Education in the Philippines during Spanish rule

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Library of the University of Santo Tomás in Manila, 1887. Created at the request of Archbishop Miguel de Benavides, O.P. of Manila in 1610, it is the oldest existing university library in Asia. It even had its own printing press which had been imported from Europe.

During the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines (1521–1898), the culture of the archipelago experienced a major transformation from a variety of native Asian and Islamic cultures and traditions, including animist religious practices, to a unique hybrid of Southeast Asian and Western culture, particularly Spanish, including the Spanish language and the Catholic faith.

Spanish education played a major role in that transformation. The oldest universities, colleges, vocational schools and the first modern public education system in Asia were created during the colonial period. By the time Spain was replaced by the United States as the colonial power, Filipinos were among the most educated subjects in all of Asia.[1]

The early period[edit]

During the early years of Spanish colonization, education was mostly barurot-oriented and controlled by the Roman Catholic Church. Spanish friars and missionaries educated the natives through religion with the aim of converting indigenous populations to the Catholic faith.

King Philip II's Leyes de Indias (Laws of the Indies) mandated Spanish authorities in the Philippines to educate the natives, to teach them how to read and write and to learn Spanish. However, the latter objective was well-nigh impossible given the realities of the time.[2] The early friars learned the local languages and the Baybayin script to better communicate with the locals. Although by royal decree the friars were required to teach the Spanish language to the natives, they reasoned that it would be easier for them to learn the local languages first than trying to teach Spanish to all the population.

The Spanish missionaries established schools immediately on reaching the islands and wherever they penetrated, church and school went together. There was no Christian village without its school and all young people attended.

The Augustinians opened a school immediately upon arriving in Cebú in 1565. The Franciscans arrived in 1577, and they, too, immediately taught the people how to read and write, besides imparting to them important industrial and agricultural techniques. The Jesuits who arrived in 1581 also concentrated on teaching the young. When the Dominicans arrived in 1587, they did the same thing in their first mission in Bataan.[3]

Within months of their arrival in Tigbauan which is in Iloilo province located in the island of Panay, Pedro Chirino and Francisco Martín had established a school for Visayan boys in 1593 in which they taught not only the catechism but reading, writing, Spanish, and liturgical music. The Spaniards of Arévalo heard of the school and wanted Chirino to teach their boys too. Chirino at once put up a dormitory and school house (1593–1594) for the Spanish boys near his rectory. It was the first Jesuit boarding school to be established in the Philippines.[4][5]

The Chinese language version of the Doctrina Christiana (Christian Doctrine) was the first book printed in the Philippines in about 1590 to 1592. A version in Spanish, and in Filipino, in both Latin script and the commonly used Baybayin script of the Manila Tagalogs of the time was printed in 1593.[6] The goal of the book was to propagate the Christian teachings around Manila. Eventually, the Baybayin script was replaced by the Latin script, providing in this way the indigenous people with more leverage when dealing with the local Spanish colonial administrators.[7]

In 1610 Tomas Pinpin a Filipino printer, writer and publisher, who is sometimes referred as the "Patriarch of Filipino Printing", wrote his famous Librong Pagaaralan nang manga Tagalog nang Uicang Castilla, that was meant to help Filipinos learn the Spanish language. The prologue read:

There were also Latin schools where that language was taught together with some Spanish, since it was a mandatory requirement for the study of philosophy, theology and jurisprudence in schools like the University of Santo Tomás, run by the Dominicans. The Philippine priests and lawyers of that time, with the exception of the sons and daughters of Spaniards, Principalías and Ladinos,[9][n 1] knew Latin perfectly well because the educational system was wholly religious.

The friars also opened many medical and pharmaceutical schools. The study of pharmacy consisted of a preparatory course with subjects in natural history and general chemistry and five years of studies in subjects such as pharmaceutical operations at the school of pharmacy. At the end of this period, the degree of Bachiller en Farmacia was granted.

By the end of the 16th century, several religious orders had established charity hospitals all over the archipelago and provided the bulk of this public service. These hospitals also became the setting for rudimentary scientific research work on pharmacy and medicine, focusing mostly on the problems of infections diseases. Several Spanish missionaries cataloged hundreds of Philippine plants with medicinal properties. The Manual de Medicinas Caseras...., written by Father Fernando de Santa María, first published in 1763,[10] became so sought after that it was reprinted on several editions by 1885.

