Education pioneer and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Government Service in 1959, Jose Vasquez Aguilar was born to Martin Aguilar, Sr. and Sofia Vasquez on March 23, 1900 in barrio Caduhaan, Cadiz, Negros Occidental. After his studies at the Cadiz Central School in 1915, he taught in the barrio school of his native Caduhaan for one year. He went to the United States a year after completing his secondary education at the Negros Occidental High School in 1920. To pay for his college education, he took on odd jobs. He graduated in 1925 with a degree in philosophy from Denison University, Ohio.
Despite being a working student, Aguilar found time to join the university’s debating team, which competed with other colleges. In 1924, he was elected to the Tau Kappa Alpha debating fraternity. Upon his return to the Philippines in 1925, he was appointed teacher of English at the Negros Occidental High School. The following year, he was promoted to academic supervisor of the Division of Masbate. He transferred to Cebu in the same capacity in 1927. In the same year, he took the division superintendent’s examination, which he topped. He was appointed division superintendent of Camarines Norte in 1928. He served in that position in various years in the provinces of Antique, Samar, Capiz, and Iloilo.
Aguilar’s potential as an authority on education was recognized when he was asked to serve as a consultant on elementary education to the joint congressional committee on education and, later, to the UNESCO Consultative Education Mission to the Philippines. In 1954, he became the country’s representative to the Republic of China and adviser to that country’s community schools program. He worked for several months in the Taiwan Provincial Department of Education and the US Economic Mission on Community Schools Project in Chitung and Tungshih, where pilot projects for a new educational movement in the Republic of China were undertaken.
In April 1954, Aguilar was promoted as professor in the College of Education in the University of the Philippines. The following year, he was granted a Smith-Mundt fellowship, which allowed him to travel in the United States and observe Asian study centers and applied linguistic programs. In 1956, he was designated panel member for community schools in the Social Science Research Center, which was invited by the government to make recommendations in framing an economic program for the country. During the same year, he was named observer for the UP in the Fifth Annual Assembly of World Confederations of Organizations of the Teaching Professions, which was held in Manila. He also attended a workshop for teachers in community schools held in Vietnam.
Also during 1956, Aguilar was appointed director of the UP extension division. In June 1958, he was designated head of the department of education of the university. He served as such until October 1958, when he appointed acting dean. He became dean in December of the same year.
Early in 1959, he served as acting chairman and project director of the Community Development Research Council in the absence of its chairman. In May of the same year, he retired from the government service to become the director of the Philippine Center for Language Studies.
In recognition of his valuable contributions to Philippine education and community welfare, Aguilar received an honorary doctorate degree from the Central Philippines University in Iloilo City in 1952. He also received awards from the Philippine Tuberculosis Society in 1950, the Southern Iloilo Varsitarian in 1951, the Iloilo Press Club in 1952, and the Boy Scouts of the Philippines in 1953. In 1959, the Philippine Association of School Superintendents cited him for his “distinguished leadership,” particularly in the promotion of the community school movement in the Philippines. He was a life member of the Philippine Public School Teachers Association and was president of the Philippine Association of School Superintendents.
His published articles dealt on various topics such as education for the masses, bilingual education, local educational approach, the influence of language on the community, and the use of the vernacular as medium of instruction. Aguilar also wrote on the use of the vernacular in schools in Iloilo; the community schools projects in Santa Barbara; occupational education, and a monograph entitled, “This is Our Community School.” Two of his articles, which described the community school idea and its practice, were published abroad. One, entitled “Development of Community School Concepts in Other Countries,” appeared in the 52nd yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education in 1953. The other, “Community Schools of the Philippines,” was published in the yearbook of the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1957.
Aguilar also authored a novel, The Great Faith, which was published in 1948. Set during the Japanese Occupation, the novel depicted the tenacious hold of local traditions and culture as these came under the influence of a foreign, though friendly, nation.
In the course of his career as an educator, Dr. Aguilar showed his concern for the rural folk whom he called “the forgotten masses.” Although public education had reached the provinces during the American period, he felt that there existed a chasm between what the barrio children learned in the classroom and the struggles of their daily lives. He saw language as a major cause of this social gap. English, which was taught as a common medium for business, professional, intellectual, political, and cultural intercourse “rapidly affected the . . .unification of the upper social level but it is naïve to claim that the language performed the same function at the lower social stratum,” according to Aguilar. “The context of education transmitted through it does not grow roots in the native soil.” Another problem he saw was the separation of schools from rural community life.
Aguilar endeavored to bring the school closer to the community. He saw his opportunity to do this in 1938 in a rural area in Aklan, then a part of the province of Capiz, upon hearing a farmer’s own story of how he succeeded in growing a second rice crop. Using that potentially profitable rural activity as a practical course, he initiated a community educational program involving the said farmer, a network of schools, and about 1,200 teachers. Conducted in the vernacular and making extensive use of group dynamics, the program capitalized on teaching farmers along with their children who were attending school, so that by 1940, second rice cropping had become prevalent agricultural practice in Capiz.
Aguilar noted that his Capiz experiment succeeded because it sustained the enthusiasm of the participants, particularly the common tao, thus eliminating their ningas cogon mentality, and because of his use of flexible leadership, which was lacking in Manila-based projects, where decisions were made at the top. As a result, he advocated the use of the vernacular in the lower grades as a primary teaching medium, and linked the classroom instruction to the school-community program, which now could be effectively performed by “little teacher.”
In 1952, Aguilar asked the Bureau of Public Schools to evaluate the performance of his division. In its report, the bureau said that the activities of his community school program “indicated the progressive spirit of the teachers, faith in the program for which they have labored for so long and open mind so essential to long-range planning in education.” It cited the “high sense of educational leadership willing to submit itself to a test for validity of its program and eager to assert itself, and its achievements, all in the interest of an adequate and satisfying school system,” adding: “There was very good evidence that the children were being educated in a life of excellent work and the people seemed to be retaining better customs and usage than in the past.” On the use of vernacular, in this case, Hiligaynon – the report said that the students were “more dominant, extrovert, soundly mature and more interested in their schools,” and that the teachers were relieved of the “traditional drudgeries of teaching” for they “could speak heart to heart with the adults and young.”
The bureau supported Aguilar’s project. Soon, other superintendents adopted his methods and, later evolved their own. Eventually, the bureau adopted the school-community scheme in the national program.
In 1959, Dr. Aguilar received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service as “a far-sighted innovator and as a dedicated educator” who had “set a standard to emulate”.
He died on January 31,1980.
Cornejo, Miguel. Commonwealth Directory of the Philippines. 1939.