Decades of colonial education in the Philippines


For more than a century, the United States used education, along with other culutural institutions such as the media, to strengten its control over and dominate Philippine economy and politics.

From the deployment of American teachers during the colonial regime up to the current K-12 program, US employs the system of education to shape and train the Filipino youth according to its strategic interests in the country and the whole region.

Using the colonial government and the succeeding puppet regimes since 1946, US systematically framed the Filipino youth’s culture, identity and conduct according to the “American Dream.” Resources were alloted to the education system to ensure that schools, both private and public, serve the interests of its companies and institutions in and outside the country, and also the civil bureaucracy and security of its puppet regime.
American Education
The centralized public school system was instituted in the Philippines through Act No. 74 of the Philippine Commission, the US colonial government headed by William Howard Taft. It created the Department of Public Instruction which facilitated the entry of 500 teachers from US known as the “Thomasites”. It established the primary system of education, as well as the Philippine Normal School (now known as the Philippine Normal University) to train Filipino teachers who will teach in public schools. English was set as the medium of instruction and books based on American culture were used.

Through Act No. 1870, it extended public education and founded the University of the Philippines in 1908. The university was used to produce Filipino experts on politics and economics according to the US blueprint to lead the colonial bureaucracy.

In 1927, by virtue of Commonwealth Act (CA) No. 337, technical-vocational education began in the country. It was followed by CA 313 which facilitated the establishment of vocational and agricultural high schools in the regions. The Education Act of 1940, whose ojective was to eliminate illiteracy among adult Filipinos, was enacted into law. Accordingly, it implemented a “citizenship training program”, a training program for manual labor. Its objective is to supply agricultural workers to US, especially in Hawaii.

Education under puppet regimes Since 1946, successive puppet regimes enacted laws to perpetuate and further intensify the colonial education in the country. In particular, they ensured that it continues to address the demand of imperialist companies for cheap and docile labor.

President Diosdado Macapagal enacted Republic Act No. 3724 in 1963 that created the Bureau of Vocational Education to administer the development of skills in agriculture, industries, technical and other vocational courses. This is in line with the then increased foreign investments in the garments and textile industry.

Under the dictates of the World Bank (WB), the Marcos regime formed the Philippine Commission to Survey Philippine Education (PCSPE) in 1969 to purportedly gear education towards “national development.” In compliance with its recommendations, Marcos carried out a Ten-Year Educational Development Plan, a P500 million program funded by WB which targeted to develop mastery of marketable low-level skills. It answered the then particular needs for cheap labor in export-processing zones. Marcos also prompted the labor export of graduates from technical-vocational schools as a solution to the grave problem of unemployment.

Marcos built centers for skills training in the regions and subsumed researches for faster training, particularly for the out-of-school-youth and unemployed, under the Office of the President.

Upon the legislation of the Education Act of 1982, Marcos established the Bureau of Technical and Vocational Education to assess technical and vocational programs, and pattern courses, equipment and factories after the needs of the then emerging neoliberal order.

Part of this was the regime’s systematization of the labor-export policy through the implementation of Executive Order No. 797 which instituted the Phililippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA).

POEA data indicate that the number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) increased by 1,035%, from 36,029 in 1975 to 372,784 in 1985. Majority of them were deployed to the Middle East in the 1980s and worked as construction workers.

The New Secondary Education Curriculum of 1989, which dovetails the similarly-oriented elementary curriculum, was designed under the Corazon Aquino regime.

This introduced the subject Technology and Home Economics (THE) which teaches cooking, sewing and welding. It also introduced Values Education which instills “obedience” and “industriousness.”

In line with this, RA 6655 or the Free Public Secondary Education Act of 1988 was ratified to provide free and compulsary secondary education. A particular provision of the said law requires the inclusion of vocational and technical courses in the curriculum to purportedly produce work-ready high school gradutes.

In 1994, the Techinical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) was established, passing administration of technical-vocational education from the Commission on Higher Education to the former. Since its establishment, courses offered by TESDA are constantly being changed to adapt to the particular demand of skillset in the world market.

In 1998, the WB and Asian Development Bank published the Philippine Education for the 21st Century: The 1998 Philippine Education Sector Study (PESS), a research recommending to decrease elementary subjects. The study insisted on the significance of developing basic literacy and numeracy skills. This reform perfectly complemented the emergence of the business process outsourcing industry in 1992 and its boom since 2001.

In 2002, the Arroyo regime created and implemented the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC), otherwise known as the Millenium Curriculum, which streamlined the curriculum into five subjects: English, Mathematics, Science, Filipino and Makabayan (Values Education, Arts, Information and Communication Technology, Culture, Health and Livelihood, and Social Studies and Health Studies).

Social studies was subsumed under Makabayan to further narrow down the platform for discussions on the history of the country and the actual societal condition.

English was reinstituted as the medium of instruction under the BEC in compliance with the demand of the world market. This measure, however, was met with broad dissent, until a bilingual medium of instruction was implemented, with Filipino set as the secondary medium.

The K-12 program was designed and immediately implemented under the Aquino regime through the legislation of the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013. The program, including courses and trainings therein, are all patterned after the demand of the global market for technical-vocational and professional skills. The said program extended the basic education curriculum by adding two senior high school years and imposing four career tracks: Technical-Vocational-Livelihood (TVL), Academic, Arts and Design and Sports.

Courses offered under the TVL track include trainings on manicuring, welding, butchering, information and communications technology-related skills, and others skills that meet and directly fit the demands of labor-market in Canada, Middle East and other countries.

The largest proportion of students were assigned to take the Technical-Vocational-Livelihood track, and are enticed to not pursue college. These graduates will automatically be transformed into low and semi-skilled workers and become part of the large pool of unemployed. They are left with no other option but to be hired under contractual arrangements with measly wages and no benefits, either in the country or abroad.

Decades of colonial education in the Philippines