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History & Background

The Republic of the Philippines consists of 7,107 tropical islands on the Western rim of the Pacific Ocean. Only 4,600 of the islands have been named and only 1,000 have been inhabited. Although the total area of the country is 300,000 square kilometers, the islands are 65 percent mountainous. The inhabited portions are densely populated.

The Philippines is the thirteenth most populated country in the world. The country's capital of Metro Manila has a population of well over ten million people. The Filipinos, are the strongest assets of the country. With the country's literacy rate at 95 percent, the Philippine manpower provides a large pool of English-speaking, well educated, and highly trainable workforce with recognized management, computer, and design skills. The Philippines came in first in a survey of Asian countries on literacy conducted by Asiaweek in 1996. In a similar survey of 46 countries, Filipino skilled workers ranked first while Filipino managers were ranked second among their counterparts. Analysts maintain that it will take other emerging countries of Southeast Asia, a generation to reach the educational advantage of the Filipinos especially for the production of high quality technological products. There are an estimated 4.5 million Filipinos working overseas. In 1997, they sent US$4.5 billion back home. These foreign remittances have helped the Philippines weather the Asian financial crisis better than other affected Asian countries.

Eleven languages and 87 dialects are spoken in the country. Of these 11 languages, 8 are derived from the Malay-Polynesian language family. No two of these are mutually comprehensible. The country has two official languages, Filipino (derived from Tagalog) and English.

As far back as 30,000 years ago, the Aetas (aboriginal people of the Philippines) arrived through land bridges that connected the archipelago to other landmasses. A 22,000-year-old fossil skullcap was discovered in the Tabon caves of Palawan by archeologist Robert Fox. A document dating back to 900 A.D. was discovered at Laguna, Philippines. Mention was made in the document of names of places that exist to the present.

Trade occurred between the tenth and the sixteenth centuries, mostly with the Chinese and Islamic people. These two groups have remained and continue to influence the Filipino culture, including the educational system.

As evidence of the high level of pre-Hispanic culture, native literature is illustrated by the Ilocano (language spoken in Northern Luzon) ballad-epic narrating the life and bravery of Lam-ang in his conquest of the various indigenous groups in the main island of Luzon. Education, of an informal type, was taught during the years prior to the arrival of the Spanish colonizers. An oral tradition was handed down from generation to generation, in the form of poetry, ballads, songs, and dances. Oral literature carried through the ages show an informal and unstructured form of education, including training. Songs, poetry, dances, whether they be religious, festive, heroic, folk, seasonal, or about harvest, love, or war, represent high aspects of a culture. Parents and tribal tutors most likely provided the oral tradition, instruction, and other vocational training.

On March 16, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan arrived and claimed the islands for Spain's king, Charles I. His claim was the forerunner of over three centuries of Spanish colonization of the Philippines.

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the inhabitants of the archipelago were literate and had their own system of writing that they used for communication. This writing system is often erroneously referred to as Alibata (the first three letters of the Maguindanao version of the Arabian alphabet: alif, ba, ta). It is more properly named Baybayin, which in Filipino means "to spell." Baybayin has seventeen basic symbols, three of which are vowel sounds. This writing system was used extensively by the inhabitants of the islands, as witnessed by the Spanish upon their arrival. Father Pedro Chirino, a Jesuit chronicler and historian for Miguel de Legazpi (an explorer and the first royal governor of the islands), reports in Relaciones de las Islas Filipinas that when he arrived in the islands in 1565, all the islanders, both men and women, were reading and writing. Another witness and recorder of this fact was Antonio Morga, the Senior Judge Advocate of the High Court of Justice and Commander of the galleon warship San Diego. He noted in Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas that almost all the natives, men and women alike, wrote in the Baybayin language and that there were few who did not write it excellently or correctly.

