that I want to be taken out of the system, it will not be Calculus and Trigonometry. In fact, I need a lot of them back in high school and college. For Trigonometry and Algebra, I still use them now at work but I admit, for Calculus, the next time I encountered the subject after college was when I entered graduate school. So far, I have not yet made to do a job so complicated that I need to ‘differentiate‘ nor ‘integrate.’

But that does not mean Calculus is useless for me, especially if:

  1. I just don’t want to depend on a computer application’s results based on the data I fed it with.

I am a Staad.Pro user. Staad.Pro is a civil engineering tool that is used for designing the sizes of beams, columns, footings and other structural members based on the loads I plugged it with (i.e., weights imposed on it either fixed or moving (called dead or live loads, respectively), lateral loads caused by either or both an earthquake or a typhoon, the shape of the members and how I modeled the structure.

Its developers have programmed it to respond based on the several structural codes in some countries and of course I suppose they too are structural engineers themselves which most likely mean is based on how they understand the practice. And like one designer to another, there are times when I don’t agree with the results of the software. I feel it is a matter of time where I will need to revive my skills in calculus to argue with the software.

  1. I refuse to stop searching for original ideas or innovation

I remember Archimedes used calculus thinking to establish the area of a circle and the volume of a sphere. Thanks to him the tasks of engineers now are easier. Isaac Newton used calculus (actually invented one type of it – Differential Calculus) to study planetary motions. Some of us either are not really fond of astronomy, finds it just a hobby or a few thinks it is a complete waste of time. Well, one of those rocks floating in space will potentially hit Earth someday and when that time comes the survivors will thank the astronomers who used calculus to track it.

And people like the Albert Einstein, Daniel Bernoulli and John Forbes Nash, Jr. are just some of the individuals who used calculus and trigonometry, among other tools, to come up with ideas that we use and benefit from now. The question now is when will a Filipino will be ranked as one of them? With such subjects targeted to be removed by a now popular presidential candidate, I guess the chances for a world-renowned Filipino scientist to emerge will be  dimmer if gets elected. To me it is like losing our chances of having a Filipino Einstein, Von Neumann, Leibnitz or Descartes because we seem to refuse to train one. Looks like we Filipinos are truly set on just applauding and admiring innovators from other countries and not having one like them. Well, we may have an answer to Lea Salonga’s question, “Hanggang dito na lang ba tayo?

Trigonometry is not a useless subject for me as well. I am also an AutoCAD user and I can’t remember a work ever since I began practicing more than 10 years ago where I didn’t use AutoCAD. It is primarily a drafting software and like any other software, it too has limitations. And whenever I reach that limit, my knowledge of the Trigonometric Functions such as Sine and Cosine and Similar Triangles becomes very useful.

images_1I have no problem with Business Mathematics replacing Algebra. I didn’t study the subject so I am in no position to challenge Duterte on its usefulness plus the assumption that he has a good reason for it and out of respect for him. But in searching for at least the contents of Business Math, I found that in one book, the first three chapters of it involves a review of Algebra. Therefore, my question is how can students appreciate a subject when they skipped its prerequisite?

As I have said earlier, I understand why some people find it hard to appreciate a subject because they find no use of it. They think they can’t earn from it. There is no immediate return on the investment especially for most Filipinos who always go to where the quick buck is. I think the problem are not the subjects but rather it is the educators. Like History (another subject which a lot of people wants to be removed), a few of its teachers require their students to memorize names, dates and events and grade them based how much they can remember. When I was a student, I was made to remember that Jose Rizal was killed on December 30, 1896 in Bagumbayan. And the number of items to memorize increased as years go by. So I remembered. But then, so what! It didn’t answer my question what did he die for? What motivated him to choose death instead of living a normal life like other Filipinos then? Was it pure love of country or was there an ulterior motive to it?

In math subjects like Trigonometry and especially Calculus, some professors are content with requiring their students to memorize numerous formulas and solving techniques/procedures. But a few of them failed to show the significance of the subjects in the real world because they are too busy giving students hard-to-answer quizzes to the point that the exam questions seemed to be out of this world.  These professors will reason that it is to sharpen the analytical skills of the students and that is how they themselves learned in the first place. Thus, some students cannot connect what they are studying to real life situations. Ask a some engineering students to solve a simple Calculus problem and they will even gladly show how they will do it but ask them the basis of the formulas they used or ask them to derive those formulas themselves, most of them will just scratch their heads.

A good background in higher mathematics has its uses.
A good background in higher mathematics has its uses.

