The Philippine Educational System

Education is generally described as the process of providing or receiving systematic teaching. It is a basic human right because it is considered one of the fundamental guarantees that enable an individual to live his full potential as a human being.

Various international agreements entered into by the Philippines, including the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, state that the state has a responsibility to guarantee the people’s right to education.

Our 1987 Constitution itself explicitly provides for government to “protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels” and “take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.”[1] The constitution also states that “the highest budgetary priority” shall be assigned to education.[2]

Reactionary or liberatory

Education is given a high value in the country because it is perceived by the masses as a stepping stone out of poverty, it is imagined by the middle classes as a way to climb to a higher social status, and is used by the ruling classes to reinforce their influence over the populace.

Education, more importantly, is of great importance for nation-building because it can mold the consciousness of the youth and the people and direct them towards particular purposes. Education, in this sense, can be either reactionary or liberatory.[3]

It is reactionary if it functions to defend an exploitative and oppressive social order by “prevent[ing] the people from gaining critical awareness, from ‘reading’ critically their reality.”[4] Education can be liberating if it seeks the opposite and works for social transformation.[5]

The Philippine educational system has been plagued by a severe and chronic crisis that leaves it incapable of pushing for national progress. It has instead been molded “according to the interests of those who have power”[6] and has reinforced worsening social inequality.

Rather than being treated as an investment with a crucial role in nation-building, education has become perpetually hostage to grave shortages, wrong priorities, and the demands of foreign powers. Instead of being conferred to the people as a basic right, it has become a privilege for a few.

A colonial education

The sorry state of affairs of Philippine education can be traced back to the country’s colonial period when the educational system was designed to mold loyal colonial subjects who valued the interests of their foreign masters above their own needs and aspirations.

This was clearly the case under 300 years of Spanish colonial rule when all the schools were under the control and the direction of the Catholic Church. After all, “the most effective means of subjugating a people is to capture their minds.”[7]

The arrival of the Americans did little to change this. Having waged a genocidal war that murdered over a million Filipinos in order to subdue the Filipino revolutionaries, the new colonizers realized the need for establishing a public school system in order to make the new regime acceptable.

Filipinos were forced to speak in the colonizers’ tongue. They sang the “Star Spangled Banner.” They were told that the colonizers came to liberate them and teach them democracy. They were inculcated with the new rulers’ consumerist values. They were transformed into “little brown Americans.”

Schools like the University of the Philippines and the Philippine Normal University were established to produce a new generation of Filipino clerks, businessmen, bureaucrats, teachers, and other professionals who are trained in the ways of the colonizers and beholden to foreign interests.

Ultimately, education was fashioned to suit the colonial project of making the country dependent on the U.S. economically, politically, and culturally even after it was “granted” freedom.

Under a neocolonial state

The formal declaration of independence finally came on 1946, but the policies of the new government would remain bound to U.S. designs through various unequal treaties and agreements. Philippine education became and continues to be a testament of this new neocolonial status.

Fashioned to serve the aims of foreign powers and the demands of the international market, the Philippine educational system became a regular testing ground for World Bank and International Monetary Fund prescriptions and impositions.[8]

This assumed a more brazen form under President Ferdinand Marcos who would subsequently assume dictatorial powers. His regime would reconfigure the educational system to focus on technical and vocational training “to provide the manpower required by foreign investors and their local partners.”[9]

The Marcos-era Education Act of 1982 allowed unregulated tuition increases while his regime’s New Elementary School Curriculum (NESC)of 1983 used World Bank funded textbooks. Marcos revised foreign borrowing rules “for a more extensive funding of educational projects from foreign and external sources.”[10]

The removal of the dictatorship from power did not bode any change for the prevailing orientation of Philippine education. The new president would promise the U.S. government to pay the $26 billion debt accumulated under Marcos never mind that much of it went to the dictator and his cronies’ pockets.[11]

Cory Aquino remained subservient to the dictates of foreign banks and powers, which would attain larger roles in crafting the country’s educational policies. Her regime’s New Secondary Education Curriculum of 1989, for instance, would simply serve as the high school version of Marcos’ NESC.