When the Spanish found that the islanders were educated and literate, the missionaries among them published several books to propagate the Catholic religion among the islanders. The Tagalog Doctrina Christiana (1593) and its Chinese version, based on the catechism teachings of Cardinal Bellarmino, were released a couple of months apart. In 1610, the first Filipino author Tomas Pinpin published a book in Baybayin entitled Librong pagaaralan nang mga Tagalog ng uicang Castila (Book for Tagalogs to Study the Castillian Language). Clearly, the title of the book indicates that education, whether formal or informal, was taking place during this period. In 1620, a fourth book was published. Father Francisco Lopez produced an Ilocano version of the Doctrina Cristiana (spelling changed from the 1593 version) using the Baybayin language. Between 1620 and 1895, this book was reprinted several times. The Baybayin language can still be observed since a form of it is still in use by two indigenous Filipino groups, the Mangyans of the island of Mindoro and the Tagbanuas in the island of Palawan.

The origins of the Baybayin language are unknown, but various theories abound. The Mainland Origin Hypothesis by Peter Belwood stipulates that the language originated from South China and Taiwan. The Island Origin Hypothesis by Wilhelm Solheim suggests that the language originated in the islands of northern Indonesia and Mindanao and then spread northwards. Another theory by David Diringer states that the language derived from Kavi or old Javanese. Fletcher Gardner suggests that the writings came directly from Indian priests who were familiar with the Brahms scripts.

During the entire period of Spanish rule, education was controlled by the Catholic Church. In the place of tribal tutors, Spanish friars and missionaries educated the natives through religion. Upon their arrival, their main goals were to govern the islands, obtain a foothold in the spice trade, and to convert indigenous populations to the Catholic faith. The early friars learned the Baybayin script to allow for better communication with the islanders, particularly in the religious aspect. Religious education then took place using this language. By royal decree the friars were required to teach the Spanish language to the natives, but this was not enforced. This suppression of literacy in the language of the administration kept the inhabitants in ignorance and in subservience for more than 300 years. From 1565 to 1863, there was no specific system of instruction. Worse still, the Baybayin script was replaced by the Roman alphabet since using this gave the indigenous people more leverage dealing with the local Spanish colonial administrators. The Baybayin script was neglected and was not used by succeeding generations.

The San Carlos University was founded in Cebu in 1595. It was initially called the Colegio de San Ildefonso. On April 28, 1611, the University of Santo Tomas was founded in Manila. These universities, along with secondary education schools, were used mainly for Spanish locals.

In 1863, some 342 years after Magellan first arrived in the Philippine islands, Spain promulgated the Education Decree, stipulating compulsory primary education in the Philippines. Education served mainly for catechism purposes. Spanish was used as the language of instruction. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, some 200,000 students (all levels) were in school.

Although secondary and higher education were made available to the local inhabitants by virtue of the 1863 Education Decree, it was only the ilustrados (wealthy locals) who could afford to send their children to study. Some of them even ventured to Europe to complete their studies. This access to higher education and exposure to the liberal trends in Europe crystallized the idea of fighting for independence in the minds of the ilustrados. The education of the ilustrados indirectly fuelled the nationalist spirit of the locals toward a reform movement, and consequently a revolution against Spain.

The Education Decree of 1863 provided for two parts: first, the establishment of at least two free primary schools, one for boys and another for girls, in each town under the control of the municipal government; and second, the creation of a normal school to train men as teachers, supervised by the Jesuits. The teaching of Spanish was compulsory. On June 12, 1898, the revolutionary movement headed by Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence from Spain. Even before the Philippine islands were ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris, the revolutionaries had already drafted the main principles of the Malolos Constitution written mainly by Apolinario Mabini in his Constitution Program for the Republic published in July 1898. The Malolos Constitution mandated a free and compulsory system of elementary education. Three other schools of higher learning were established by this constitution: The Burgos Institute of Malolos; the Military Academy of Malolos; and the Literary University of the Philippines. Tagalog was the language used and taught at all levels during the revolution.

On December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed. It stipulated that the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico be ceded to the United States in exchange for the sum of US$20 million. The people of the Phillipines were not consulted regarding this matter and were outraged. The brutal Philippine-American war ensued. Approximately 250,000 Filipinos died in the war in less than three years. Aguinaldo was captured by the Americans on March 23, 1901, and swore allegiance to the United States.

