Education in the Philippines

Education in the Philippines: is compulsory education a qualitative or quantitative answer to increase worldwide knowledge?

Palawan, February 2019

In February 2019, Karen de Wit travelled as a volunteer to Palawan, the island which was acclaimed as the most beautiful in the Philippines. Karen wrote down her experiences for Stapwerk. A short impression of education in the Philippines. 

Sketch of the Country

The Republic of the Philippines in Southeast Asia is an archipelago consisting of 7,641 islands. Because of its location – close to the Pacific Ring of Fire and the equator – it has relatively many natural resources and much biodiversity, but it is also vulnerable to earthquakes and typhoons. The republic has over a 100 million inhabitants. 

The Philippines were a Spanish colony for more than 300 years, until in 1898, at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, the archipelago fell into American hands. Because of the longstanding colonisation by Spain and the United States, the Philippines are considerably westernised. For the most part, the inhabitants are catholic, and after Brazil and Mexcico, it is the biggest catholic country in the world. 

The differences between rich and poor in the Philippines are stark. A small, affluent elite exists side by side a considerable group of inhabitants living below the poverty line. The elite rule the country both economically as well as politically. 

Children in the Philippines receive compulsory and free education from the age of seven up to and including twelve. Most Philippine children attend public schools, but children from wealthy families are sometimes sent to private schools. The educational system is comparable to the American system. Children start their primary education when they are seven years old, and normally they start their secondary education (high school), which lasts for four years, at the age of twelve. After that, one can go to one of the many universities in the Philippines for a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In the Philippines, it is customary to wear a school uniform.

On average, Philippine children attend school for a period of twelve years. In the year 2000, 92,6% of the population was literate. This percentage is roughly the same for men and women. In the Philippines, a relatively small amount of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is spent on education: 2,5% in 2005. 

In 2017, the ministry of Education completed the implementation of the new K-12 educational system. One of the components of this new system is compulsory education until the age of eighteen. This means that after high school, children in the Philippines have to attend two additional years of senior high school before they can start a continuation course.

Karen’s Story

“After I finished my secondary education I took a sabbatical year, during which I wanted to do volunteer work. I already had experience teaching as a volunteer, and I decided to go and teach again during my sabbatical.

I went to the Philippines for a period of four weeks and stayed in the village of Tigman in Palawan, located in the south between Aborlan and Narra.

The school where Karen taught

I teach groups 3 and 4, children aged eight and nine. I teach English and arithmetic. Schools starts at 08.00 a.m. and ends at 04.30 p.m.

Karen’s Class

My lessons start at 09.30 a.m. and end at 02.30 p.m. They last for 30, 45 or 60 minutes. Every class consists of around twenty pupils, both boys as well as girls. Some of them wear a uniform, but others − whose parents cannot afford one − do not. For all courses, the exercise books are in English, and off course I also teach in English. The classrooms are rather small and sparsely decorated. The children are seated – in pairs − in old-fashioned school desks. They are allowed to eat and drink throughout the day and their diet consists mainly of candy and ice cream. The pupils wear name tags, as do I, probably because new volunteers constantly arrive, who have to be able to address the pupils by name. In the school I taught, the youngest children were five years old, and the eldest thirteen: groups 1 up to and including 8. After this, they take continuation courses which last a year, or, if they can afford it, go to high school, followed by College.

The children are taught all courses that are also taught in The Netherlands: arithmetic, biology, geography, English, and Tagalog, their native language. As is the case in most Asian countries, most Philippines are very motivated to learn English, which is therefore taught at both primary as well as secondary schools. The level of English and arithmetic is remarkably advanced. In group 3, children are already taught how to multiply, add up and subtract in multiple rows. In group 4, they are taught how to compute the area of a triangle and other geometric figures. In the Netherlands, this is taught in the sixth form and up, so I was impressed. During the English lessons, they are taught to identify the structure and rhyme words in a poem.

The differences between pupils are remarkable. Some children are already very proficient in speaking, reading and writing in English. Others hardly understand a word, let alone read or write in English. It is, however, an enormous pleasure to teach all children: they are all extremely eager to be able express themselves in English.”

Is compulsory education a qualitative or quantitative answer to increase worldwide knowledge?

I ask myself this question when contemplating my travels. Compulsory education is a great thing. I would prefer to call it the right to be educated, because when one is under compulsion to be educated, the consequence is not always that education is attainable for every child under the same circumstances. The deployment of volunteers seems to be just a drop in the ocean in an attempt to reduce the inequality of chances. It is a fine initiative, which contributes to a world in which education is considered to be an important communality. Acquiring a perspective on globalisation seems necessary to attain a world in which we can co-exist pleasantly. Education plays an important role in this development. When everyday life is preoccupied with providing for the bare necessities of life, however, globalisation probably is not high on one’s list of priorities. Seen from this perspective, compulsory education seems to be more of a quantitative measure and less of a qualitative choice. That is why the appeal of the Board of Human Rights (in their yearly report of June, 2018) to speak of the right to education instead of compulsory education I think is justified and necessary. After all, we all have human rights, but not everyone is given the opportunity to fulfill these rights. One’s origin, income and health, amongst others, play an important role here. Maybe implementing the right to learn will contribute to the necessity to reach truly equal opportunities.