Jose Rizal: Academic Life

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Jose Rizal had his early education in Calamba and Biñan where he gained a typical schooling a son of an ilustrado family experienced during his time. Rizal, who was described as physically frail, grew to become an intellectual giant even with the archaic and backward system of learning and instruction obtained in the Philippines during the last decades of the Spanish regime.

Early Education

Rizal’s first teacher was his mother, Teodora Alonso. As a tutor, Doña Teodora discovered that her son had a creative and in-depth talent for poetry so she encouraged him to write poems to reduce the monotony of memorizing the ABC’s and to stimulate her son’s imagination.

As Rizal grew older, his parents employed private tutors. His first private tutor was Maestro Celestino, followed by Maestro Lucas Padua and later, an old man named Leon Monroy. Monroy lived at the Rizal residence and instructed Jose in Spanish and Latin. Unfortunately, after 5 months of teaching, he passed away. After Monroy’s death, Rizal’s parents decided to send him to a private school in Biñan.

Rizal's Life in Biñan (1869-1870)

As a young lad, Jose had a very colourful imagination and a keen sense of observation. At the age of 7, he was able to travel with his father for the first time to Antipolo to fulfil the promise of a pilgrimage made by his mother at the time of his birth. They went aboard on a casco, a ponderous vessel commonly used in the Philippines. It was the first trip on the lake that Jose could recollect. They went to Manila and visited his sister Saturnina in Santa Ana, who was then a boarding student in Concordia College, Manila.

June 1869, on a Sunday afternoon, Jose left Calamba for Biñan. He was accompanied by Paciano, his eldest brother who acted as his second father. The two brothers rode on a carromata. Upon reaching their destination, they proceeded to their aunt’s house, where Jose was to lodge.

The next day, Paciano brought his younger brother to the school of Maestro Justiniano Aquino Cruz. The school was in Cruz' home, a small nipa hut about 30 meters from the home of Rizal’s aunt.

Rizal succeeded in surpassing many of his older classmates. In his academic studies, he beat all the Biñan boys in Spanish, Latin, and other subjects. With his intellectual superiority, some of his classmates told lies to discredit him before the teacher’s eyes and as a result, the teacher had to castigate him.

Rizal’s life in Biñan was well regulated. He heard mass and studied his lessons diligently, drew sketches, and occasionally, his friends would invite him to play outside with other boys. He left Biñan after a year and a half on board a steamer, Talim.

Life and Studies in Ateneo (1872-1877)

In 1865, college began to function in the Philippines when the Jesuits returned. Jesuits were considered as the best educators in Spain, and perhaps in Europe. So they established an institution called the Ateneo de Municipal.

The Instruction of Jesuitical system was considered advanced. Their methods were less mechanical and rigid in discipline. Jesuits introduced physical culture as well as art cultivation, such as music, drawing, and painting. Agriculture, commerce, and mechanics were part of their vocational courses. Being a religious institution, Ateneo’s principal purpose was to mold character.

Rizal entered Ateneo de Municipal in 1872. He describe his first professor, Fr. Jose Bech as a “man of high stature; lean body, bent forward; quick gait; ascetic physiognomy, severe and inspired; small, sunken eyes; sharp Grecian nose; thin lips forming an arch with its sides directed toward the chin."

During his second year in Ateneo he had the same professor as in the previous year; but instead of lodging outside the City, he resided at No. 6 Calle Magallanes. At the end of the term, he received excellenct grades in all his subjects and was awarded a gold medal.

Rizal devoted most of his time to reading. He particularly admired Alexander DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo, The Universal History by Cesar Cantanu, and Travels in the Philippines by Dr. Feodor Jagor. Rizal also read romantic novels that helped him in enriching his creative views in writing.

June 1874, during his third year in Ateneo, his year opened with a surprise visit from her mother telling him that she was already released from prison. As a result, he became more motivated to study and remain at the top of his class.

