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A History of the System of Education in the Philippines – Its Implication for the Present Generation




In ancient Philippines, children were given the rudiments of education. Such education was both academic and vocation. The father trained his sons to be warriors, hunters, fishermen, miners, lumbermen and ship builders. The mother on her part trained her daughters in cooking, gardening, serving and other household arts.

It is said that in ancient Panay, there was a barangay school called Bothoan under the charge of the teacher usually an old man. The subjects taught to the children in this barangay school were reading, writing, arithmetic, use of weapons and lubus (acquiring kinaadman or amulets).

Hence, education during that time was geared toward their needs. Because of colonization by several foreign countries and several historical events, our education underwent several changes although we also retained some of the ancient teachings which are practical even during our time.




With the country’s celebration of independence in 1946, scarcely seven decades ago, have come every aspect of educational system in line with the new status of a new nation seeking to achieve and maintain political and economic independence and to fashion a nation truly united out of social and cultural diversities.

Introduction of the Western or European System of Education

With the coming of Spain, the European system of education was introduced to the archipelago. Primary schools, colleges and universities were established in our country by the missionaries.




The principal aim of Spain in the Philippines during their regime was to make the native Filipinos obedient and God-fearing Christians. For this reason, religion was a compulsory subject at all levels – from the primary schools to the universities.

The first schools were the parochial schools opened by the missionaries in their parishes. In addition to religion, the native children in these schools were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and some vocational and practical arts subjects.

Later on, colleges for boys and girls were opened by the missionaries. These colleges were the equivalent of our high schools today. The subjects taught to the students included history, Latin, geography, mathematics and philosophy.




[blockquote type=”center”]What the Philippines needs is a realistic educational system adaptable to local conditions.[/blockquote]

There was no co-education during the Spanish times. Boys and girls studied in separate schools.

University education was started in the Philippines during the early part of the 17th century. Originally, the colleges and universities were open only to the Spaniards and those with Spanish blood (mestizos). It was only during the 19th century that these universities began accepting native Filipinos.

It is interesting to note that for nearly 300 years, education in the Philippines was the primary responsibility of the Catholic Church. The missionaries established the schools, provided the teachers and facilities and decided what should be taught. It was only in the last half of the 19th century that the government took an active part in promoting education in the colony. In 1863, a royal decree called for the establishment of a public school system in the colony.

Education under the Americans

The United States had a different approach dictated by what the Americans considered to be their principal goal in coming to the Philippines – “to educate and to train in the science of self-government.”

Consequently, it was not surprising that the United States considered educating the Filipinos as one of its top priorities in the Philippines. Even while US troops were consolidating their foothold in Manila in 1898, schools were already opened in the city. But unlike the Spaniards who neglected to propagate their language, the Americans made it a point to teach English to the Filipinos. The American soldiers were the first teachers of the Filipinos.

In January 1901, free primary education was provided and a school for Filipino teachers was established. It called for the recruitment of trained teachers in America. It abolished compulsory religious instruction.

The Americans gave bright young Filipino students opportunity to take up higher education in American colleges and universities. These Filipinos came to be known as “pensionados” for their education in the United States was financed by the government in the Philippines. Hundreds of Filipino pensionados were able to study in the US until 1928. From the ranks of these pensionados came the future civic, business and political leaders of our country.

Hungry for education, the Filipinos flocked to public and private schools in large numbers.

Education under the Commonwealth

Education continued to receive from the Commonwealth government the same attention that the Americans gave it. President Quezon created the National Council of Education in 1936 as an advisory body on educational matters. The council made important recommendations to further improve the educational system in the Philippines. Most of these recommendations were accepted and carried out by the government.

Under the Commonwealth, vocational and adult education were given emphasis.

It was also during the Commonwealth regime that an organized effort to develop a common national language was stared in compliance with the mandate of the 1935 constitution.

To help counteract the American cultural influence among the Filipinos, President Quezon greatly encouraged the revival of native culture as well as desirable Filipino values.

And to help strengthen the moral fibers of the Filipinos and to foster love of country especially among the youth, President Quezon issued his famous Code of Ethics which was required to be taught in all schools.

In 1940, several changes were made in the Philippine educational system by virtue of the Educational Act of 1940. Under this law, the elementary course was reduced from 7 years to 6 years. The minimum age for admission to Grade I was raised to 7. The school calendar was also changed so instead of the school year from June to March, it was changed to July to April.

