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Conditions for the educational system in the Philippines

Nyoman Agus Indrawan
Paweł Rogaliński

Historical Conditions and Recent Years

The history of educational system in the Philippines is complex and has evolved significantly from the pre-colonial era to the present period. There are four main stages of the educational system in the Philippines. They are:

  • Pre-colonial period – early Filipinos (900–1565),
  • Spanish period (1565–1898),
  • American period (1898–1946),
  • Japanese period, (1942–1945)
  • Post-colonial period and recent years (1946 – present)

Education in the Philippines during the pre-colonial period was informal and unstructured. It was simple and plain with Alibata – the native alphabet that was used as medium of instructions. Babaylan and the Katalonan were the teachers or the educators. They were respected by the society with their wisdom and knowledge on spirituality. The educational system then was changed to a formal structure during the Spanish period with the mandate of Augustinians that established the first Christian school at Cebu in 1565. It was noted that the passage of the Education Reform Act in the Spanish Courts with the establishment of the public school system in the Philippines were born in 1863. Separate schools for boys and girls were inaugurated in every pueblo (town/village) due to the compulsory education for Filipino children. However, inequality in attaining education remained obvious at this time in which higher priority was placed on male students rather than on female ones. There were also only vocational schools for girls. The first ever educational system in the Philippines that required government to provide school institutions for boys and girls in every town was only established in 1863 by the Educational Decree 1863 (The Decree of Education).

Major influence in the system happened when Americans brought many traditional and cultural elements to the country during their 45 years of colonization with the motive to spread their cultural values. Education was very important for the United States’ colonial governments. English language learning was a priority and it has remained until now. There were three levels of education during that period: elementary level consisted of four primary years and three intermediate years. High school or secondary level took four years and tertiary level or college became the final level of education. Interestingly, school curriculum did not include religion, unlike during the Spanish period. Scholarships were also introduced at that time for students who excelled academically. They gained a chance to continue their studies in their chosen fields in the United States and some expenses, as well as tuition fees, were covered by the government. Private schools were also established – in the early 1940s there was a population of up to 10,000 students attending 400 private schools. 

During the Japanese occupation, that had started in 1941, Military Order No. 2 was implemented – this also meant some changes in the educational system. The main focus was to remove the influence of western culture while embracing the local one. It was also of high importance to establish good relations between Japan and the Philippines, as part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Other important aspects were: to popularize primary and vocational education, foster work ethics and love for work in the morality of the local population, to stop teaching and learning English and instead to adopt Japanese language of Nippongo.

As outlined previously, the American system occurred to be deeply rooted and still dominates the present period of educational system in the Philippines, with English language as a medium of instructions. Currently, there are two types or categories of schools: public (government) and private (non-government). The pattern of formal education has four stages: the first one, preparatory primary level, consists of nurseries and kindergartens. Most private schools offer preparatory level; public institutions do it very rarely. Second stage is a six-year primary education followed by a secondary education as a third stage, and college as the fourth one. College education or university generally involves a four-year study or, quite rarely, five years. However, specific fields of study, such as medical and law schools, can take as long as eight years. Until recently, academic year in most schools used to start in June and end in March – it has covered a total period of 40 weeks. Summer holidays used to take place from April to June. As of 2015, some local schools and universities started to adjust to the international school calendar and begin the school year in August. In 2021 the official opening date for school year 2021-2022 was on September 13th:

School Calendar 2021-2022

First Day of School13 Sep 2021
Christmas Break20 Dec 2021
3 Jan 2022
Last Day of School24 Jun 2022

Educational system in the Philippines


Primary school lasts for six years and begins when children are five to six years old. This is a mandatory stage for all children. Local dialect (determined by the region, as there are over 170 languages spoken across the Philippines) is taught to youngest students in grades K-2. Pupils are also introduced to Filipino and English. From grade three onwards, students are taught in country’s two official languages – Filipino and English. Math and Science are generally taught in English, whereas Humanities – in standardized Tagalog/Filipino language. Within a primary school there are two cycles: G1-G4 (primary cycle) and G5-6 (intermediate cycle).

Elementary students usually have classes in Language Arts (Filipino / English / local dialect), Math, Health and Science, but there may be some specific curriculum modifications. Students also learn about Makabayan (healthy personal and national identity; holistic learning where students learn about their own skills and values – cultural, aesthetic, vocational, ethical, economic or political). In the primary cycle there are also classes in Civics and Culture. In the intermediate cycle there are: Music, Art, Physical Education, Social Studies, Home Economics.

Around 50% of secondary schools are private and 21% of secondary students in the Philippines attend private institutions. A vast majority (90%) of public secondary students attend general secondary school, and only 10% of pupils – vocational secondary schools. Only very few, who are identified as particularly gifted in Science, Technology or Math in their primary schools, can attend Science High Schools. SHS’ are public, but their admission is based on placement in entrance exams. All other public schools do not pick their students and accept all in the direct region. Private schools can be highly competitive and accept only the ones who do well on their entrance examinations.