Rizal wrote the poem Mi Primera Inspiracion a poem dedicated to his mother. In 1875, he wrote Felicitacion, El Embarque: Himno a la flota de Magallanes, Y Es Español: Elcano El Primero En Dar Vuelta Al Mundo, and El Combate : Urbiztondo, Terror de Jolo. In 1876, Rizal wrote poems about religion, education and memories of his youth and war: Un Recuerdo a Mi Puebo, Alianza Intima Entre la Religion y Buena Educacion, Por La Educación Recibe Lustre La Patria, El Cautiverio y el Triunfo, and La Entrada Triunfal de los Reyes Catolices en Granada. During his last year in Ateneo de Municipal, Rizal did not restrain his writing spirit. He wrote more poems: El Heroismo de Colon, Colon y Juan II, Gran Consuelo en la Mayor Desdicha, and Un dialogo Alusivo a la Despidida delos Colegiales.

Having a small built, he tried to cope by attending his gymnastics class regularly in the college. He engaged himself to physical exercises, such as fencing. He also devoted time to painting and sculpture. His drawing and painting instructor was Don Augustin Saez. In sculpture, his instructor was a Filipino, Romualdo de Jesus.

He graduated as Sobresaliente or "Outstanding", the highest recognition in Ateneo.

Medical Studies in University of Sto. Tomas (1877-1882)

After graduating, he continued his education at the University of Santo Tomas. He finished a year in Philosophy and Letters, then decided to shift to a medical course. During the year of his studies in University of Sto. Tomas which was under the Dominicans, rival of the Jesuits in education, he remained loyal to Ateneo. He continued to participate in extracurricular activities in Ateneo and he completed a course in surveying there as well. As a Thomasian, he won more literary laurels, had more romances with girls, and had more fights with Spanish students.

Don Francisco and Paciano both agreed that Rizal should pursue a higher learning but on the contrary, Dona Teodora did not want him to study further. She warned them with a premonition that too much knowledge would endanger Rizal's life. She adviced her husband, “Do not send Jose again to Manila. If he gets to know too much, they will cut off his head!”. But his mother's plea never stopped Rizal from continuing his education.

April 1877, Rizal who was just about 16 years old, matriculated in University of Sto. Tomas taking up Philosophy and Letters. He enrolled in this course for two reasons, first, his father wanted him to take the course, and second, he was still uncertain as to which career he would pursue. He asked for Fr. Pablo Ramon's advice about his career. During his first term in 1877 – 1878 in UST, he studied Cosmology, Metaphysics, Theodicy and History of Philosophy. It was during the school term 1878 - 1879 that Rizal pursued his studies in medicine.

Rizal had two main reasons why he studied medicine. First, he wanted to be a physician so that he could cure his mother’s failing eyesight. And second, Fr. Pablo Ramon, the Father Rector of Ateneo whom he consulted for a choice of career, finally answered his letter, and recommended medicine.

In the school year 1877-1878, he finished his vocational course in surveying in Ateneo, achieving the title of Agrimensor y Perito Tasador de Tierras or Expert surveyor. In the following year, he had took his Pre-Medical Course which is called Curso de Ampliacion or Advanced course in Physics, Chemistry and Natural History. Normally, students are duty-bound to take first the preparatory course before proceeding to medicine the next year. However, he took both courses in this school year. Out of 28 young men taking Ampliacion, only four including Rizal were granted the privilege of taking simultaneously the preparatory course and the first year of medicine. Rizal also received his four year practical training in medicine at the Hospital de San Juan de Dios in Intramuros. During his last year at the University, Rizal had obtained the global grade of Notable(Very Good) in all of his subjects, and he was the second best student in a decimated class of seven who passed the medicine course. After which, Rizal decided to study in Spain.

Academic Journey to Spain (1882-1885)

His departure for Spain was kept secret from Spanish authorities, friars and even to his parents especially to his mother because she would not allow him to go. In order to avoid detection from authorities, he used the name Jose Mercado, the name of his cousin in Calamba. On May 3, 1882 he boarded on Salvadora bound for Singapore where he was the only Filipino passenger. During his voyage, he played chess to kill his boredom and always came out victorious against his opponents. On May 9th, they landed on Singapore and registered to Hotel de la Paz and spent a couple of days going to places of interest. On November 3, 1882, he enrolled in Universidad Central de Madrid taking up two courses: Philosophy and Letters and Medicine.

