Basilan may not be on everyone’s travel list. It is not exactly a safe place to visit, or at least that is how we see it from the news and stories we often hear about the island.
But for me, I was eager to go to Basilan.
A port in the municipality of Maluso in Basilan. The province is part of the southernmost islands of the Bangsamoro Region in the Philippines.
I was one of the mentors sent by DOST-TAPI to hold the Invent School for high school students in Basilan. It was our first time to bring the Invent School to the island. And it was my first time to roll out the program on the field and face-to-face since the pandemic. This made me truly excited!
We coordinated the Invent School with our partners at the Ministry of Science and Technology of BARMM. I told them, let’s do it! Gusto ko’ng marinig ‘yung mga kuwento ng mga taong taga roon at hindi ‘yung naririnig o nababasa ko lang sa kung saan. Gusto ko silang makita at makilala.
Close to My Heart
This was not my first time in this region in southern Mindanao. My most memorable Invent School trips when I was its program manager a few years back were in the islands of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
Anna Liza Saet leads her class on creativity and invention development at the Invent School in Basilan.
I remember we held our Invent School activities in rooms on stilts rising from the sea. We taught students from far-flung schools about lessons that are not part of their conventional curriculum—creative thinking, problem solving, and developing innovative ideas—in hopes of inspiring them to be future scientists, engineers, or inventors.
It was a very unique experience for us. At the same time, we were able to bridge our cultural differences with the students and our partners. As Invent School mentors, we had to adjust our approach so we can cater to Muslim students. We had to know our audience first so we can easily adapt to their environment. We even mastered the proper way of wearing a hijab that the people thought we were locals!
I can say each Invent School is unique because of how we adjust the program in every place we visit. Over the years, the program also evolved to meet the changing times. We expanded our pool of mentors, which now includes my fellow officers at DOST-TAPI. And because of the pandemic, the Invent School also had to transition online, so the learning will still continue.
But there are some things that remain the same in every Invent School. Wherever we go, we always see and feel the hunger for learning among the students. Mahiyain sila, totoo ‘yun. But when we call their names, when we acknowledge them, they will eagerly participate.
This is why the Invent School remains close to my heart. It somehow served as a dynamic playground for me to discover new things about myself. I was able to see a creative side to myself, and this became an outlet for me to express my personality, my knowledge, and my aspirations as a leader through teaching.
Rapport is Important
At the Invent School in Basilan, I taught high school students lessons on creativity, invention development, and intellectual property.
I felt a bit of nervous energy during the first day, of course. But as the days went by, as I came to know more about these students, it was replaced with an excitement to hear their stories. Every single one of them. I took every opportunity to sit down with the students in their groups and listen to them.
I learned that the rapport between mentors and students, the environment we create in every Invent School, have an effect on learning. Halimbawa na parang magkakaibigan kayo, kahit papaano nagtuturo ka sa kanila sa paraang nagkukuwento ka, kahit napakahirap ng topic, mas mapapabilis ang kanilang pagkakaunawa.
That was the teaching method I used in every lesson. And at the end of the day, we were able to accomplish things together and appreciate the outputs of our workshops.
Lively games break the ice during class and create a more interactive learning environment for participants at the Invent School.
Meet and Greet with an Inventor
What made this Invent School even more special were the Filipino inventors who we invited to join us in Basilan.
One of them was Jeremy De Leon, a young inventor who showcased his Make-roscope. This is a small single-lens microscope that fits in a keychain and can be used with any phone or gadget with a camera.
Jeremy showed the students how to use his Make-roscope. We then went outside to do fieldwork, and we visited the beach and a rubber plantation to collect some specimens. And then using Jeremy’s Make-roscope paired with the lens in their camera phones, the students discovered a microscopic world within their samples.
Tuwang-tuwa sila! They were thrilled to meet a real inventor for the first time right in front of their eyes. An inventor who is not Einstein or those they read in books, but a young Filipino inventor who looks like them. Totoo pala na may imbentor!
The students became even more ecstatic when Jeremy gave out Make-roscope kits for them to take home. Not only were they able to try using a Filipino invention—they also got to own one.
Music teacher Jericho Castro demonstrates his Jerichord invention to students at the Invent School in Basilan.
During the fieldwork, I asked the students about their plans for the future. Some of them want to go to college in the island or in Zamboanga City, a ferry ride away.
I asked them if they applied for college scholarships from DOST. And I was surprised to learn that most of them were only hearing about it for the first time. They seem to be content with whatever is available in Basilan. But then I wonder of the possibilities if they knew of opportunities outside of their island. The same opportunities available to students in other parts of the country.
It was the same thing for me when I was still a student back in our province. Someone told me about an opportunity, I took the exam and passed, and I was able to study at a top university.
I was thinking the same thing for these students in Basilan. They all have bright minds, and they have great potential to succeed in the field of STEM, if given the right platform and opportunity.
I then realized the importance of those who came before us, those who can open the door of possibilities for the next generation. There are moments when these young people cannot do it simply on their own. They need guidance and direction from those who can show them the way and can prepare them for even bigger things.
Even the local teachers and heads of schools in Basilan also benefited immensely from the Invent School.
They were also listening closely to my lectures with the students, as these were lessons that are not part of their regular science curriculum. I also discussed with the teachers the importance of intellectual property during my lecture.
At the end of the Invent School in Basilan, I looked around to see the tired but happy faces of the students. I guess “happy” would be an understatement to describe what they were feeling at that time. A better word would be “fulfilled.” Fulfilled that they became part of a one-of-a-kind program. Fulfilled that they understood the purpose of the Invent School, and that is constant learning.
The pandemic did not stop us from receiving so many hugs from the local teachers and partners, who were very grateful for our visit. They still could not believe that we traveled all the way from Manila to bring the Invent School to Basilan. And I realized this was the most heartfelt keepsake that we could leave for the people we met on the island: Nakita natin sila. Kahit na napakalayo nila, nakita natin sila.
Despite the long travel and lots of preparation, the Invent School in Basilan was fulfilling for both students and teachers.
New Breed of Inventors
Contrary to what we hear or read about Basilan, the island is in fact a peaceful place. It is a very beautiful place. It is filled with peace-loving people. The youth of Basilan have a bright future that is as promising as that of their peers from anywhere in the Philippines.
I hope that other national government agencies can also see the richness and potential that we saw in Basilan, and that they can also visit and help the island bloom to its fullest.
I also hope that just like in Basilan, we get to meet more partners from other parts of the country who can experience and invest their time and resources in the Invent School. If we want to produce a new breed of Filipino inventors and technologists, the Invent School is the place where they can begin their journey.
Lastly, I hope that the Invent School can soon be mainstreamed in all our schools and in our education curriculum. The topics we teach at the Invent School should be lessons that we can share with our children and grandchildren, so the next generation can understand the joy and value of creating inventions that can uplift our country.
Anna Liza Saet is a former manager of the Invent School program and continues to serve as one of its mentors. She is currently the Supervising Science Research Specialist of DOST-TAPI’s Invention Development Division.