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These Old Photos Reveal What Philippine Education Was Like Before the War

The look of education has changed so much.
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With a lot of schools using online tools to continue in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, have you ever wondered how Filipinos used to go to school? Well, wonder no more because here are some photos and the stories from decades and centuries ago. 

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Filipinos' love for learning 

Across social classes, a consistent and common dream of Filpino parents is for their children to finish schooling. And this love for education isn’t entirely new. Since pre-Hispanic times, Filipinos have shown a keen interest in learning. 

Back then, education was informal and decentralized due to the structure of society. Children had to learn the skills needed for survival and traditions and beliefs. Older relatives were the teachers and the young ones were considered apprentices. 

Bear in mind that Filipinos back then had already established their own civilizations and societies, as evidenced by systems of governance and religions. It wasn’t the complete picture of savagery that the country’s future colonizers made it out to be. 

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During the Spanish colonial times, despite popular belief that only the richest could afford education, schooling was actually accessible to the general public. To understand this, we must look at the Cadiz Constitution

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On March 19, 1812, a constitution was drafted in the Spanish port of Cadiz. Initially, this was supposed to be a framework of governance for the Spanish empire, including its colonies.

The constitution was considered liberal for its times as it included tenets on freedom of the press, national sovereignty, and even voting privileges for the males. Chapter 9 of the constitution stated that even the smallest towns in all colonies should have a school that would teach basic literacy, arithmetic, and catechism.

The constitution had then undergone a series of abolitions and reinstitutions, following a tumultuous succession in the Spanish monarchy. 

However, the intent to educate the colonies did not dissipate. In 1857, there came the Act for Public Instruction or the Moyano Act (named after the minister of development Claudio Moyano), which aimed to solve the high illiteracy rate of the Spanish empire during that time. With this, primary education or three grades were compulsory for both boys and girls. This was free for kids up to the age of nine who could not afford it. 

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The act also established six years of secondary education, as well as a normal school (Escuela Normal Elemental) to train teachers in provincial capitals.

Because of bureaucracy, Filipinos waited until 1863 for its implementation, after Queen Isabella II signed the act. After this, it was mandated that there should be at least one primary school for children in each town. Primary schooling then became free and available regardless of race, sex, or social class. 

Of course, there existed problems in its implementation such as discrimination within the classroom, as stated by Jose Rizal himself in his writings. Friars were constantly telling Filipino students that they had inferior intelligence and they were only good for manual labor. Another common criticism was also that there was an overemphasis on the teaching of religion.

Ironically, it was the friars who were largely responsible for education, the primary instruction of which was Spanish. They were the very same people who were opposed to teaching their language to Filipinos, for fear that this will lead to enlightenment and rebellion. 

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However, despite their best efforts to keep Filipinos in the dark, the illustrados and the rebels prevailed. By 1866, the proportion of literate people in the Philippines was higher than in Spain. The proportion of Filipino children attending school was also above average in European standards. 

So maybe education was a risk, but only to the oppressors. When Filipinos came to claim their independence from Spain, the Malolos Congress had over a hundred deputies, many of whom were lawyers (40), doctors (16), pharmacists, engineers, priests, and entrepreneurs.

Education to please the colonizers 

Under the rule of the United States, children seven years of age were required to register in schools in their respective towns. They were given free school materials too. There were three levels of education: seven years of elementary school, four years of secondary or high school, and college or tertiary education. Religion was not mandatory as they had also built schools in non-Christian provinces in Mindanao and the Mountain Province area. 

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American teachers also came to the Philippines, the most famous of whom were dubbed the Thomasites. It was said that the U.S. government spent about $105,000 on these expeditions. Part of the mission of the Thomasites is to build the school themselves, especially in areas that did not previously have schools.

Aside from teachers, the U.S. also spent money on Filipino scholars under the Pensionado Act. This was a program that encouraged Filipino scholars to study in the U.S. Those chosen to participate were the ones seen to have leadership potential in preparation for a liberated Philippines. 

This program ended in 1943 because of the war. May more opted to study in the U.S. even after the war. These scholars were known as “pensionados.” Beneficiaries include writer Bienvenido Santos, politicians, Jose Abad Santos, Carlos P. Romulo, among others. 

However, education during the American colonial era also had its drawbacks. When the Monroe Commission (headed by Paul Monroe, director of the International Institute of Teachers College) was tasked to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching in the Philipines, they found that, in 24 years, Filipinos lagged on English-taught subjects. 

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Though Filipinos excelled and were considered at par with American kids in the subjects of Science and Math, the commission discovered that Filipinos were struggling to learn other subjects because teaching materials were designed for American school kids. 