Colegio de Santa Potenciana was the first school and college for girls that opened in the Philippines, in 1589. It was followed by another school for women, Colegio de Santa Isabel, that opened in 1632. Other Schools and Colleges for girls were Santa Catalina, Santa Rosa, La Concordia, etc. Several religious congregations also established schools for orphaned girls who could not educate themselves.[11]

Tertiary schools[edit]

In 1590, the Universidad de San Ignacio was founded in Manila by the Jesuits, initially as the Colegio-Seminario de San Ignacio. By the second half of the 17th century, the university was incorporated as a mere College of Medicine and Pharmacy into the University of Santo Tomás.[12]

The University of San Carlos, arguably the oldest school in Asia

The Universidad de San Carlos was founded in Cebú by the Jesuits on August 1, 1595, initially named as the Colegio de San Ildefonso. It closed down in 1769 as a result of the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Philippines and didn't open again until 1783.

On April 28, 1611, the Universidad de Santo Tomás was founded in Manila, initially named as the Colegio de Nuestra Señora del Santísimo Rosario and later renamed as Colegio de Santo Tomas. [n 2] On November 20, 1645, Pope Innocent X elevated it to University. King Charles III of Spain bestowed the title “Royal Patronage” on 1785, and Pope Leo XIII “Pontifical” on 1902. Pope Pius XII designated it as La Real y Pontificia Universidad de Santo Tomás de Aquino Universidad Católica de Filipinas (The Catholic University of the Philippines), on 1947.[12]

Fountain of Wisdom at the University of Santo Tomás

San Carlos and Santo Tomás maintain a friendly rivalry over the claim to be the oldest university in Asia. The University of San Carlos makes the claim of tracing its roots to the Colegio de San Ildefonso founded by the Spanish Jesuits fathers Antonio Sedeno, Pedro Chirino and Antonio Pereira in 1595.[13] However, this claim is opposed by the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas,[14][14][15] which argues that USC only took over the facility of the former Colegio de San Ildefonso and that there is no 'visible' and 'clear' link between San Carlos and San Ildefonso[14][15]

Notable scholars including Dr. Jose Victor Torres, professor of history at the De La Salle, Fr. Aloysius Cartagenas STD, professor at the Seminario Mayor de San Carlos of Cebu, and Fr. Fidel Villarroel, OP, respected historian and former archivist of Santo Tomas, have also questioned San Carlos' claim of tracing its roots to the 16th Century Colegio de San Ildefonso.[14][15]

In 1640, the Universidad de San Felipe de Austria was established in Manila. It was the first public university created by the Spanish government in the Philippines. It closed down in 1643.[12]

The Jesuits also founded the Colegio de San José (1601) and took over the management of a school that became the Escuela Municipal (1859, later renamed Ateneo Municipal de Manila in 1865, now the Ateneo de Manila University). The Dominicans on their part had the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán (1620) in Manila. All of them provided courses leading to different prestigious degrees, like the Bachiller en Artes, that by the 19th century included science subjects such as physics, chemistry, natural history and mathematics. The University of Santo Tomás, for example, started by teaching theology, philosophy and humanities. During the 18th century, the Faculty of Jurisprudence and Canonical Law was established.

In 1871, several schools of medicine and pharmacy were opened. From 1871 to 1883 Santo Tomás alone had 829 registrations of medical students, and from 1883 until 1898, 7965 medical students. By the end of the Spanish colonial rule in 1898. the university had granted the degree of Licenciado en Medicina to 359 graduates and 108 medical doctors. For the doctorate degree in medicine its provision was inspired in the same set of oppositions than those of universities in the metropolis, and at least an additional year of study was required at the Universidad Central de Madrid in Spain.

Secondary schools[edit]

Entrance to the Pharmacy and Medicine classrooms of the Colegio de San José

A Nautical School was created on January 1, 1820 which offered a four-year course of study (for the profession of pilot of merchant marine) that included subjects such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, physics, hydrography, meteorology, navigation and pilotage. A School of Commercial Accounting and a School of French and English Languages were established in 1839.