People’s preferences vary. One can be obsessed with Math while others likes English and others into Home Economics but hates or equally likes other subjects.

I’ve always likened attending high school to dining in a restaurant – I want to be served only with dishes that I want. I want to have the liberty to choose the subjects I need in preparation for college to: (1) help me focus more on what I truly need; (2) to make school interesting, fun, enjoyable for me; (3) maximize the tuition my parents paid. Why? Because I attended only the subjects that I really needed; and (4) so I can shorten my stay in school. Of course my idea includes that core subjects should be taught intensely in elementary. But these are mere wishful thinking. I’m not an educator and I don’t know the reason why I was made to attend certain subjects but I can say some of them indeed have little or no use to me until now thereby making me feel robbed for I was made to pay for something I don’t need and couldn’t use until now. What hurts me is that the problem extends up to college. Much as I am tempted to cite one Philippine college’s civil engineering curriculum to compare with one curriculum abroad, I chose not to but allow me to present a sample civil engineering curriculum from Virginia Polytechnic Institute or Virginia Tech which I can only wish is what I had:

First Year

First Semester

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemistry Lab
  • First-Year Writing
  • Calculus
  • Elementary Linear Algebra
  • Engineering Exploration
  • CLE (Area 6)

Second semester

  • Foundation of Physics 1 w/ Lab
  • First-Year Writing
  • Vector Geometry
  • Calculus
  • Engineering Exploration or Exploration of the Digital Future
  • CLE (Area 2 or 3)

Second Year

First semester

  • Foundations of Physics I with Laboratory
  • Multivariate Calculus
  • Statistics
  • Introduction to Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Civil & Environmental Engineering Drawings and Computer-Aided Drafting
  • Elements of Geology

Second Semester

  • Science of Engineering Science Elective
  • Differential Equations
  • Mechanics of Deformable Bodies
  • Engineering Economy
  • Measurements
  • CLE (Area 2 or 3)

Third Year

First Semester

  • Fluid Mechanics for Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Fundamentals Course
  • Fundamentals Course
  • Fundamentals Course
  • Technical Writing
  • Elective

Second Semester

  • Computer Applications in Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Fundamentals Course
  • Fundamentals Course
  • Fundamentals Course
  • Civil & Environmental Engineering Advanced Course

Fourth Year

First Semester

  • Professional & Legal Issues in Engineering
  • CEE Fundamentals Course
  • CEE Advanced Course
  • Additional Elective
  • CLE (Area 2 or 3)
  • Science or Engineering Science elective

Second Semester

  • CEE Advanced Course
  • CEE Advanced Course
  • CLE (Area 2 or 3)
  • Additional Elective
  • Additional Elective

The list of Curriculum for Liberal Education (CLE) subjects are:

  • CLE Area 1: Writing and Discourse
  • CLE Area 2: Ideas, Cultural Traditions, and Values
  • CLE Area 3: Society & Human Behavior electives
  • CLE Area 4: Scientific Reasoning and Discovery
  • CLE Area 5: Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning
  • CLE Area 6: Creativity & Aesthetic Experience
  • CLE Area 7: Critical Issues in a Global Context

And as for the Fundamentals and Advanced Courses, the student may choose from any of the subjects in the following specialty areas of civil & environmental engineering, namely:

  • Construction
  • Environmental
  • Geotechnical
  • Land Development
  • Materials
  • Structures
  • Transportation
  • Water Resources

Why wasn’t my college curriculum like that?! As early as the first year, all of the subjects are concentrated on how to be an engineer. It is also worth noting that the Virginia Tech program is only four years long while in the Philippines, a civil engineering course takes five. What is the extra one year for? In my experience, up to the fourth and fifth years, I remember still having subjects like Philippine Constitution, Land Reform, Sining ng Pakikipagtalastasan, and Panitikang Pilipino. I’m not saying that these subjects are not needed but I humbly submit that these courses should have been put elsewhere.

So if reducing the number of subjects in high school and college to make the country’s education system more practical and responsive to the market is what Rodrigo Duterte meant, I am with him on that. But to specifically propose to remove subjects like Calculus and Trigonometry in the curriculum as early as in high school, I’d say it might have a negative effect in the training of our engineering students. I suggest to instead better review the methodology used in teaching Calculus, Trigonometry and Algebra.

By the way, I read in one K-12 guide, in Grade 11 there is a Basic Calculus subject. Does that mean Mr. Duterte is set to abandon the program once he gets elected? Oh well. I have my reservations about the K-12 program, anyway.



