by: Clarinda Aguinaldo


Education in the Philippines undergone graduated changes from early settlers to the present. Education is of great importance because it’s a main avenue for us Filipinos to achieve our social and economic success. Education in the Philippines has a very deep history from the past in which it has undergone several stages of development from ancient Filipinos or the indios[1], Spanish occupation, American colonization and Japanese era up to the present system.


The education during the Pre-Spanish time was informal and unstructured. The fathers taught their sons how to look for food and other means of livelihood while the mothers taught their daughters how to do household chores. These are basically to prepare them to become good husbands and wives. During that time they know how to read and write using the Alibata[2]. Then the Spanish came and the education system became formal. Their objective is to teach the natives the Christian Doctrines using the “Doctrina Christiana[3]” along with cathechism, which main targets are the children because they can easily learn and follow unlike adults who already have their own beliefs. There was a separate during the Spanish time was Tagalog and Spanish. On the question of race, of course the Ilustrados[4] and the mestizos[5] were give priorities to a better education. The Segunda Enseñanza[6] curriculum is not open to the native. In 1863 an Educational Decree mandated the school for boys and girls. The medium of instruction during the Spanish time was Tagalog and Spanish. In 1863 an Educational Decree mandated the establishment of free primary schools in each town, one for the boys and one for girls with the precise number of schools depending on the size of the population. There were three grades: entrada[7], ascenso[8], and termino[9]. 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. TomasColegio 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. Primary instruction was free and available to every Filipino regardless of race or social class. Contrary to what the Propaganda of the Spanish–American War tried to depict, they were not religious schools, but schools established, supported and maintained by the Spanish Government and free and the teaching of Spanish was compulsory. In 1866, the total population of the Philippines was only 4,411,261. The total public schools was 841 for boys and 833 for girls and the total number of children attending these schools was 135,098 for boys and 95,260 for girls. In 1892, the number of schools had increased to 2,137, 1,087 of which were for boys and 1,050 for girls. By 1898, enrollment in schools at all levels exceeded 200,000 students. As a result of the implementation of public education, a new social class of educated Filipinos arose, that came to be known as the Ilustrados. This new enlightened class of Filipinos would later lead the Philippine independence movement, using the Spanish language as their main communication method. Among the Ilustrados who had also studied in Spain were José Rizal[10]Graciano López Jaena[11]Marcelo H. del Pilar[12]Mariano Ponce[13] or Antonio Luna[14], who were to lead later the cause of Filipino self-government and independence.

The defeat of Spain by American forces paved the way for Aguinaldo’s Republic under a Revolutionary Government. The schools maintained by Spain for more than three centuries were closed for the time being but were reopened on August 29, 1898 by the Secretary of Interior. The Burgos Institute in Malolos, the Military Academy of Malolos, and the Literary University of the Philippines were established. A system of free and compulsory elementary education was established by the Malolos Constitution[15].


Higher education and the beginnings of nationalism seem paradox to the one acquainted with the nationalist literature of the last two decades of the 19th century. To say nothing of Rizal’s scathing caricatures of the University of Santo Tomas in his El Filibusterismo[16], Jose Ma. Panganiban’s harsh and detailed dissection in La Solidaridad[17] of the university education open to the Filipinos of the 1880’ only the most systematic of the critiques of the Philippines higher education that regularly appeared in the pages of the Organ of the Propaganda Movement. Even the Ateneo Municipal, which Rizal took delight in contrasting with the other schools of Manila, did not escape the jabs of his pen. The latter part of the century was precisely of a period when extensive educational reforms were being undertaken; new faculties were added to the university, teacher training was being improved in the normal schools, and considerable expansion of the curriculum was taken place in Letran and Ateneo Municipal. Rizal, of course would find a great distance between the universities of Germany and Philippine Higher education, but the defects of colonial education institutions were rather like those of the mother country. Rather than academic incompetence, the chief complain of the young Filipino students against education in their homeland was the narrow limits of orthodoxy imposed on them, lack of what we call today academic freedom. Filipino love of country, of course, did not begin with the 19th century; revolt against Spanish rule had occurred more than over the centuries even uniting to some extent peoples of different provinces and linguistic groups. From the colonist point of view, Spain showed herself quite impractical. For this involuntary makes clear why there was a truly national revolution in the Philippines as half century before in any other European colony in Asia. Only in the Philippines was the colonial power so “impractical as to allow higher education. This was wholly the work of religious orders.  If it is the fact that Philippine higher education was instrumental in the evolution of nationalism in the 19th century, and that it did provide competent leaders in the time of radical transition in the Philippine society, it remains to ask in what way this was done. Surely the Spanish Jesuits and Dominicans who provided that education was not consciously promoting any movement towards Filipino emancipation from Spanish rule; quite contrary was true, in spite of the accusation made against them by certain Spanish superpatriots. Rizal saw more clearly than his former professors what the role of their education had been when he wrote to Blumentritt [18]in 1887, speaking of Filipinos of Madrid then editing the shortlived predecessor of La Solidaridad, España en Filipinas. But if we say that the 19th century Manila university institutions contributed, against their explicit desire to the awakening of national consciousness in their students, we must also say ironically, that it was precisely in their role as a Catholic institution of learning that they failed to the considerable degree.