The first decade of American rule in the Philippines witnessed a marked improvement in education. The First Philippine Commission, also known as the Schurman Commission (created on January 20, 1899), was appointed by President McKinley of the United States. Schurman, previously the president of Cornell University, recommended a system of free public elementary schools as a major component of his report to the president. The Second Philippine Commission (the Taft Commission) on March 16, 1900, enforced this recommendation. Under the leadership of William Howard Taft, free primary education became the method by which locals were instructed of their duties as citizens. English became the language of instruction since most of the teachers were non-commissioned American military officers and military chaplains. From September 1900 to August 1902, the Taft Commission issued 499 laws, one of those being Act No. 74 which took effect on January 21, 1901. Through Act No. 74, a centralized public school system was installed under the Department of Public Instruction.

The creation of a public school system resulted in a shortage of instructors. The Taft Commission, through the Secretary of Public Instruction authorized the importation of teachers from the United States. More than one thousand American educators arrived in the Philippines from 1901 to 1902. Most of them arrived in the ship S.S. Thomas, thus their reputation as Thomasites. This marked a blossoming of education from only about 150,000 students enrolled in 1901 to about one million in primary schools after two decades. This total raised to over two million students in all levels by 1941. The Department of Public Instruction also created the Philippine Normal School to train more teachers. In 1902, the Second Philippine Commission also established a high school system supported by provincial governments. Other institutions of learning were established: special education; marine institute; school of arts and trades; agricultural; and commerce schools.

America's democratic emphasis on public, nonreligious education of the masses was quite a contrast to the Spanish educating only the elite in a system completely under the control of the Catholic Church. Education, the American way, became instilled into the Filipinos as a chance for upward social mobility. For the Filipino, earning a diploma ensures a good job and acceptance in society with a chance for a better future. Despite the initial friction between the mostly Protestant American teachers and the Catholic Filipinos, the American system of education prevailed. All through this tumultuous period, the institutions of learning created during the Spanish period (San Carlos University and the University of Santo Tomas) continued to offer degree programs. Act No. 1870 of the Philippine Legislature in 1908 established the first baccalaureate degree granting institution, the University of the Philippines. Like the other institutions of higher education in the Philippines, the organization of this university was European in style, but the language of instruction was English.

In 1916, during the governorship of Francis Harrison, the United States Congress passed the Second Organic Law, more frequently referred to as the Jones Act. This Act replaced the 1902 First Organic Law and was a reorganization act providing for rapid Filipinization of the government. The entire cabinet, other than the Department of Public Instruction, was composed of Filipinos. The legislative branch also came under Filipino control. Nine years after the Jones Law, a committee headed by Paul Monroe surveyed the state of education and found a very problematic and disappointing scenario. The problems included inadequate textbooks, poor budgetary/finance situations, a lack of trained educators, and high dropout and failure rates. In 1934, the U.S. Congress passed legislation for the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. It took effect in 1935. The new Commonwealth was provided with a transition period of ten years before full independence was achieved.

The Commonwealth government passed the Education Act of 1940, but this did not solve much of the problems still plaguing the Department of Public Instruction. As Filipino officials practiced self-governance, World War II suddenly ensued. The Japanese launched a surprise attack on the Philippines on December 8, 1941, merely ten hours after Pearl Harbor. On June 11, 1942, the Japanese Executive Commission issued Military Order No. 2, renaming the Department of Public Instruction into the Commission of Education, Health, and Public Welfare. In 1943, the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Republic created the Ministry of Education. The Japanese emphasized dignity of labor and love for work. Philippine History, Character Education, and the Filipino language were some of the classes permitted by the Japanese regime for Filipino students. Despite efforts by the Japanese to maintain public education, the education of the young Filipinos was disrupted by this war. In 1944, close to the end of the Japanese regime, the Ministry of Education, Health, and Public Welfare was again renamed to the Department of Public Instruction.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferencePhilippines - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—an Overview, Preprimary Primary Education