18 Comments on “Removing Calculus and Trigonometry in the Philippine Education System?”

  1. If he’s concerned with students being competitive internationally, why did he allow the use of English in Davao’s schools to rapidly diminish over the last generation in favor of regional Bisaya that no one else speaks?

    1. Why do you use Tagalog and English in Manila?
      Bisaya and English are used in Visayas and Mindanao mind you. Don’t be naive.

    2. If you think Bisaya isn’t spoken in The Philippines, you must never leave Manila. Go to much of Mindanao and only speak Tagalog and you will have a very difficult time communicating unless you find someone who speaks English. Virtually nobody there speaks Tagalog.

  2. They probably won’t remove algebra, trigonometry and calculus altogether on high school . Maybe they’ll turn it into an elective of some sort? Something like a special track if you are planning to pursue Engineering and other sciences with math?

    But still, I think business math in high school is a good idea. I’ve seen a book about business math and do note that it is an integrated/generalized math subject. So since algebra is a prerequisite, it would probably be included in the subject itself. Though of course, it will not just be as comprehensive as taking algebra alone as a subject like what we have now. Same would probably happen with other subjects like physics and statistics.

    Lastly, looking at data from CHED, I think many would probably benefit given that courses that may require “heavy” math is not a majority.

    For a more comprehensive comparison, I took Table 3 from CHED’s page and added percentages.

  3. These Calculus and Trigonometry subjects, should be Elective Subjects. Students going to Engineering or Physical Sciences, can have the option to take the subject. Algebra is needed. So, is Geometry.

    Anyway, most of the students will end up as OFW slaves in foreign countries. Why not teach them: the Art of Serving their Foreign Masters; the Art of cleaning wastes;washing dishes; mopping the floor;cooking; learning foreign languages like, Arabic; learning how to read Arabic Alphabets;etc…

    These are the needed tools, in their becoming as OFW slaves…

  4. I’m terrible in math partly because I was not given a reason for studying it and that is why I lacked the math skills in college to pursue a degree in biology which would have led to advanced degrees in marine biology.

    One thing (the FIRST thing) you need to do is change your Constitution to allow foreign professionals to work here. What has happened is that engineering has advanced, but because foreign influence is stifled, your engineers are stuck in 1987. How can new engineers ever learn properly if their teachers are in permanent 1987 like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day?”

    1. Well sa akin meron. Wag mo lang iisipin ang sarili mo pre, kaya di umuunlad ang Pilipinas, puro kayo makasarili.
      Magkano mo kaya binenta yun boto mo noong 2010?

  5. I agree with the latter part of the article, where the author has stated that subjects like Philippine constitution, land reform, etc. should’ve been taught in other courses relevant to their respective fields. Sa Pilipinas kasi, ang daming unnecessary requirements to be taught in college, na in order for your degree to be recognized by government, you should’ve taken these unnecessary subjects. Ang background ko ay in Chemistry, but when I look at my transcript, mas madami pang units in Theology, Philosophy, History and other irrelevant subjects kesa sa chemistry units themselves. Tuloy, yung undergrad degrees here in the Philippines are not really recognized abroad. You need to take two more extra years, for example, in the US, in order for you to catch up to their standards and get admitted in graduate school.

  6. If Duterte is being quoted properly, I’d say he’s trying to lose the election with that statement. Of course, if the rumors are right about him and other candidates working with the Yellows to provide the illusion of having another choice, but not actually being that.

  7. I think basic calculus and trigo should be taught in High school. For university level, advance level of these subjects should be limited for engineering, scientist and other math intensive jobs.

    More importantly, Filipinos should practice self-education. After all, we can’t rely mostly in schools to teach us, we ought to take initiative to improve ourselves.

  8. He has a point. Calculus (and trigo) is higher math, not meant for people aspiring the simpler courses such as BA Pol Sci or AB Mass Comm. Yes, i do look down on non-STEM courses, but let’s face it… it takes a lot more effort (and smarts) to graduate with an engineering degree rather than a nursing one.

  9. I am a practicing chemical engineer in the USA. I can tell you with certainty that if your country wants to produce quality engineers, you must teach them algebra, trigonometry, differential calculus, integral calculus, and differential equations. the higher math courses teach the critical thinking skills one must possess in order to be an engineer. Once in egineering practice, one uses mostly algebra and trig and only occasional calculus but it’s necessary to understand the derivation and application of the formulas one uses. It also helps weed out those that don’t possess those critical thinking skills during the educational phase.

    As a side note: why would you give up the one huge advantage the Philippines has over other Asian countries. That is fluency in English. This is buang.

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