Once again, this imposition became an impediment to the learning of Filipino school kids. And this trend continued until the next colonizer, the Japanese. Under their rule, there was a focus on Philippine history and the teaching of the native language. It seemed as if, for the first time, Filipino schoolchildren broke free from Western standards and way of teaching. 

They had a similar scholarship or exchange program but it was only reserved for Filipinos who were extremely loyal to Japan. They were called the Nantoku. The first batch or Nantoku (Nanpou Tokubetsu Ryugakusei) arrived in Japan on July 16, 1943. They were a group of 27 Filipinos and another group of 24 followed the next year. 

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Like the Americans, the Japanese wanted to mold the Filipinos into the students and, eventually, citizens they wanted them to beeducated but still subservient to their command. 

Fast forward to 2020 and what do we have? The country shifted to the K-12 education system, which is supposed to make Filipinos more globally competitive and “decongest the curriculum.” 

However, there are criticisms that the curriculum weakens the teaching of local history. Aside from this, it also produces graduates who are semi-skilled and only qualified to be cheap laborers in the Philippines and abroad. 

So the questions remain: Is the kind of education the Filipinos receiving now fully inclusive? Are we being taught in accordance with a system that truly serves us… or we serving yet another master? 

Here’s how they graduated. These are students from the Malabon Normal and High School Graduation in 1931. Source: University of Southern California Libraries from John Tewell’s collection

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A peek at graduation. These are students from the Malabon Normal and High School Graduation in 1931.

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Municipal School of Quiapo, Manila, Philippines, 1887.

Faculty at Anderson Intermediate School, Arayat, Luzon, Philippines, 1908.
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First day at Bua School for Igorote girls, near Baguio, Philippines, 1910-1920.
Photo by Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, courtesy of John Tewell.

Filipina student nurses, Manila Hotel in background, Manila, Philippines, about 1930
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High school students with Sr. M. Aquinata, St. James Academy, Malabon, Northwestern Metro Manila, Philippines, April 1949

Sampaloc Primary School in Manila, Philippines, 1903 or before
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Group portrait of fifty-three "girls of St. Mary's Hall dressed in native costume." In this photograph, the group poses in front of the entrance to St. Mary's Hall in Manila, 1935.

Bua School for Igorote girls, Baguio, Philippines, 1910-1920
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An early Ifugao School, Mountain Province, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines, early 20th Century.

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Ateneo de Manila Museum, physics room, Manila, Philippines 1887 Municipal Ateneo de Manila Album, Philippines

Ateneo de Manila Museum, Natural History Room Manila, Philippines, 1887
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Ateneo de Manila drawing art classroom, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, 1887

Ateneo de Manila, piano class in the hall, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, 1887
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Girls in daily physical training, public school of the Philippines, 1920 or before Primary school pupils of the public schools of the Philippines Islands receive daily physical training in the form of group games, folk dances, and calisthenics exercises.
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Girls Basketball, Capiz vs. Iloilo, Inter-Visayan Athletic Meet, Jan. 1-4, 1913

Ateneo de Manila, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, 1887 A Class-To-Class Brigade (Una Brigada Yendo A Clase)
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Photograph of nursing students dressed in costume at a party. "Feb. 14, 1928 Valentine party given the seniors who are in front row in their Balintawak costume." Note stockingless feet and tsinelas. St. Paul's Hospital, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines.
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Photograph of the "exhibition of Christmas trees"; at Maryknoll Normal College. "The above was taken to show the participants in a Christmas tree contest held for the art class. All trees are homemade and decorated by the contestants. Sr. Caritas is in center. The young woman at extreme right is the art teacher, Miss Cristobal of Philippine Normal who has been a resident of St. Mary's Hall for the past nine years. Miss Cristobal offered her services free to Maryknoll. Classes are conducted on her free day, Saturday. She is very talented and an excellent teacher. This made it possible for us not to call upon Sr. Patricia this year. We do not know what the arrangement will be for next year. It remains to be seen."
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Public school pupils and schoolhouse, Philippines, ca. 1920-1940 Source: The University of Southern California Libraries from John Tewell's collection



Luther Parker, Anderson Intermediate School, Arayat, Luzon, Philippines, 1908

Source: William Miles Parker photograph collection from UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library, courtesy of John Tewell's collection




Class and faculty photos

 

Well, not much has changed in terms of how we took class photos. 