The Don Honorio Ventura College of Arts and Trades (DHVCAT) in Bacolor, Pampanga is said to be the oldest official vocational school in Asia. Augustinian Friar Juan Zita and civic leader Don Felino Gil established the vocational school on November 4, 1861. Other important vocational schools established were the Escuela de Contaduría, Academia de Pintura y Dibujo and the seminaries of Manila, Nueva Segovia, Cebú, Jaro and Nueva Cáceres.[16]

The Manila School of Agriculture was created in 1887, although it was unable to open its doors until July 1889. Its mission was to provide theoretical and practical education by agricultural engineers to skilled farmers and overseers, and to promote agricultural development by means of observation, experiment and investigation. It included subjects such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, natural history, agriculture, topography, linear and topography drawing. Agricultural schools and monitoring stations, run by professors who were agricultural engineers, were also established in Isabela, Ilocos, Albay, Cebú, Iloílo, Leyte and parts of Mindanao.[17]

The Real Sociedad Económica de los Amigos del País de Filipinas (Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Philippines) was first introduced in the islands in 1780, and offered local and foreign scholarships to Filipinos, professorships and financed trips of scientists from Spain to the Philippines. Throughout the nineteenth century the Society established an academy of design, financed the publication of scientific and technical literature, and granted awards to successful experiments and inventions that improved agriculture and industry.[18]

The Observatorio Meteorológico del Ateneo Municipal de Manila (Manila Observatory) was founded in 1865 by the Jesuits after an article they published in the newspaper Diario de Manila, describing typhoon observations made in September 1865, attracted the attention of many readers who publicly requested for the observations to be continued. The Spanish government made the observatory the official institution for weather forecasting in the Philippines in 1884, and in 1885 it started its time service. Its seismology section was set up in 1887, while astronomical studies began in 1899. The Observatory published typhoon and climatological observations and studies, including the first typhoon warnings, a service that was highly appreciated by the business community, specially those involved in merchant shipping.[19]

Modern public system of education[edit]

Modern public school education was introduced in Spain only in 1857.[20] This did not exist in any other colony of any European power in Asia. The concept of mass education was relatively new, an offshoot of the 18th century Age of Enlightenment.[21] France was the first country in the world to create a system of mass, public education in 1833.

Free access to modern public education by all Filipinos was made possible through the enactment of the Education Decree of December 20, 1863 by Queen Isabella II. Primary instruction was made free and the teaching of Spanish was compulsory.[22] This was ten years before Japan had a compulsory form of free modern public education and forty years before the American government started an English-based public school system in the Philippines.[2] The royal decree provided for a complete educational system which would consist of primary, secondary and tertiary levels, finally making officially available to Filipinos valuable training for leadership after three centuries of colonization.[23]

The Education Decree of 1863 provided for the establishment of at least two free primary schools, one for boys and another for girls, in each town under the responsibility of the municipal government. It also commended the creation of a free public normal school to train men as teachers, supervised by the Jesuits. One of these schools was the Escuela Normal Elemental, which, in 1896 became the Escuela Normal Superior de Maestros de Manila (Manila Ordinary School for Schoolmistresses). The Spanish government established a school for midwives in 1879, and Escuela Normal Superior de Maestras (Superior Normal School) for female teachers in 1892.[24] By the 1890s, free public secondary schools were opening outside of Manila, including 10 normal schools for women.[25]

The range of subjects being taught were very advanced, as can be seen from the Syllabus of Education in the Municipal Atheneum of Manila, that included Algebra, Agriculture, Arithmetic, Chemistry, Commerce, English, French, Geography, Geometry, Greek, History, Latin, Mechanics, Natural History, Painting, Philosophy, Physics, Rhetoric and Poetry, Spanish Classics, Spanish Composition, Topography, and Trigonometry. Among the subjects being taught to girls, as reflected in the curriculum of the Colegio de Santa Isabel, were Arithmetic, Drawing, Dress-cutting, French, Geology, Geography, Geometry, History of Spain, Music, Needlework, Philippine History, Physics, Reading, Sacred History and Spanish Grammar.[11]

Contrary to what the Propaganda of the Spanish–American War tried to depict, the Spanish public system of education was open to all the natives, regardless of race, gender or financial resources. The Black Legend propagation, black propaganda and yellow journalism were rampant in the last two decades of Spanish Colonial Period[26][27] and throughout the American Colonial Period.[n 3][n 4] Manuel L. Quezon, on his speech for the Philippine Assembly at the US Congress on October 1914 stated that [n 5]