Education under the Japanese

Schools and churches were also used as propaganda tools of the Japanese. Nippon-go, the Japanese language, was made a compulsory subject in all schools. In government and private offices, classes in Nippon-go were opened to propagate the Japanese language and culture. Japanese Catholic priests were sent to the Philippines to help promote the idea that Japan, being an Asian country, was a friend of all Asian people’s including the Filipinos.

The Iloilo Experiment

In 1948. Dr. Jose V. Aguilar, the Superintendent of the Iloilo school division initiated a six year experiment with vernacular instruction in his school division. The experiment involved seven control schools where English was used as the medium of instruction in Grades 1 and 2 and seven experimental schools where the vernacular, Hiligaynon, was used as the instructional medium. This was controversial. As late as 1963, the Dean of the College of Education, Xavier University on the island of Mindanao, observed that the vernacular instruction was not producing maximum results. It was curtailing full instructional benefit. Instead of narrowing the regional gaps of the country, it was widening it and was producing dangerous trends towards regional and cultural imbalance.

Educational Thrust of the New Society and Today

It was assumed that the most fundamental objective of education is the development of an individual’s potential which will simultaneously improve society. Educational policies have been geared to the accomplishment of better manpower production through the understanding by the students of land reform, taxation, economic production, anti-drug and anti-pollution and conservation education. To accomplish these goals, the value and work oriented curricula were encouraged. However, many parents and teachers were still confused because they did not understand the philosophy, operations, and evaluations of this innovation in education. The concept of an average layman or teacher in the “new society” was always associated with the advent of Martial Law. This must be redirected to a functional definition of wholesome integration of our economic, social and moral lives for a progressive Philippines. The direction of education as envisioned by our educators can be best described by the following changes:

  1. A relevant and flexible curriculum. Educational content is focused on the need of society which is for sound economy. This means better knowledge in skills and food production, conservation of natural resources, technical knowledge in harnessing mineral deposits and less emphasis on white collar jobs which result only in producing the “educated unemployed.”
  2. Productive-coordinated technocrats. The inevitable reorganization of the Department of Education (DepEd) was a response to these needs. For centuries, our educational system generally operated on a system of isolation where the Bureau of Public, Private and Vocational Education worked almost independently and promoted secrecy and privacy instead of attaining harmony for the good of our country.
  3. A quality teacher with effective methods of teaching. To teach effectively, the teacher must have the solid foundations in terms of educational training from reputable institutions, update his method of teaching by reading and attending conferences, and should have the courage of trying out various means or ways of maximizing learner. To do this, it becomes necessary to understand the psychology of pupils and to be able to communicate with them in teaching-learning situations. The increase in teachers’ pay should be a strong justification for the better policy on the recruitment and retention of teachers.

Every time changes in our educational system occur to search for the solution for our educational ills, some pressure groups interfere and say it is “unrealistic and expensive,” which is not a valid reason. Courage and energy for action should be sustained to invigorate the lives of the citizenry.

After four centuries and a half of being a colony of Spain, America and Japan, the concern of the Filipino educators and policy makers is the Filipinization of the Filipinos and Filipino institutions. Alejandro Roces, while holding office as the Secretary of Education, voiced this concern thus:

History of Philippine Educational System (Presentation):

21 thoughts on “A History of the System of Education in the Philippines – Its Implication for the Present Generation”

  1. there is bias in stating history of the curriculum of the Philippines. for instance the history regarding the contact of early Filipinos with Arabs and Chinese is not stated here. how does the manila lakan and datus rule regarding educational and curriculum of their children who are in school. how is arabic language in mindanao even today live with madrasa schooling.

  2. Janice A. Gumapang

    This article adds knowledge on the role of education in the society. It flashes out common notion that education lifts every individual from poverty in the country rather, education defines the stares of success of where educated people lived. For a moment by reading this article, a passing by question struck my mind saying, “What could be the level of education in the Philippines without the them-the foreign countries colonized us?”.
    As I run through the reading, I again was startled by the fact that Spaniards did not give more emphasis on their language in teaching Filipinos, instead, Americans did otherwise. This will oppose to what we Filipinos believe in that patronizing our own language in all areas will somehow help the development of the country. No wonder why America is more develop than Europe back then. From this article, I admire Dr. Jose V. Aguilar for taking the risk to experiment and include vernacular as a medium for learning.
    Nevertheless, I strongly agree of what this article has stated that education must have the content focusing on the need of the society of this country. That education must be flexible enough to embrace changes.