Secondary school takes six years – from G7 to G12. Students typically graduate at the age of 18. Curricula can vary, but the general subjects are: Language Arts, Math, Science, Civics and Social Studies.

K-12 Basic Education Curriculum


Legal grounds for schools in the Philippines

The basic education system in the country is governed by the Department of Education (DepEd) with the system called trifocalization. DepEd is also in charge of the national curriculum. Overall educational standards and standardized tests for the K–12 basic education system are set and mandated by DepEd, although private schools are generally flexible to determine their own curriculum in accordance with department regulations and existing laws. On a further stage, colleges and universities are regulated and supervised by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) at the higher education level. Meanwhile, vocational and technical institutions and education programs are regulated and accredited by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

 * Trifocalization of education -In the Philippines, trifocalization of education pertains to assigning three different agencies to oversee major educational systems: DepEd for basic education, CHED for higher education and the TESDA for technical and vocational education training (TVET).


Expanding access to all levels of education has been a focus in recent education policy in the Philippines. It was conveyed by the K-12 reforms of 2011-2016 that are considered to have been rolled out successfully. The reforms were initially doubted by President Rodrigo Duterte as he showed his skepticism about the implementation of the reform whether the Philippines’ teachers, administration and schools were properly equipped in order to reach that direction. Furthermore, Benigno Aquino III, who was Duterte’s predecessor, had a ’10-point plan’ that aimed at e.g. building more schools, improving science education, and expanding vocational course options in the Philippines. In addition, Education for All (EFA) initiative was launched by the government in 2015 to compliment K-12 reforms with the goal to ensure that all Filipinos achieve “functional literacy” – the ability to read, write and do basic calculations. Facilitating education for young people and out-of-school adults, and eliminating school drop-outs in order to decrease inequality within the education system are the current EFA’s main priority. The below tables show the legal orders mandated by the national government.

Department of Education Legal Orders

YearOfficial Name of DepartmentOfficial Nominal HeadLegal Order
1978-1984Ministry of Education and CultureMinisterP.D. No. 1397, June 2, 1978
1984 – 1986Ministry of Education, Culture and SportsMinisterEducation Act of 1982
1987-1994Department of Education, Culture and SportsSecretaryE.O. No. 117. January 30, 1987
1994 – 2001Department of Education, Culture, and SportsSecretaryRA 7722 and RA 7796, 1994 Trifocalization of Education Management
2001 – PresentDepartment of EducationSecretaryRA 9155, August 2001 (Governance of Basic Education Act)

Source: European Journal of Contemporary Education, 2012, Vol.(2), No 2: Features and Historical Aspects of the Philippines Educational system

Grading and assessments

At the kindergarten level, assessments are conducted through regular teacher observations. For this purpose the following are being utilized:

  • School Readiness** Early Years Assessment
  • Early Childhood Care Development checklist***
  • other forms of assessment.

 ** School Readiness for EYFS children is defined in terms of the aspects of the school environment that support a smooth transition for children (and their families) into primary school and advance learning for all children. (…) The characteristics of school readiness involve standards of intellectual, physical, and social development which allows children to meet requirements and cope with the school curriculum.


 *** Philippine Early Childhood Development Checklist (Phil. ECD) is designed for service providers like teachers, rural health midwives, child development and day care workers, parents/caregivers who can easily administer after a brief training period. By using the checklist, they will be able to determine if a child is developing adequately, or is at risk for developmental delays.(…) The items in the Checklist are grouped into seven domains: 1) gross motor, 2) fine motor, 3) self-help, 4) receptive language, 5) expressive language, 6) cognitive, and 7) social-emotional. The Child Record 2 will be utilized for the kindergarten learners of the Department of Education


In elementary school, meeting academic standards for each grade is a requirement for being promoted from one grade to another. This means that cumulative grades from the academic year as a whole are calculated in order to determine whether a student passed. There are no final tests that students have to take in order to be promoted to the next year. At the end of elementary, as well as junior phases of education (G6-G10), statutory national curriculum assessments are administered. In order to measure students’ learning, some other reliable external assessments can be additionally administered – depending on the decision taken in this regard.

In secondary, students are given grades four times per each school year. Pupils have to achieve at least 75% in each subject in order to pass. Otherwise, they have to retake courses or do not advance to the next grade.

In Grade 12, students take the Department of Education Basic Education Exit Assessment. Their achievements are also measured through internal assessments. Students who meet all academic and non-academic requirements receive a Senior High School Diploma as well as Secondary Leaving Certificate.

Assessment Practices in the Philippines are identified by levels of assessment whether it is on national level, institutional, or course and classroom-based assessment.