Philippines 2000 and beyond

The same pattern would continue under Fidel Ramos whose Education 2000 program would direct the reduction of government funding for state universities and colleges (SUCs) in order to make way for higher allocations for foreign debt servicing.

The short-lived Estrada regime would meanwhile form the Philippine Commission on Educational Reform (PCER) which recommended that the “use of large allocations of the government budget for public higher education is perceived to be inefficient and inequitable.”[12]

Some of the proposals of the study, in the main, included the raising of tuition to “realistic levels,” the use of SUCs’ idle assets for commercial purposes, and intensified fund-raising from the private sector.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Long Term Higher Education Development Plan (LTHEDP) would put this direction to its logical conclusion by directing:

  • The decrease of SUCs by 20 percent,
  • Transforming 20 percent of SUCs into semi-corporatized entities,
  • Making 20 percent self-sufficient by selling intellectual products and grants,
  • Requiring 50 percent of SUCs to engage in active income generating projects,
  • Having 70 percent of SUCs charge tuition comparable to private universities, and
  • Involving 60 percent of SUCs into collaborations with big business.

In order to produce a “globally competitive” labor force, the Arroyo government also introduced the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank-recommended “Millennium Curriculum” which emphasized English, Math and Science at the expense of history, humanities and social sciences.

The same perverted logic would form the core of the education policies of the Aquino regime. His Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016 would aim to “Harness private-sector resources in the delivery and monitoring of, social marketing and advocacy for education, especially higher education.”

The implementation of K to 12 would meanwhile take-off where the “Millennium Curriculum” left by creating a new generation of cheap semi-skilled workers who are employable by transnational corporations or qualified for labor exports immediately after high school graduation.

Globally competitive

What has become clear after the end of every administration and the passing of each decade is the way the educational system has been structured to benefit the profit-oriented political and economic interests of foreign and local elites.

Under this setup, the “global competitive workforce” which the educational system seeks to mass produce becomes another fancy name for cheap and docile labor, a youth that can be easily disposed of in transnational corporations in the country or abroad.

Thus, Philippine education is directed towards whatever is the demand in the international market: it was engineering in the 1960s, medicine in the 1970s, computer science and information technology in the 1980s and 1990s, and nursing and caregiving courses in the first decade of the 21st century.

What the government euphemistically terms “job-skills mismatch” is actually a result of its very own labor export policy and the lack of national industries that can essentially provide job opportunities at home. It is a symptom of an economy that has become overly dependent on foreign economies.

The predominance of the English language in the Philippines is closely linked to the country’s foreign-dominated economy. English, after all, is essential if one pursues a career in call centers or goes abroad. The use of the foreign language is therefore strongly campaigned by the present educational system.

The fining of students speaking in the native tongue in order to promote English has become a common practice in several schools. English is prescribed as the favored medium of instruction even if using native languages is more effective than the use of a foreign one.


One of the clearest manifestations of the Philippine educational system’s colonial orientation is the government’s abandonment of its financial responsibility for education to the public sector through drastic cuts for SUCs and the commercialization of various facets of public education.

This is in line with the dominant neoliberal dogma perpetuated by the U.S. and other world powers, which seeks to reduce government’s role in providing social services and regulating national economies in favor of the free reign of the market. Under the neoliberal doctrine, the only role for government in the economy is the facilitating of the smooth functioning of a market dominated by big business and foreign powers.

In the year 2010, the education budget comprised no more than 11.35 percent of the entire national budget from 30.78 percent at its peak in 1955. The P738 billion principal and interest debt payments in the 2012 budget is three-folds larger than the P224.9 billion education budget.

The results are predictable. Grave shortages of classrooms, desks, teachers, and textbooks persist in both primary and secondary levels while tertiary state school students and their families are increasingly bearing the burden of paying for the cost of education.

From 87.74 percent in 2000, the share of the government in the budget of SUC’s has steadily gone down to 65.58 percent in 2012, forcing school administrations to engage in various income generating projects. This is legitimized by the passage of the Higher Education Modernization Act of 1997 which

  • authorizes the Boards of Regents of SUCs to fix tuition and other fee increases,
  • directs SUCs to enter into joint ventures with private corporations, and
  • mandates the privatization of services such as health, food, security, etc.