On September 21, 1896, all the 37 maestros de niños [19]form 18 uplands and lowland towns of Cavite were summarily expelled for disloyalty to Mother Spain for abandoning their teaching post since the province rose up in arms in the last day of August 1896. It was led by Artemio Ricarte[20]a schoolmaster of San Francisco Malabon. Teachers were not only considered “shakers” of the Philippine society, but in the 19th century, they were classed in the category of the town principalia[21]like former gobenadorcillos, cabezas de barangay, decorated personnel, cuadrillero (municipal police) and those who paid at least P50 in land tax. Three non- Caviteños who were assigned teaching assignments two whom became generals of the revolution were Artemio Ricarte, Juan Cailles and one of the 3 martyrs of Cavite, Agapito Conchu, actually came to Cavite as a teacher from Binondo.


Although some historians have held firmly to the idea that the Filipino masses fueled the revoltion against Spainand later, against the United States, there can be no doubdt that the province of Batangas elite Filipinos played a Central role in both movements. Miguel Malvar[22], the leader of Batangas military units during the two conflicts, was himself a man of wealth and political influence, and most of his chief lieutenants had similar qualifications.


The United States considered public Education second importance only to the political development of the Filipinos. The Letter of Instruction of the Taft Commission [23]to promote, extend, and improve the educational work initiated by the Military Regime, and to give first priority to “the extension of a system of primary education which shall be free to all,” such education “to fit the people for the duties of citizenship and for the ordinary avocations of civilized community.” In the reception of the Faribault plan it is impossible to the state categorically what the Filipino was. The Filipino school under the American rule opened on Corregidor Island, off Manila Harbor, in May 1898, followed by the reopening of the city schools in Manila. The Taft Commission had specific instructions to employ the vernacular in the primary schools. It also had established a “common medium of communication” among the Filipinos, who spoke different languages. This medium should be in English language. Education and Public Health was a legacy of the Americans. I heard from your teachings that Osmeña never bothered to learn English at that time, even the father of Ninoy Aquino. Only Spanish culture. In 1903, Pensionado at St. Louis Exposition, Filipino scholars were sent to US, graduate of high school is the requirement and limited to upper class only. And it only means that the chain was not break. I mean the style and the system of the Spaniards were just repeated during the American occupation. The giving of the priorities to the elite. The caciquism,[24] or patronage that public education is the biggest threat to caciquism, and one good reason for accepting American rule in the Philippines. It is not enough to lift the people from ignorance, they did not empower the Filipinos only the elite. At the American occupation the education was a complete social engineering. But Catholicism and Democracy can’t be removed. During that time, the purpose of education is to militarize the government, to pacify. But for Fred Atkinsons[25] he wants to industrialize the education by creating vocational schools. According to Taft Atkinson is lazy, he just want to travel. He was fired and replaced by David Prescott Barrows[26], his educational philosophy is not industrialist but more on Humanist. He was a director of Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes before he came to the Philippines. He wants literacy not vocational job.