Gunnar Myrdal, a renowned Swedish economist, observed that in 19th-century Asia, Japan and Spanish Philippines stood out because of their stress on modern public education.[2][20]

Education and Filipino nationalism[edit]

Ilustrados in Madrid (ca.1890)

As a result of increasing the number of educated Filipinos a new social class raised, that came to be known as the Ilustrados. Furthermore, with the opening of Suez Canal in 1869 travel to Spain become quicker, easier and more affordable, and many Filipinos took advantage of it to continue higher education in Spain and Europe, mostly in Madrid and Barcelona. This new enlightened class of Filipinos would later lead the Philippine independence movement, using the Spanish language as their main communication method. The most prominent of the Ilustrados was José Rizal, who inspired the desire for independence with his novels written in Spanish. Other Filipino intellectuals, such as Graciano López Jaena, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Mariano Ponce or Antonio Luna, who had also studied in Spain, began contributing to the cause for Filipino self-government and independence.[30]

Describing this new generation of highly educated Filipinos, Fr. John N. Schumacher pointed out that,

The Philippines was also ahead of some European countries in offering education for women.[21] Ironically, it was during the time of American occupation of the Philippines that the results of Spanish education were more visible, especially in the literature, printed press and cinema.[32]


On 30 November 1900, the Philippine Commission reported to the US War Department about the state of education throughout the archipelago as follows:

Those numbers led some people to conclude that less than 6% of the population were attending schools. However that assumption was completely misleading, because it takes into account all of the population, including babies and old people, when in reality public school systems are meant primarily for children and teenagers. To calculate the percentage of children on scholar age, it must be taken into account the number of children in Elementary School age (ages 5 through 13) and teenagers in High School age (ages 14 through 17). That would yield a total percentage of around 20% of the total population. Since the 1887 census yielded a count of 6,984,727,[34] 20% would be approximately 1,4 million. Also, by 1892 the number of schools had more than doubled to 2,137, 1,087 of which were for boys and 1,050 for girls, which means that the number of children attending school also did increase, to at least 500,000, by conservative estimates. That's about 35% of the population in School age.

Another claim commonly heard was that based on the official figures there couldn't be a school in every village in the Islands, as Manuel L. Quezon declared years later before the Philippine Assembly. However, since those official figures branded by the Philippine Commission itself put the total number of municipalities in the archipelago at 900, and the number of public schools at 2,167, those numbers reveal that there was not only one school in every municipality in the Islands, but in most cases two or more.

Neither was taken into account that the schools maintained by Spain were closed and in many cases looted and badly damaged during the Spanish–American War and the Philippine Revolution. Although the free and compulsory elementary education system was temporarily reestablished by the Malolos Constitution, it was finally dismantled after the Philippine–American War, that also took a heavy toll upon the remaining educational infrastructures.

Finally, the Philippine Commission made no reference to the fact that the pioneering public school education introduced by Spain in the Philippines was the first of its kind in all of Asia, and the first to be established in any European colony in the world. Such system was even ahead of most of United States at the time, where by 1900 only 34 states had any kind of compulsory schooling laws requiring attendance until age 14.[35] As a result, the average American at the time was less educated than the average Filipino, something that was specially true among the troops that fought in the Philippine–American War, since most of the soldiers generally were of humble social origins.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Villareal 2006, p. 9[citation not found], "Ladinos, natives from the Philippines who were the informants, translators, or even better, consultants of the missionaries."
  2. ^ The University of Santo Tomás is the oldest existing university in Asia from the University's own website.
  3. ^ Gómez Rivera 2000, "Finally it should make known that all, absolutely all Filipinos who now occupy high positions in the Assembly (House of Representatives of the Philippines) in the Courts, in commerce, in the arts, and in the administration are products of the Spanish education which the Americans and their lackeys here treacherously attack in newspapers and school textbooks at every turn."
  4. ^ Morrow 2002, "Even the prominent Dr. Henry Otley Beyer wrote in The Philippines before Magellan (1921) that, "one Spanish priest in Southern Luzon boasted of having destroyed more than three hundred scrolls written in the native character." Historians have searched for the source of Beyer's claim, but until now none have even learned the name of that zealous priest. Furthermore, there has never been a recorded instance of ancient Filipinos writing on scrolls. The fact that they wrote on such perishable materials as leaves and bamboo is probably the reason why no pre-Hispanic documents have survived."
  5. ^ Speech of Manuel L. Quezon, for the Philippine Assembly before the US Congress regarding the Jones Bill, October 1914.


