Philippines Table of Contents

In 1991 the education system was reaching a relatively large part of the population, at least at the elementary level. According to 1988 Philippine government figures, which count as literate everyone who has completed four years of elementary school, the overall literacy rate was 88 percent, up from 82.6 percent in 1970. Literacy rates were virtually the same for women and men. Elementary education was free and, in the 1987 academic year, was provided to some 15 million schoolchildren, 96.4 percent of the age-group. High school enrollment rates were approximately 56 percent nationwide but were somewhat lower on Mindanao and in Eastern Visayas region. Enrollment in institutions of higher learning exceeded 1.6 million.

Filipinos have a deep regard for education, which they view as a primary avenue for upward social and economic mobility. From the onset of United States colonial rule, with its heavy emphasis on mass public education, Filipinos internalized the American ideal of a democratic society in which individuals could get ahead through attainment of a good education. Middle-class parents make tremendous sacrifices in order to provide secondary and higher education for their children.

Philippine education institutions in the late 1980s varied in quality. Some universities were excellent, others were considered "diploma mills" with low standards. Public elementary schools often promoted students regardless of achievement, and students, especially those in poor rural areas, had relatively low test scores.

The proportion of the national government budget going to education has varied from a high of 31.53 percent in 1957 to a low of 7.61 percent in 1981. It stood at 15.5 percent in 1987. The peso amount, however, has steadily increased, and the lower percentage reflects the effect of a larger total government budget. Although some materials were still in short supply, by 1988 the school system was able to provide one textbook per subject per student. In 1991 the Philippine government and universities had numerous scholarship programs to provide students from low-income families with access to education. The University of the Philippines followed a "socialized tuition" plan whereby students from higher income families paid higher fees and students from the lowest income families were eligible for free tuition plus a living allowance.

Historical Background

Many of the Filipinos who led the revolution against Spain in the 1890s were ilustrados. Ilustrados, almost without exception, came from wealthy Filipino families that could afford to send them to the limited number of secondary schools (colegios) open to non-Spaniards. Some of them went on to the University of Santo Tomás in Manila or to Spain for higher education. Although these educational opportunities were not available to most Filipinos, the Spanish colonial government had initiated a system of free, compulsory primary education in 1863. By 1898 enrollment in schools at all levels exceeded 200,000 students.

Between 1901 and 1902, more than 1,000 American teachers, known as "Thomasites" for the S.S. Thomas, which transported the original groups to the Philippines, fanned out across the archipelago to open barangay schools. They taught in English and, although they did not completely succeed in Americanizing their wards, instilled in the Filipinos a deep faith in the general value of education. Almost immediately, enrollments began to mushroom from a total of only 150,000 in 1900-1901 to just under 1 million in elementary schools two decades later. After independence in 1946, the government picked up this emphasis on education and opened schools in even the remotest areas of the archipelago during the 1950s and the 1960s.

Education in the Modern Period

The expansion in the availability of education was not always accompanied by qualitative improvements. Therefore, quality became a major concern in the 1970s and early 1980s. Data for the 1970s show significant differences in literacy for different regions of the country and between rural and urban areas. Western Mindanao Region, for example, had a literacy rate of 65 percent as compared with 90 percent for Central Luzon and 95 percent for Metro Manila. A survey of elementary-school graduates taken in the mid-1970s indicated that many of the respondents had failed to absorb much of the required course work and revealed major deficiencies in reading, mathematics, and language. Performance was poorest among respondents from Mindanao and only somewhat better for those from the Visayan Islands, whereas the best performance was in the Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog regions.

Other data revealed a direct relationship between literacy levels, educational attainment, and incidence of poverty. As a rule, families with incomes below the poverty line could not afford to educate their children beyond elementary school. Programs aimed at improving work productivity and family income could alleviate some of the problems in education, such as the high dropout rates that reflected, at least in part, family and work needs. Other problems, such as poor teacher performance, reflected overcrowded classrooms, lack of particular language skills, and low wages. These problems, in turn, resulted in poor student performance and high repeater rates and required direct action.

Vocational education in the late 1980s was receiving greater emphasis then in the past. Traditionally, Filipinos have tended to equate the attainment of education directly with escape from manual labor. Thus it has not been easy to win general popular support for vocational training.

Catholic and Protestant churches sponsored schools, and there were also proprietary (privately owned, nonsectarian) schools. Neither the proprietary nor the religious schools received state aid except for occasional subsidies for special programs. Only about 6 percent of elementary students were in private schools, but the proportion rose sharply to about 63 percent at the secondary level and approximately 85 percent at the tertiary level. About a third of the private school tertiary-level enrollment was in religiously affiliated schools.

In 1990 over 10,000 foreign students studied in the Philippines, mostly in the regular system, although there were three schools for international students--Brent in Baguio and Faith Academy and the International School in Manila. These schools had some Filipino students and faculty, but the majority of the students and faculty were foreign, mostly American. Faith Academy served primarily the children of missionaries, although others were admitted as space was available.

Chinese in the Philippines have established their own system of elementary and secondary schools. Classes in the morning covered the usual Filipino curriculum and were taught by Filipino teachers. In the afternoon, classes taught by Chinese teachers offered instruction in Chinese language and literature.

In 1990 the education system offered six years of elementary instruction followed by four years of high school. Children entered primary school at the age of seven. Instruction was bilingual in Pilipino and English, although it was often claimed that English was being slighted. Before independence in 1946, all instruction was in English; since then, the national language, Pilipino, has been increasingly emphasized. Until the compulsory study of Spanish was abolished in 1987, secondary and highereducation students had to contend with three languages--Pilipino, English, and Spanish.

In 1991 all education was governed by the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports, which had direct supervision over public schools and set mandatory policies for private schools as well. Bureaus of elementary, secondary, and higher education supervised functional and regional offices. District supervisors exercised direct administrative oversight of principals and teachers in their district. There was a separate office for nonformal education, which served students not working for a graduation certificate from a conventional school. Financing for public schools came from the national treasury, although localities could supplement national appropriations.

Education policies fluctuated constantly and were likely to be changed before teachers became accustomed to them. Areas of disagreement among Filipinos produced educational change as one faction or another gained control of a highly centralized public education administration. One example was the community school program that sought to involve schools in agricultural improvement. It was pushed vigorously in the 1950s, but little has been heard about it since. Another policy issue was the choice of a language of instruction. Until independence, English was, at least in theory, the language of instruction from first grade through college. The emphasis on English was followed by a shift toward local languages (of which there were eighty-seven), with simultaneous instruction in English and Pilipino in later grades. Then, at least in official directives, in 1974 schools were told to drop the local language, and a bilingual--English and Pilipino--program was adopted.

One of the most serious problems in the Philippines in the 1980s and early 1990s concerned the large number of students who completed college but then could not find a job commensurate with their educational skills. If properly utilized, these trained personnel could facilitate economic development, but when left idle or forced to take jobs beneath their qualifications, this group could be a major source of discontent.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress