Education in the Philippines

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Education in the Philippines is based on the education system of the United States, with some variations. Generally, compulsory elementary education runs for 6 years, while secondary education takes 4 years. After high school there are vocational courses or colleges which offer courses for a varying number of years depending on the course. University courses leading to a bachelor’s degree are usually 4 years long. The school year, which is at least 200 days or 40 weeks long, generally begins on the first Monday in June and ends by the last Friday of March, when the hot, dry season begins. School attendance takes place from Monday to Friday.


Pre-Hispanic period

Early Filipinos usually taught their children at home, focusing more on vocational skills than academics. There were also tribal tutors, but there was no structured educational system. Nevertheless, the Spaniards observed that there was an overwhelmingly high literacy rate, finding most of the natives were proficient in their indigenous system of writing.

Spanish colonial era

With the coming of the Spaniards, missionary teachers replaced the tribal tutors. The focus of education during the Spanish Colonization of the Philippines was mainly religious education. The Catholic doctrine schools that were set up initially became parochial schools which taught reading and writing along with catechism.

In 1863, an educational decree mandated the establishment of free primary schools in each town, one for boys and one for girls, with the precise number of schools depending on the size of the population. There were 3 grades: entrada, acenso, and termino. The curriculum required the study of Christian doctrine, values and history as well as reading and writing in Spanish, mathematics, agriculture, etiquette, singing, world geography, and Spanish history. Girls were also taught sewing.

The decree also provided for a normal school run by the Jesuits to educate male teachers in Manila. Normal schools for women teachers were not established until 1875, in Nueva Caceres.

Despite the Decree of 1863, basic education in the Philippines remained inadequate for the rest of the Spanish period. Often, there were not enough schools built. Teachers tended to use corporal punishment. The friars exercised control over the schools and their teachers and obstructed attempts to properly educate the masses, as they considered widespread secular education to be a threat to their hold over the population. The schools were often poorly equipped, lacking the desks, chairs, and writing materials that they were required to have under the decree. Though classes were supposed to be held from 7-10 am and 2:30-5 pm throughout the year, schools were often empty. Children skipped school to help with planting and harvesting or even because their clothes were ragged.

For higher education, there were a few reputable private institutions such as the University of Sto. Tomas, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, and Ateneo Municipal. Though initially an institute of higher education, UST was required by an 1865 decree to open public secondary schools.

Malolos Republic

After the Spanish colonial government was overthrown, the schools established during the Spanish era were closed down for a time by Emilio Aguinaldo’s government. They were eventually reopened by the Secretary of Interior on 29 August 1898. The Malolos Constitution made elementary education compulsory and provided for free schooling. The Universidad Literaria de Filipinas, which provided courses in law, medicine, surgery, pharmacy, and notarianship, was established by Aguinaldo on 19 October 1898. He also set up the Military Academy of Malolos and decreed that all diplomas awarded by UST after 1898 be considered null and void. During this period, other secular institutions which emphasized local geography and history were also established, such as the Burgos Institute in Malolos.

Except for the emphasis on Philippine history and geography, the curricula of schools were not much different from those under Spanish domination. While Tagalog was established as the national language by the Constitution of Biak-na-Bato, reading, writing and literary studies in Spanish were still given emphasis.

American colonial period

To help win over the Filipinos to the new American colonial government, General MacArthur provided $100,000 for Philippine education. New schools were established with English as the medium of instruction, with chaplains and non-commissioned officers serving as teachers. Following the surrender of Aguinaldo, President McKinley directed the Second Philippine Commission to establish a free secular public school system that would prepare the Filipinos for citizenship. The Department of Public Instruction spawned the Bureau of Education under Act 477.

The establishment of the public school system in 1901 under Act No. 74 required a great number of teachers. Thus the Secretary of Public Instruction, with the approval of the Philippine Commission, brought to the Philippines 1,000 American teachers, known as the Thomasites.

Teachers were also trained in the Normal School founded in Manila in 1901 and its branches subsequently established in major towns. Elementary school teachers were trained in English language and literature, geography, mathematics, principles of education, teaching methods, and educational psychology.

The free elementary schools that were established consisted of 4 primary grades and 3 intermediate grades. In the first decade, the intermediate grades focused on vocational education, with a special course for those who intended to go to high school. Apart from English language and literature and arithmetic, the elementary schools taught geography, nature study, music, drawing, physiology, hygiene, and physical education. Age-appropriate industrial skills were taught in all levels. In 1902, secular public high schools were established, teaching courses on current events, U.S. history and government, algebra, geometry and arithmetic, general sciences and history, and physics as well as English literature and composition and physical education.