  1. ^ Coleman 2009, pp. 17–59
  2. ^ a b c Andrade Jr. 2001, p. 1
  3. ^ Arcilla 1998, p. 50
  4. ^ "The Jesuits in Tigbauan, Iloilo". 22 August 2008. Archived from the original on 23 August 2010. Retrieved 24 August 2010.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  5. ^ de la Costa 1967
  6. ^ First book of the Spanish Philippin111es
  7. ^ Morrow 2002
  8. ^ Filipinos in History, National Historical Institute, 1990, p. 102
  9. ^ Lumbera 2001, pp. 36–39
  10. ^ de Santa María 1863
  11. ^ a b Foreman, John (1906). The Philippine Islands: a political, geographical, ethnographical, social and commercial history of the Philippine Archipelago, embracing the whole period of Spanish rule, with an account of the succeeding American insular government. C. Scribner's sons. p. 194. 
  12. ^ a b c Cruz 2009
  13. ^ USC History USC Website
  14. ^ a b c d UST is oldest, period UST is oldest, period] Varsitarian Website
  15. ^ a b c No contest: UST is oldest
  16. ^ Quezon 1915, p. 38
  17. ^ Blair and Robertson. The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898. BiblioBazaar. ISBN 1-4264-8144-6. 
  18. ^ Legarda, Benito (1955). "Foreign Trade, Economic Change and Entrepreneurship in the Nineteenth Century Philippines". Department of Economics, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.: 117–119, 321–326. 
  19. ^ "History". 
  20. ^ a b Zialcita 2004
  21. ^ a b Harper 2002
  22. ^ Delgado Criado 1994, p. 508
  23. ^ Lumbera 2001, p. 84
  24. ^ Meade & Wiesner-Hanks 2004, p. 437
  25. ^ Abinales & Amoroso 2005, p. 93
  26. ^ Coleman 2009
  27. ^ Mojares 2006
  28. ^ Quezon 1915, p. 34
  29. ^ Quezon 1915, p. 35
  30. ^ Schumacher 1997, p. 23
  31. ^ Schumacher 1991, p. 36
  32. ^ Rodao 1997
  33. ^ Bureau of Insular Affairs, War Department, Reports of the Philippine Commission Etc, (1900-1903), Washington DC, Government Printing Office, 1904, p121-122
  34. ^ Jan Lahmeyer (1996). "The Philippines: historical demographical data of the whole country". Retrieved 2003-07-19. 
  35. ^
  36. ^ Paul Alexander Kramer (2006). The blood of government: race, empire, the United States, & the Philippines. UNC Press Books. p. 120. ISBN 0-8078-5653-3. 


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Quezon, Manuel Luis (1915), Asamblea Filipina, Tercera Legislatura, Tercer Período de Sesiones, Documento N.o 4042-A 87, Discursos del Hon. Manuel L. Quezon, comisionado residente de Filipinas, Pronunciados en la Cámara de representantes de los Estados Unidos con motivo de la discusión del Bill Jones, 26, septiembre-14, octubre, 1914 [Philippine Assembly, Third Legislature, Third Session, Document No.4042-A 87 Speeches of Honorable Manuel L. Quezon, Philippine resident commissioner, delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States during the discussion of Jones Bill, 26 September-14 October 1914] (in Spanish), Manila, Philippines: Bureau of Printing, archived from the original on 19 July 2010, retrieved 19 July 2010 
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Schumacher, John N. (1997), The Creation of a Filipino Consciousness, The Making of the Revolution: The Propaganda Movement 1880-1895 (revised ed.), Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press, p. 333, ISBN 971-550-209-1, OCLC 39026910  External link in |publisher= (help)
Schumacher, John N. (1991), The Making of a Nation: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Filipino Nationalism, Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press, p. 269, ISBN 971-550-019-6, OCLC 26201089  External link in |publisher= (help)
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Further reading[edit]

Private education
Public education
Role of the missionaries in education

External links[edit]