  3. Louie Jane Eleccion

    For the past four centuries, the country was colonized by different nationalities, namely, Spaniards, Americans, Japanese, resulting to the diversification of our cultures. Not only that, these group of people introduced different principles in our educational system, based on their cultural approach. Hence, we adapted cultures from each group, acquiring Christianity from Spaniards, formal education from Americans, and language from Japanese. These things were like being put together and were applied in our educational system today.

    In present times, we have schools, especially private ones which were built by the Spaniards, who taught religion. And with the advent of American’s formal education, these schools adapted their curriculum, however, the teaching of religion remains. Also, during the American regime, a lot of the Filipinos become more and more passionate about education. Thus, public schools were also built around the country to sustain their hunger to be educated. Lastly, it was Japanese who enriched Filipino’s hard work, as they also focused on teaching “Love for Labor”. With that, they started teaching vocational as Japanese values skills and craftsmanship, aside from mandating their language throughout the archipelago.

    These things greatly influenced our system of education as we adapted from what they have started, such that, ’til today we teach religion in private schools, EsP in public schools which also focuses on Morals, and lastly, TESDA is now in collaboration with the Department of Education.

    Indeed, “the past is the key to the present!”

  4. Thank you for a clear, and very informative article about the history of the Philippines’ educational system. It is evident that our system of education has greatly improved to provide and sustain the needs of the Filipinos for a quality and relevant education. It has evolved throughout the years, and has adapted to the major changes in the Philippine context. These pedagogical shifts are a solid proof of our willingness and passion to liberate ourselves from illiteracy, mediocrity, and poverty, and this further shows how resilient and adaptive Filipinos are in times of adversities and uncertainties.

  5. Irene Y. Vallespin

    EDUCATION is the wealth of knowledge acquired by an individual after studying particular subject matters or experiencing life lessons that provide an understanding of something.Yes, it is definitely an invisible wealth, as our ancestors had usually said to their young ones that it is the only wealth that they can bestow upon us which cannot be stolen. And talking of bestowing education, our parents served as our first teachers had started educating us at home. As previously mentioned by the author, that the father trained his sons to be warriors, hunters, fishermen, miners, lumbermen and ship builders. The mother on her part trained her daughters in cooking, gardening, serving and other household arts.These teachings are basics but are important in nurturing our children, and it is merely an EDUCATION.

    The article helps the readers understand the History of the of the education system in the Philippines as to how education in our country started, and what are its implications for the present generations.

    After four centuries and a half of being a colony of Spain, America and Japan, the concern of the Filipino educators and policy makers is the Filipinization of the Filipinos and Filipino institutions.

  6. The Philippine educational system had been through a lot. Now, we are continuously trying to survive the uphill battles in the quest for the best type of education we can employ to “develop an individual’s potential to improve our society.” Educators of today are being optimistic that with the learners and the country at the top of our priority we can win the impending war against ignorance in its many forms.

  7. I think the spanish education make a big impact in our education during their regime in Philippines. They make the native Filipinos obedient and God fearing as Christians… religion subjects was made compulsory at all levels from primary schools to the universities. And this is still practice this present days by other school specially the catholic schools…

  8. Amario T Fabiosa, Jr

    In the paragraph portion where it says: “It is said that in ancient Panay, there was a barangay school called Bothoan under the charge of the teacher usually an old man. The subjects taught to the children in this barangay school were reading, writing, arithmetic, use of weapons and lubus (acquiring kinaadman or amulets).”, I have questions. Do we have the proof to show that this is true? Can we see some ancient script and materials of reading and writing that they use during that time? And if this is really true, when was the time that this happen? Did this happen before the Spaniards came to the Philippines ?

    In the statement: “It is interesting to note that for nearly 300 years, education in the Philippines was the primary responsibility of the Catholic Church. ”, I would like to comment. It is also interesting to ask what is the effect of this nearly 300 years of Catholic Church education domination to the Philippines today. 300 hundred years is a very long time. So, this very long time influence naturally have some deep and ingrained effects on the linguistics, culture and psychological mindset of the Filipinos.