Municipal School of Quiapo, Manila, Philippines, 1887; Biblloteca National de Espana courtesy of John Tewell



Faculty at Anderson Intermediate School, Arayat, Luzon, Philippines, 1908

William Miles Parker photograph collection of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library, courtesy of John Tewell




1st day at Bua School for Igorote girls, near Baguio, Philippines, 1910-1920 from Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, courtesy of John Tewell



Filipina student nurses, Manila Hotel in background, Manila, Philippines, about 1930, courtesy of John Tewell



High school students & Sr. M. Aquinata, St. James Academy, Malabon, Northwestern Metro Manila, Philippines, April 1949

University of Southern California. Libraries, courtesy of John Tewell 

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Sampaloc Primary School in Manila, Philippines, 1903 or before

This is an illustration from the booklet: Offical Hand Book, Description of the Philippines, courtesy of John Tewell




Group portrait of fifty-three "girls of St. Mary's Hall dressed in native costume." In this photograph, the group poses in front of the entrance to St. Mary's Hall in Manila, 1935.

University of Southern California Libraries, courtesy of John Tewell




Catholic School for Girls, Philippines 1900-1901

US National Archives and Records Administration, courtesy of John Tewell




Inside the classroom and how classes were conducted



Bua School for Igorote girls, Baguio, Philippines, 1910-1920 from Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, courtesy of John Tewell




An early Ifugao School, Mountain Province, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines, early 20th Century. Illustration picture from the book: The Philippines, Past and Present by Dean C. Worcester, published 1914 by Mills in London



Ateneo de Manila, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, 1887

Class Room (Salon de Estudio) from an old photograph album book: Ateneo Municipal of Manila Album. Philippines Exhibition in Madrid, 1887; National Library of Spain, courtesy of John Tewell

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Ateneo de Manila Museum, physics room, Manila, Philippines 1887

Municipal Ateneo de Manila Album, Philippines; National Library of Spain, courtesy of John Tewell




Ateneo de Manila Museum, natural history room Manila, Philippines 1887

Municipal Ateneo de Manila Album, Philippines; National Library of Spain, courtesy of John Tewell




Ateneo de Manila drawing art classroom, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, 1887

Municipal Ateneo de Manila Album, the Philippines from the National Library of Spain, courtesy of John Tewell




Ateneo de Manila, piano class in the hall, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, 1887

Municipal Ateneo de Manila Album, the Philippines from the National Library of Spain, courtesy of John Tewell



Exercise




Girls in daily physical training, public school of the Philippines, 1920 or before

Primary school pupils of the public schools of the Philippines Islands receive daily physical training in the form of group games, folk dances, and calisthenics exercises.

From the book “Facts and figures about the Philippines” published 1920 by Bureau of printing in Manila, Philippines

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Girls Basketball, Capiz vs. Iloilo, Inter-Visayan Athletic Meet, Jan. 1-4, 1913

Illustration from the book “Facts and figures about the Philippines” published 1920 by Bureau of printing in Manila, Philippines




Ateneo de Manila, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, 1887

A Class-To-Class Brigade (Una Brigada Yendo A Clase)

From an old photograph album book: Ateneo Municipal of Manila Album. Philippines Exhibition in Madrid, 1887; National Library of Spain courtesy of John Tewell




Parties 



Photograph of nursing students dressed in costume at a party. "Feb. 14, 1928 Valentine party given the seniors who are in front row in their Balintawak costume.' Note stockingless feet and tsineleas. St. Paul's Hospital, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines.

 

 Source: University of Southern California. Libraries, from the collection Photographs of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, Maryknoll, New York, 1912-1945; courtesy of John Tewell 




Photograph of an "exhibition of Christmas trees" at Maryknoll Normal College. "The above was taken to show the participants in a Christmas tree contest held for the art class. All trees are homemade and decorated by the contestants. Sr. Caritas is in center. The young woman at extreme right is the art teacher, Miss Cristobal of Philippine Normal who has been a resident of St. Mary's Hall for past 9 years. Miss Cristobal offered her services free to Maryknoll. Classes are conducted on her free day - Saturday. She is very talented and an excellent teacher. This made it possible for us not to call upon Sr. Patricia this year. We do not know what the arrangement will be for next year. It remains to be seen."

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University of Southern California Libraries; International Mission Photography Archive, ca.1860-ca.1960; Maryknoll Mission Archives, courtesy of John Tewell

 

 





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Nicai de Guzman
Nicai de Guzman is the Head of Marketing of Rising Tide, one of the fastest-growing mobile and digital advertising technology companies in the Philippines. She also writes for SPOT.ph and Entrepreneur.com.ph.
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