The University of the Philippines Visayas, for example, became the most expensive tertiary school in the whole Visayas with P1,000 per unit tuition. Only 13.225% of the student population availed of free tuition for the First Semester of this Academic Year while a combined 55.98% pay P600-P1,000 per unit tuition.

Deregulated private schooling

The situation is, of course, worse in private tertiary schools. After the Education Act of 1982 effectively gave these institutions free reign to increase tuition rates, a series of government guidelines only reinforced this setup where families are held hostage to yearly tuition and other fee hikes.

Under the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Memorandum 13 Series of 1998, for instance, student consultations for fee increases practically amount to information dissemination by school administrations while miscellaneous fees are not covered under the memo.

Without regulation from government, the average tuition rates in private schools at the national level have increased from P257.41 per unit in 2001 to P501.22 per unit in 2010. Many private colleges and universities have been charging creative and even out-of-this world exorbitant fees such as follows:

  • Land Infrastructure Maintenance and Development Fee (University of Cordilleras-Baguio)
  • Installment Fee (University of the East)
  • Power Charge Fee (Trinity University of Asia)
  • Power Plant Development Fee (Miriam College)
  • Spiritual Development Fee (St. Paul’s College)

Not surprisingly, private higher educational institutions have made it to the list of top 1,000 corporations in the country, including the Centro Escolar University, Far Eastern University, Manila Central University, Mapua Institute of Technology, and the University of the East.

The top 5 school earners in the country have earned P15.43 billion in gross revenues and P3.45 billion in net income in the past six years. But the experience of the past decades has proven the saying that “one must be willing to pay a high price to attain quality education” to be a fallacy.

The commercialization of tertiary education has not lead to an improvement in its quality. Data from CHEd itself admits that only 100 from among the 1,831 colleges and universities nationwide have adequate facilities. The performance in licensure exams also shows a low 34% average passing rate.

More importantly, because of the higher cost of education, many students at all levels are forced to stop schooling and forgo a brighter future. According to CHEd, for every 100 Grade 1 students only 23 enter college, while only 14 graduate. 

Instrument of reaction

In order for the educational system to reproduce the injustices of the present social order and reinforce the power of the dominant classes in society, education becomes an instrument of reaction. Opposition to the colonial and commercialized orientation of education is met with repression.

The existence of student councils and other kinds of student organizations are prohibited by many school administrations to let their students focus on their “studies.” Fraternities, sororities and especially activist groups are not recognized in many schools.

In other universities and colleges, student councils and other groups are co-opted to become mere satellite-belts that obey every whim of the school administration. Harsh school regulations are put in place to “discipline” students and organizations that are critical of school or government policies. Student publications are meanwhile expected to toe the line or are subjected to

  • Harassment,
  • Meddling of editorial policies,
  • Censorship of editorial content,
  • Withholding of publication funds,
  • Padlocking of publication offices,
  • Abolition of its very existence,
  • Suspension and expulsion of student writers, or
  • Filing of libel charges against them.

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines has documented 187 such cases of campus press freedom violations in the past year.[13]

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transsexuals are widely discriminated against and victimized by school rules that repress their sexual orientation and identity – including the holding of “masculinity tests” for male school applicants, the prohibition of cross-dressing, etc.

Some schools are no different from prison houses with heavy police presence that aim to prevent critics of school policies from holding protests. Surveillance cameras are put in place to monitor and control the movement of their students. Student rallies are violently dispersed.

The state itself regularly intrudes in academic spaces with its iron hand through the direct and indirect presence of military forces in the campuses. Actual military detachments are even setup inside the premises of some school campuses, like in UP Mindanao.

Student Intelligence Networks are setup in campuses for the surveillance of student leaders and organizations that are vocal against school and government policies. Witch-hunting is rampant with progressives maliciously maligned as armed communist rebels and subversives.