For the tertiary level, the Pensionado Program was established on 26 August 1903 to enable about 300 chosen Philippine high school graduates to study in American colleges for free, under the condition that they serve the Philippine government upon their graduation. In 1908, the University of the Philippines was established. Vocational schools, however, were given more emphasis.

Many Filipinos still preferred a Catholic education. Thus many private Catholic schools flourished, including those established during the Spanish period, like Ateneo, Letran, and UST, and a number of new schools like St. Scholastica's College and San Beda College. Such schools were preferred by the elite. Some private non-sectarian schools were also founded. Reformists such as Felipe Calderon, Hipolito Magsalin, Leon Ma. Guerrero and Mariano V. Del Rosario established the Liceo de Manila and Escuela de Derecho in an attempt to produce a more nationalistic education, but they did not succeed. In general, education under American colonization led to widespread Americanization of the Philippines, with the emphasis on English language and literature, U.S. history and government, the use of American textbooks, and the emphasis on American values.

Japanese occupation

Most schools were damaged during World War II and had to be closed down. In June 1942, the schools were reopened by the Japanese. Their educational policies, as detailed in Military Order No. 2, mandated the teaching of Tagalog, Philippine history, and character education to Filipino students, with emphasis on love for work and dignity of labor.

Post-War years

After the War ended, schools that had been closed during the war years were re-opened amidst the reconstruction of their facilities. The Americans recruited Filipino educators to help in the re-establishment of their public school system. For the first time, indigenous languages as well as in English were used as the medium of instruction. In 1947, the Department of Instruction was renamed the Department of Education.

Martial Law period

During the Martial Law era, education as well as media was utilized for pro-government propaganda. The Department of Education became the Department of Education and Culture in 1972, the Ministry of Education and Culture in 1978, and with the Education Act of 1982, the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports. A bilingual education scheme was established in 1974, requiring Filipino and English to be used in schools. Science and math subjects as well as English language and literature classes were taught in English while the rest were taught in Filipino.

From 1986 to the present

The bilingual policy in education was reiterated in the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines. The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports was renamed once more, this time as the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports (DECS). Following the report of the Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM), Congress passed Republic Act 7722 and Republic Act 7796 in 1994, creating the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). The institute governing basic education was thus renamed in 2001 as the Department of Education (DepEd).

The quality of public school education is generally considered to have declined since the post-war years, mainly due to insufficient funds. The Department of Education aims to address the major problems affecting public education by 2010.

Private schools are able to offer better facilities and education, but are also much more expensive. There is a wide variety of private schools, including all-boys’ and all-girls’ schools, religious schools, non-sectarian schools, Chinese schools, special schools, and international schools. Due to economic difficulties, there has been a recent increase in the popularity of home schooling and open universities in the Philippines.

Some perennial issues in education

  • Lack of facilities in public schools – with insufficient budget and large numbers of students, public schools lack classrooms, books, and supplies for their students. The lack of classrooms leads to prohibitively large class size, as many as 60 students in some schools, making for an undesirably high student-teacher ratio. In some schools it also translates to the shortest possible class periods, to allow for morning, afternoon, and even evening sessions so that as many students as possible may be accommodated.
  • School year - Because of the frequent interruption of classes during the rainy season, the issue of changing the school year to September-June from the current June-March has been raised again and again over the years.
  • Number of years - (not counting Pre-school, of course) The required number of years of basic education was reduced over the years to 6 in the elementary level. With 4 years of high school, the total number of years of basic education in the Philippines is 10, one of the lowest in the world and generally considered to be one of the factors in the inadequacy of basic education in the Philippines.
  • Medium of instruction – There is constant debate over which language should be used in educating Filipinos: English, Tagalog, or local dialects. The use of English for teaching math and science as well as English language and literature subjects has endured for many years, however.
  • Subjects – The number of subjects increased for some years, making it difficult to give enough class time to each subject, including the core areas of English, Filipino, math, and science. There has frequently been contention on which subjects are essential, especially with the controversial lumping together of home economics, technology, physical education, health, art, and music with social studies in a subject called Makabayan. Opponents of the scheme contend that less time will be given to the more important of these subjects, especially social studies. Some of the subject areas are also difficult to integrate with the core subject of social studies.
  • Gender issues – There used to be differences in the subjects taught to boys and girls, especially vocational training. There has been standardization in the requirements of subjects for both genders in recent years, though some schools still adhere to a traditional curriculum with different vocational skills taught to boys and girls.
  • Drop-out rate – Many students drop out due to poverty before completing basic education, even at the elementary level. Though schooling is free, there are other expenses which poor families have difficulty in meeting, such as school supplies, uniforms, and transportation. Philippine girls at all levels have been found to be more persistent in their schooling, whereas boys tend to drop out of school earlier. More than half of college students are female and larger numbers of women than men finish advanced degrees.

See also




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