When the Japanese officially occupied Manila on January 3, 1942, the schools throughout the country were still closed to education, public and private, was in the state of animation. A year before war, Philippine educational system, carefully planned by the early American administrators suffered a disastrous setback when National Assembly passed passé the infamous Educational Act of 1940[27]. Low as the standard was of public education when the Japanese took over the reins of the government, the public school system nevertheless continued to symbolize the democratization of the Philippine society. Consequently, on Feb.17, 1942, the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese army issued Order No.2 to Chairman Jorge B. Vargas wherein he laid down the “6 basic principles of education. 1) to make people understand the position of the Philippines as a member of the Greater East-Asia Co-prosperity Sphere[28]….thus to promote friendly relations between Japan and the Philippines to the furthest extent. Which Filipinos find being hard to understand and were not clarified and they always fool the Japanese that they really can’t understand and still keep on imposing orders.(2)to eradicate the old idea of the resilience upon the western nations….and to foster a new Filipino culture on the self-consciousness of the people as Orientals.(though we really Orientals geographically but western in terms of civilization because we inherited more from the Spanish)(3)to endeavor to elevate the morals of the people, giving up over emphasis on materialism, (because for Japanese we learned this Materialism from the Americans). 4) to strive for the diffusion of the Japanese language in the Philippines and to terminate the use of English in due course.( but still we are allowed to speak Tagalog) 5) to put importance to the diffusion of elementary education and to the promotion of vocational education( because they need manual labor and agriculture to produce fuel and food for them after they destroy our farm because of the war). And to inspire the people with the spirit of love and labor, (which I think they never had). They also passed some systems of priority, and more letter of instructions but they never made the Filipinos follow them for the main reason that Filipinos always pretend that do not understand and they believed. During that time Filipinos are more likely just to stay at home instead of studying because of the war. They feel safer at home and children can play and relax. In short, no enrollees because of the war.


If you believe in the importance of education and subscribe to the notion that an educated individual is always likely to behave in a proper and righteous manner, then you cannot help but feel dismayed by what seems to be education’s utter failure in the Philippines. The country is today a place where bribery and corruption seem to have worked their way into every nook and cranny of society. Money it seems is the only thing that matters to Filipinos. The rich use it to get their way, while the poor are happy to sell their souls for whatever they can get for it. Over the years the situation seems to have steadily deteriorated due to what many believe are inherently bad traits of Filipinos who are: envious, parochial, indolent, lacking morals, and so on. Those are but a few of the negative traits Filipinos routinely heap on each other. However, it must be pointed out that negative traits can eventually be corrected by an education system that reinforces the good and deemphasizes the bad. After all, isn’t that the essence what an ‘educated’ person is: a civilized individual who has learned to subdue his baser traits while accentuating his higher, nobler ones? From that perspective, Philippine education is a failure. Both public and private schools have simply been churning out ‘rudderless’ graduates who have caused the Philippines to go from first to last in Southeast Asia over a period of six decades. Thus, it would be difficult for one to argue that education in the Philippines has been anything but an abject failure. And it will remain a failure until it begins to ‘remake’ Filipinos into that educated ideal they always should have been.


As a future teacher, I would recommend an intensive training of all the incoming undergraduate teachers to be able to come up with the quality students that are diminishing every year. The values we have right now are the main root of all these problems. Sometimes I come to think of it that Spanish occupation still has the great impact in our history of education. Although there are traces of favoritisms and racial discriminations, the values we had before are still incomparable to the present. During the Marcos Era, fundamental aim of education foster for love of country, teach the duties of citizenship and develop moral character, self discipline, and scientific technological and vocational efficiency. I was already alive during that time so it’s still vivid in my recollection all the things of the past. Comparatively he is still the best president for me. There was less corruption in education, until the following administrations came and the education became their one source of corruption, like in purchasing of books, school materials, chairs and most of all the construction of schools where they get plenty of overpriced materials on building construction. Experimenting on different strategies on how to screen tough students should be done by an independent body that cannot cheat the results. Who won’t accept bribery just to pass the less knowledgeable but capable of paying enough for the “price”. Everything should start from the individual discipline, as saying goes during the 60’s “Sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan, Disiplina Ang Kailangan”. I believe there is still hope for this nation in terms of improving the educational system, first we should exercise our right to vote for a good leader and that proves our integrity as an individual, as a true Filipino.

[1] Indios – Spanish colonial racial term for the native Austronesian people of the Philippines between the 16th and the 19th century

[2] Alibata – or baybayin/ syllabary, the pre- Filipino writing system using symbols representing the letters of the alphabet with 3vowels and 14 consonants.

[3] Doctrina Christiana- Chriatian Doctrines, The first book printed in the Philippines has been the object of a hunt which has extended from Manila to Berlin, and from Italy to Chile, for four hundred and fifty years.

[4] Ilustrados-they were the middle class who were educated in Spanish and exposed to Spanish liberal and European nationalist ideals. The Ilustrado class was composed of native-born intellectuals and cut across ethnolinguistic and racial lines

[5] Mestizos-  is a term traditionally used in Latin America and Spain for people of mixed European and Native American heritage or descent.

[6] Segunda Enseñanza–secondary education. Or secondary instruction

[7] Entrada- entrance

[8] Ascenso- promotion

[9] Termino- term

[10] Jose Rizal-José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonzo Realonda (June 19, 1861 – December 30, 1896, Bagumbayan), was a Filipino polymath, patriot and the most prominent advocate for reform in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era.