Ruling classes and ruling ideas

This is, of course, not at all surprising for “the class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production…” and ultimately “the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.”[14]

The interests of this ruling class – the maintenance of the social divide in its favor – are represented through various apparatuses like the educational system “as the common interest of all the members of society… the only rational, universally valid ones.”[15]

Education in this way becomes “the exercise of domination” that aims to indoctrinate its subjects “to adapt to the world of oppression.”[16] Social realities are obscured from the minds of the students. At the same time their capacity for critical thinking is blunted. They are forced to believe that learning is confined to the four walls of the classroom or the limits defined by authorities. Those who propose alternatives are suppressed in various ways.

It is in this way that the Philippine educational system has become colonial, commercialized, and repressive. It is designed to cater to the needs of foreign powers over our very own national development. It has become profit-oriented institutions that sell education as a commodity instead of providing it as a right. The students themselves become commodities that are disposed of according to the needs of the global market. Critical thinking and basic freedoms are curtailed to suppress opposition to this kind of setup.

Education reforms

What we need is a liberatory education that can serve the genuine aspirations of the people. At the very minimum, basic reforms can and must be instituted in the educational system:[17]

  • The combined spending for education at all levels must be equal to 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product as mandated by the UNESCO,
  • Universal basic education should be provided by doubling the number of the country’s high schools and making preschool free,
  • Shortages in the school system should be addressed by rechannelling P115 billion to education from debt servicing, conditional cash transfers, and other questionable allocations,
  • Strengthen the teaching of history, society, and culture and  promote the national and regional languages, and
  • Explore alternative modes and methods of learning.

The Kabataan Partylist has a legislative agenda that aims to address the  longstanding  ills  of  the  Philippine  educational system while mobilizing the youth in the campuses and  the  streets  to  put  more  pressure  on  government vis-à-vis these issues. Some of our House Bills in Congress include:

But piecemeal reforms are not enough. With society continued to be dominated by foreign powers and their local big landlord and comprador partners, Philippine education would remain a commercialized enterprise geared towards exporting cheap labor to the demands of the international market.

Change the system

The struggle for education reforms therefore goes side by side with the task of creating bigger social changes. It is anchored on the struggle to transform an unjust social system. In the long-run, we would like an educational system that is nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented.[18]

Education is nationalist if it is “based on the needs of the nation and the goals of the nation.”[19] As eloquently said by Renato Constantino:

The object is not merely to produce men and women who can read and write or who can add and subtract. The primary object is to produce a citizenry that appreciates and is conscious of its nationhood and has national goals for the betterment of the community.[20]

Education is scientific if it propagates scientific thinking against superstition and subjectivism, integrates theory and practice, facilitates the free exchange and sharing of critical discourses, and contributes to national industrialization and the revival of domestic industries.

Education is mass-oriented if it is valued as a universal right for all. This means free and accessible quality education for all. This also means an end to discrimination on the basis of class, gender, ethnicity, race, among others, and the promotion of a truly democratic culture.

History has proven that our collective action remains our most potent weapon for effecting change. Recent events from the Arab Spring, the European strikes, the campus shutdowns in Chile, to the now global Occupy movement are testaments to its continuing validity.

We can attain a more empowering education for the people only if we overhaul the rotten system and change society itself.


This was presented during the 30th National Congress of the Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP (KASAMA sa UP), the first, broadest, and most comprehensive alliance of student councils in the University of the Philippines system last 18 December 2011. The discussion is based on the “State of the Youth” primer presently being prepared by the Kabataan Partylist National Office.

[1], Retrieved 17 December 2011.

[2] 1987 Philippine Constitution, Article XIV, Section 1.

[3] Ibid., Article XIV. Section 5.5.

[4] To quote Richard Shaull in his Foreword to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed: “There is no such thing as a neutral educational process. Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes “the practice of freedom,” the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” Richard Shaull, Foreword, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire (New York: Continuum: 1970, 1993), 16.

[5] Paulo Freire, A Pedagogy for Liberation: Dialogues on Transforming Education with Ira Shor & Paulo Freire, (Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc., 1987), 36

[6] To quote Freire:“[I]n the last analysis, liberatory education must be understood as a moment or process or practice where we challenge the people to mobilize or organize themselves to get power.” Ibid., 34.