Source: Z. Q. Reyes, Assessment Practices in the Philippines, Philippine Normal University.

National Level

There are three categories of assessment practices on national level:

  1. Bar Examination and Licensure examinations for professionals, such as teachers, engineers etc.
  2. National Achievement Tests for Grade 3, Grade 6, and High School Students.
  3. Vocational and Technical – National Competency Test. This is skills test, such as NC 1, 2 for baking, welding etc.


Institutional assessment practices are as follows:

  1. Leveling of State Universities and Colleges – I, II, III, IV, and V.
  2. Accreditation of Programs and Institutions – Level I, II, III, and V.
  3. Designation of Universities as Centers of Excellence and Centers of Development.
  4. Programs alignment with the Commission of Higher Education Program and Policy Standards.
  5. Alignment of programs with Philippine Qualification Framework and Asian Quality Reference Framework.

Course and Classroom-Based Assessments

These assessments are based on the concept of E. De Guzman’s Curricular Trilogy.

Source: Z. Q. Reyes, Assessment Practices in the Philippines, Philippine Normal University

Balanced Assessment:

Types of AssessmentFocusFeatures
Traditional (Pencil & Paper)Knowledge, Curriculum, & SkillsClassroom Assessment, Test, Quizzes, Assignment, Standardized Test, Norm-referenced, & Criterion-referenced.  
PortfolioProcess & GrowthGrowth & Development Reflection and Goal Setting Reflection.  
PerformanceStandards, Application, & TransferCollaboration Tasks, Criteria, and Rubrics.

Source: Z. Q. Reyes, Assessment Practices in the Philippines, Philippine Normal University

Grading scale in the Philippines can differ, depending on the area and school. Below there are some examples presented:

Primary Grading Scale:

Grading Scale (%)Grade DescriptionRemarks
90.00 – 100.00OutstandingPassed
85.00 – 89.00Very SatisfactoryPassed
80.00 – 84.00SatisfactoryPassed
75.00 – 79.00Fairly SatisfactoryPassed
Below 75.00Did Not Meet ExpectationsFailed

Source: Kamuning Elementary School in Quezon City, Philippines

Secondary / High School Grading Scale:

ScaleScale 2 (%)Grade DescriptionUS Grade
1.00 – 1.2597.00 – 100.00ExcellentA
1.25 – 1.4994.00 – 96.99Very goodA-
1.50 – 1.7491.00 – 93.99Very goodB+
1.75 – 1.9988.00 – 90.99GoodB
2.00 – 2.2485.00 – 87.99GoodB-
2.25 – 2.4982.00 – 84.99SatisfactoryC+
2.50 – 2.7480.00 – 81.99SatisfactoryC
2.75 – 2.9978.00 – 79.99UnsatisfactoryC-
3.00 – 3.9975.00 – 77.99UnsatisfactoryD+
4.00 – 4.9970.00 – 74.99ConditionalD
5.00 – 5.000.00 – 69.99FailF


Statistical aspects of the educational system

According to the results of the 2019 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS), it was presented that 91.6% Filipinos aged 10 to 64 years old were functionally literate people. This means that around 73.0 million out of 79.7 million are considered literate.

Functional Literacy Rate of Population 10-64 y.o. by Sex and Age Group in the Philippines, 2019:

According to the data from Department of Education, as of 10 July 2021, the number of enrolled students in the public sector in the Philippines (SY 2020-21) was higher than in the same period last year (SY 2019-20), despite the challenges to battle against the pandemic of COVID-19. At the same time, there were less enrollees in private schools.

DepEd Learners as of July 10, 2021

Public Only (Formal)22,572,92322,712,409
State Universities and Colleges / Local Universities and Colleges131,006118,755
Alternative Learning System (ALS)****759,723361,406
Philippine Schools Overseas21,78620,110

Source: Department of Education (DepEd) Philippines Based on Learner Information System 2021

 ****The Alternative Learning System (ALS) is a parallel learning system in the Philippines that provides opportunities for out-of-school youth and adult (OSYA) learners to develop basic and functional literacy skills, and to access equivalent pathways to complete basic education. A viable alternative to the existing formal education system, ALS encompasses both non-formal and informal sources of knowledge and skills. As a second chance education program, it aims to empower OSYA learners to continue learning in a manner, time and place suitable to their preference and circumstances, and for them to achieve their goals of improving their quality of life and becoming productive contributors to society.


Moreover, the total number of enrollees for KG to G12, including ALS and non-graded learners with disabilities for SY 2020-2021 has reached 22,524,746 nationwide (81% of SY 2019-2020) as of 4 August 2020. The data showed that public schools had counted the biggest enrollment of 21,062,929 learners (93.3% of SY 2019), meanwhile private schools had registered 1,427,602 learners (33.1% of SY 2019). DepEd Order No. 003 stated that schools would accept late enrollees even beyond the enrollment period, therefore increasing in enrollment figures was still being expected and anticipated. 