[11] Graciano Lopez Jaena-(December 18, 1856-January 20, 1896) was a Filipino journalist, orator, and revolutionary from Iloilo, well known for his written work, La Solidaridad

[12] Marcelo H. del Pilar- was born in Kupang, San Nicolas, Bulacan, on August 30 1850. His parents were Julian H. del Pilar and Blasa Gatmaitan. As a boy, he studied first in the college owned by Mrs. Herminigilda Flores, then at the San Jose College, form where he transferred to the University of Santo Tomas. He finished law in 1880.

[13] Mariano Ponce- was one of the pillars of the Reform Movement.

[14] Antonio Luna-Antonio Luna y Novicio (October 29, 1866 – June 5, 1899) was a Filipino pharmacist and general who fought in the Philippine-American War. He was also the founder of the Philippines‘s first military academy. Also autor of “Dos cuerpos de fundamentals de quimica.

[15] The Malolos Constitution was enacted on January 20, 1899 by the Philippine Malolos Congress, and established the First Philippine Republic. The original was written in Spanish, which became the first official language of the Philippines.

[16] El Filibusterismo-The sequel to Noli Me Tangere with its unarguably utopian vision, El Filibusterismo offers a much bleaker picture of the last decades of the nineteenth century. Crisostomo Ibarra, the reformist hero of the earlier novel, has come back to the Philippines as the enigmatic stranger named Simoun, a rich jeweller.

[17] La Solidaridad-To safeguard and uphold the teachings and moral values of Rizal

“An immoral government would be an anomaly among a righteous people.” – Dr. J. Rizal

[18] Ferdinand Blumentritt (September 10, 1853, Prague – September 20, 1913, Litoměřice), was a teacher, secondary school principal inLitoměřice, lecturer, and author of articles and books on the Philippines and its ethnography. He is well-known in the Philippines for his close friendship with the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal, and the numerous correspondence between the two provide a vital reference for Rizal historians and scholars.

[19] Maestros de niños-elementary school teacher

[20] Artemio Ricarte- (October 20, 1866 — July 31, 1945) was a Filipino general during the Philippine Revolution and thePhilippine-American War. He is considered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines as the “Father of the Philippine Army”. Ricarte is also notable for never having taken an oath of allegiance to the United States government, which occupied the Philippines from 1898 to 1946.

[21] The Principalía or noble class was the educated upper class in the towns of colonial Philippines, composed of the Gobernadorcillo (Town Mayor), the Cabezas de Barangay (Chiefs of the Barangays) who governed the districts, and the awardees of the medal of Civil Merit.The distinction or status of being part of the Principalía could be both acquired or inherited as attested by the Royal Decree of December 20, 1863 (signed in the name of Queen Isabel II of Spain by the Minister of the Colonies, José de la Concha) regarding the requirement of proficiency in Spanish language for those who are considered to be raised to this rank, unless they enjoy this distinction or quality by right of inheritance.

[22] Miguel Malvar y Carpio (September 27, 1865 – October 13, 1911) was a Filipino commander who served during the Philippine Revolutionand subsequently during the Philippine–American War. He assumed command of the Philippine revolutionary forces during the latter conflict following the capture of Emilio Aguinaldo in 1901. According to some historians, he may have been a president of the Philippines but is currently not recognized as such by the Philippine government.

[23] The Taft Commission, also known as Second Philippine Commission (FilipinoIkadalawang Komisyon ng Pilipinas) was established by United States President William McKinley on March 16, 1900. The Commission was the legislature of the Philippines, then known as the Philippine Islandsunder the sovereign control of the United States during the Philippine-American War

[24] Cacichism- Spanish caciquismo (“bossism”),  in Latin-American and Spanish politics, the rule of local chiefs or bosses (caciques). As a class, these leaders have often played a key role in their countries’ political structure.

[25] Fred Atkinson- was an American Director of Education in the Philippines from 1900 up to 1902. During his time, he gave emphasis in providing Filipinos with vocational training.

[26] David Prescott Barrows- President of the University of California. 1873 – 1954.

[27] Educational Act of 1940-Also known as Commonwealth Act No. 586, the Education Act laid the foundations for the present six-year elementary course and made provisions for its support.

[28] The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (大東亜共栄圏 Dai-tō-a Kyōeiken) was a concept created and promulgated during the Shōwa eraby the government and military of the Empire of Japan. It represented the desire to create a self-sufficient “bloc of Asian nations led by the Japanese and free of Western powers”