[7] Ibid., 33.

[8] Renato Constantino. “The Miseducation of the Filipino,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 1, No.1 (1970, Autumn): 21.

[9] In this retracing of the colonial bent of the educational system under successive administrations I draw heavily from Alexander Martin Remollino, “Philippine Education in the Neocolonial Period,” in Mula Tore Hanggang Palengke: Neoliberal Education in the Philippines, eds. Bienvenido Lumbera, Ramon Guillermo, and Arnold Alamon (Manila: IBON Philippines, 2007), 9-17.

[10] Letizia Constantino, World Bank Textbooks: Scenario for Deception (Quezon City: Foundation for Nationalist Studies, 1982).

[11] Remollino, 13.

[12] State coffers were spent on First Lady Imelda Marcos’ 3,000 pairs of shoes, for example, or the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant which continues to be a White Elephant today.

[13] Philippine Education for the 21st Century: The 1998 Philippine Education Sector Study (World Bank and Asian Development Bank, 1998).

[14] College Editors Guild of the Philippines, Crisis and Suppression, 19 June 2011. Retrieved 17 December 2011 from Examples of some of the more recent cases are documented by the Guild at

[15] Karl Marx, The German Ideology: Critique of Modern German Philosophy According to Its Representatives Feuerbach, B. Bauer and Stirner, and of German Socialism According to Its Various Prophets (1845, 1932). Retrieved 17 December 2011 from

[16] Ibid.

[17] Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum: 1970, 1993), 59.

[18] See Kabataan Partylist’s Education Agenda at

[19] See Jose Ma. Sison, “Isang Pambansa, Siyentipiko at Makabayang Kultura,” in Krisis at Rebolusyong Pilipino (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Asian Center lectures, 1986). Retrieved 17 December 2011 from

[20] Renato Constantino, Miseducation, 35.

[21] Ibid.


  1. True! Now is not the time to offer compromises to problems but rather solutions. For years the issue has always been state abandonment of the education sector. It is the government’s responsibility to provide education to the people, but to our dismay the government seems to be deaf to the cries of the people and even prioritize militarization and foreign debt servicing.

  2. Matalas, Karlo. The problem then, as Constantino said, is to transform the educational institutions–which are really what Althusser calls “ideological state apparatuses” to serve the nation. But the prime struggle is to articulate or define this nation. Right now, it is P’Noy Aquino and his cohorts, serving US imperialism and its local agents and compradors, who are defining it for the rest. So the struggle is not just within these rotten educational institutions, but on all levels, particularly the mass media and “religious” corporatisms which utilize schools and other educational organs for reactionary ends. Ipagpatuloy ang laban! as Ka Bel said. Mabuhay ka!

    1. Mabuhay din kayo! Indeed, the problem hounding the education sector cannot be separated from the social cancer afflicting the entirety of society. The struggle to transform education thus comes side by side with the struggle to overhaul society itself. The people must take the power back.

  3. I have browsed most of your posts. This post is probably where I got the most useful information for my research. Thanks for posting. :)

  4. Karlo,Congratulations on this piece!
    can you send me a pdf of this article so I can refer to it? Maraming salamat! Sonny San Juan

    1. You’re welcome, Sir Sonny. No problem. Some of the data are not anymore updated though. The new academic calendar shift and UP curriculum changes in relation to the ASEAN integration and TPPA are not yet incorporated in this discussion too.

  5. Thanks for the additional information with regards to the educational system before. It is a big help for my newsletter. A big wisdom for me… GOD bless you and please continue making of these articles for us educators and help us open our eyes in the real Philippines before and now.

  6. I admired some comments on this article. I am enlightened and fill sorry of our educational system in the Philippines. I hope that things easily said must be done by the government and the people in the authority. Let us continue to pray for our nation.

  7. True that. There are too little resources for too many students. We need not just know how to learn to read and write..we have to learn how to THINK and criticize. Thank you Karlo!

  8. Salamat sa mga bnigay nyung info about sa educational system natn. My idea po ba kau sa education act of 1982.? Thanks alot po.A big help .. god bless po.

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