On June 21, 1884, he conferred the degree of Licentiate in Medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid. The following academic year, he studied and passed all subjects leading to the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Unfortunately, he was not able to submit the thesis required for graduation nor paid the corresponding fees. With that, he was not awarded his Doctor’s Diploma.

Jose Rizal also finished his studies in Philosophy and Letters with higher grades. He was awarded the Degree of Licentiate in Philosophy and Letters by the Universidad Central de Madrid on June 19, 1885 with the rating of excellent.

Opthalmology studies and travels in Europe

Jose Rizal went to Paris and Germany in order to specialize in ophthalmology. Among all branches, he chose this specialization because he wanted to cure his mother’s failing eyesight.

In 1885, after studying at the Universidad Central de Madrid, Rizal, who was then 24 yrs old, went to Paris to acquire more knowledge in ophthalmology. He decided to visit his friend, Maximo Viola – a medical student and a member of a rich family in San Miguel, Bulacan who was currently in Barcelona. He stayed for a week and met new friends including Señor Eusebio Corominas – editor of La Publicidad, Don Miguel Morayta – owner of La Publicidad and a statesman. November of the same year, Rizal was living in Paris. He worked as an assistant to Dr. Louis de Weckert, a leading French ophthalmologist.

On February 3, 1886, after gathering some experience in ophthalmology, he left Paris and went to Heidelberg, a historic city in Germany famous for its old universities and romantic surroundings. He became popular among the Germans because they found out that he was a good chess player. He worked at the University Eye Hospital under the direction of Dr. Otto Becker, a distinguished German ophthalmologist. On April 22, 1886, Rizal wrote a poem entitled A Las Flores de Heidelberg (To the Flowers of Heidelberg) because he was fascinated by the blooming flowers along the Neckar River, which was the light blue flower called “forget-me-not”.

Right after writing A Las Flores de Heidelberg, he spent a three-month summer vacation at Wilhelmsfeld where he stayed at the place of a Protestant pastor, Dr. Karl Ulmer. The pastor had a wife and two children named Etta and Fritz. On August 6, 1886, Rizal had witnessed the fifth centenary celebration of the famous University of Heidelberg. Three days after, he left the city. Riding a train, he traveled to other cities in Germany. On August 14, 1886, Rizal arrived in Leipzig. There, he attended some lectures at the University of Leipzig on history and psychology. He also befriended Prof. Friedrich Ratzel, a famous historian and Dr. Hans Meyer, a German anthropologist. Rizal found out that the cost of living in Leipzig was the cheapest in Europe so he stayed for 2 months and a half. On October 29, he went to Dresden, where he met Dr. Adolph B. Meyer, the director of the Anthropological and Ethnological Museum.

Rizal was enchanted by Berlin because of its scientific atmosphere and the absence of race prejudice. He met scientists like Dr. Feodor Jagor, the German scientist-traveller and author of Travels in the Philippines, Dr. Rudolf Virchow, the famous German anthropologist, Dr. W. Joest, a German geographer and Dr. Karl Ernest Schweigger, a famous German ophthalmologist.

There were five reasons why Rizal choose to reside in Germany longer. First, to gain further knowledge in ophthalmology. Second, to further his studies in science and languages. Another was to observe the economic and political conditions of the German nation. Fourth, to associate with famous German scientists and scholars and lastly, to publish his novel, Noli Me Tangere. In Berlin, Rizal worked as an assistant in the clinic of Dr. Schweigger'. At night, he attended lectures in the University of Berlin and took private lessons in French under Madame Lucie Cerdole.

Jose Rizal earned a Licentiate in Medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid, where he also took courses in philosophy and literature. It was in Madrid that he began writing Noli Me Tangere. He also attended classes in the University of Paris and, in 1887, he completed his eye specialization course at the University of Heidelberg. It was also in that year that Rizal’s first novel was published in Berlin.


  • Craig, Austin. Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal: Philippine Patriot. [1], retrieved March 11, 2011.
  • Morris, John D. “José Rizal and the Challenge Of Philippines Independence.” [2], retrieved March 11, 2011.
  • Zaide, Gregorio F. and Zaide, Sonia M. Jose Rizal: Buhay, mga ginawa at mga sinulat ng isang henyo, maunulat,syentipiko, at pambansang bayani, retrived June 13, 2011



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