    I would like to disagree on the statement: “The United States had a different approach dictated by what the Americans considered to be their principal goal in coming to the Philippines – “to educate and to train in the science of self-government.” I think the primary goal of the Americans in coming to the Philippines is to use and exploit its resources for their benefit; other reasons are secondary in nature. Remember that the Philippines were bought by the US from Spain. Although we can all agree that we are in a better management under the US than that of Spain but we cannot deny the fact that having the Philippines as a new territory from the US did come with great cost.

  9. Thank you for the informative history, I’m just startle I thought educational system in the Philippines is fully developed by itself. But it was a lot of country helped and contributed to the quality of our educational system.
    We should be grateful in Spanish regime during our history for incorporated us the Christian religion here in the Philippines which was the compulsory subject in all school level during old ancient. But in present generation it was diminished it just now a topic in one subject which is ESP or GMRC. I hope they worthily bring back again that subject because this will help our youth to become closer and have fear to our God.
    American regime also administered educational system in our country that is to learn us English language which are we use wherever and really essential.
    However, in our country during President Quezon regime had also excellent contribution in our country that was implementing of Code of Ethics which is really helpful and quite good to our student to commit.
    Whatsoever, the history of the system of education in our country came. All countries who included for the contribution is agreeable for the attribute of our educational system at present. I hope also educational system in our new society will continue to improve the quality of education so that we the Filipino country can associate confidently to the other countries.

  10. This article made me contemplate on the impact of colonialism to the Philippine educational system and even to our way of life. In fact, curriculum adjustment and innovations are directed towards keeping up with the advancement of the world. However, policy makers and education managers must see to it that necessary preparations and required resources and logistics are all in place for the changes.

  11. This article made me ponder on the numerous influences other countries had brought into the Philippine educational system and the several curriculum adjustments it has to make in order to cope with the demands of the world. Although these influences and changes have really helped in improving the quality of education, policy makers should also see to it that the system can provide bridges for the gaps brought about by these changes. I believe that education must first provide the learners’ needs before the world’s. Logistics must be at hand for any changes made.

  12. Jowem Ivan G. Babao

    This article really helped us to trace back how education started in this world. Known colonizers in our country contributed a lot to our knowledge today despite of the negative insights we have heard from our elders and read in some books in an educational institution about how they ran our country before. You will notice also that people before were not given with equal access to formal education not like today. In this generation, access to quality education is possible with the help of the government, so the challenge today is how an individual or learner learns the content being taught by a teacher. It was given emphasis in the article that our country needs a quality teacher with effective methods of teaching. This article also helped us, teachers, to realize that we can do more about educating a learner knowing we have a lot of resources to use inside the classroom compared to the old education we have in Philippines.

  13. Our country’s educational system are all results of colonialism, backed up by our rich history of being colonized for three centuries by the Spanish regime, followed for nearly five decades by the US occupation.

    One of the milestones in the Philippine education is that the government actively seeks to expand access and participation in higher education and, most importantly, tries to improve the quality of education.

    I think that we just have to be more open to educational opportunities, and maximize our edge as English-speaking citizens, mainly in global commerce and education. Being more pro-active in teaching ourselves to be our responsible innovators for our own professional and financial gain. Through research, we might actually stumble on some local grants, interesting online courses and international scholarships that can educationally and economically upgrade us. The continuity of learning and education, are still the greatest investments we could give to ourselves and the country.

  14. sana mabasa nyo po ito … ako po kabilang ng aking mga kagrupo ay nag papalabas ng isang makasaysayang dula sa larangan ng entablado … ito po ay stage play ang pamagat ay KAGITINGAN Bataan Has Fallen … nilalayon po namin na matulungan ang ating mga guro na ipaalam sa libo-libong estudyante dito sa pilipinas na kung ano ang kahalagahan ng history ng pilipinas at kung sino sino ang mga naging bayani ng noong ikalawang digmaan ….. ang grupo ko po ay ALTITUDE THEATER ARTS PRODUCTION !!! KUNG MAY KATANUNGAN PA PO KAU KINDLY pm ME ON FACEBOOK kENNETH LEE or sa email namin na [email protected]

  15. I’d like to comment on the topic the Iloilo experiment. In light with MTB-MLE this was the first recorded attempt on the use of the first language as LOI. It was not really fiasco on the educational system as presented in this blog.

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