International Relations and Comparisons

The Philippines recently participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in March 2022. The information of participation was announced by DepEd. Unfortunately, Filipino students fared worst among all 79 participating countries in Reading Comprehension. They were also second lowest in Math and Scientific Literacy.

Student performance according to PISA 2018:

  • 15-year-olds in Philippines scored 340 points compared to an average of 487 points in OECD countries in Reading Literacy.
  • 353 points in Mathematics were scored by 15-year-olds in comparison to an average of 489 points in OECD countries.
  • 15-year-olds in the Philippines scored 357 points in Science compared to an average of 489 points in OECD countries.
  • 88 points – an average difference between advantaged and disadvantaged students in Reading, as it was compared to an average of 89 points in OECD countries.

The Philippines PISA ranking 2018

Subject and YearScoreRank
Mathematics 201835377
Science 201835778
Reading 201834078

Source: Own work based on PISA 2018

Philippines established professional organization named Philippine International Studies Organization (PHISO) in September 2015. The organization aimed to promote International Relations as a field of study and interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge and research in the Philippines. Two regular activities held by PHISO are the biennial exploratory workshop (PEW) and biennial international conference (PIC).  

The activity focuses on discussion about international relations scholarships and research collaborations. Therefore, the activity has gathered teachers, scholars, practitioners, and students. PHISO’s aim is to eliminate the walls of paternalism, divisive turf, and parochialism. PHISO has participated and partnered with many international organizations and association that are outlined as follows:

  • International Studies Association (ISA) – (partner, since 2015)
  • World International Studies Committee (WISC) (member, since 2016)
  • ISA Global South Caucus of International Studies (GSCIS) – (affiliate member, since 2016)
  • College of William and Mary on Philippine TRIP Faculty Survey (Teaching, Research, and International Policy) – (Country Partner Agreement, 2016)
  • International Political Science Association (IPSA) – (institutional member, since 2017)
  • School of International Studies of the University Utara, Malaysia – (Memorandum of Understanding, 2018).
  • 23rd Association of Asian Social Science Research Councils – (associate member, 2019)
  • United Nations Global Compact – (registered participant, since 2021).

Education during COVID-19 and Educational System’s issues – Social Dialogue, Labor Market

The Philippines was facing an educational crisis even before the pandemic. It was caused partially by common poverty, weak economic condition, teachers to pupil ratio, and general low quality of education with significant gap between highly urbanized Metro Manila against the rest of the country. Pandemic brought an additional, severe impact to the condition described and exacerbated the ongoing crisis. The government stopped in-person classes few weeks before the end of academic year. The plan to reopen new school year in September was held back by the president imposing “no vaccine – no classes policy” as the country had struggled to control spiking COVID-19 cases.

A blend of remote-learning options: online platforms, printed modules, and educational TV and radio were addressed and commenced by the DepEd as a solution when the school resumed in October 2020. However, these approaches became a huge challenge to many students and teachers. It was noticeable that social inequalities, the lack of resources at home, and limited access to the internet were other problems that had not been resolved either.

Video conferencing platforms or Facebook Live were sometimes used as a medium to teach students in urban areas with less disturbance but over 52.6% of the Philippines’s total population (110 million people) live in rural areas with very weak quality of connectivity. According to the surveyed research of 79 countries that was conducted by cybersecurity firm SurfShark, it was found that internet in the Philippines is among the slowest and least stable, and also the most expensive. The other challenge was lack of devices for students and teachers. It was with no surprise, according to private polling firm Social Weather Stations, that over 40% of students did not have any device to assist them in distance learning, 27% used a device that they owned, 10% had to borrow them, and 12% had to buy new ones. Families had to spend an average of $172 monthly per learner; that amount is more than half the average salary in the Philippines. This led many into a tough decision whether to “eat food for survival” or to “study”. A lot of students, even primary ones, decided to quit school and go to work.

In September 2021 there were only 16% percent of the population fully inoculated and it represented one of the lowest vaccination rates in Asia. The closing of schools remained in place for most of the SY 2021-22 in order to protect students and families from COVID-19. Therefore, it made the Philippines with its approximately 27 million students, as one of only a handful of countries joining Venezuela that had kept schools fully closed throughout the pandemic, according to UNICEF.

In March 2022, DepEd announced a total of 9,994 public schools and 212 private schools were nominated under Alert Levels 1 and 2. Those, that were nominated, had already passed the School Safety Assessment Tool against COVID-19 and hence the participating schools received an approval to resume limited in-person classes. DepEd’s current plan is the proposal to open school year 2022-2023 in August 2022 by implementing blended learning with more in-person classes, however full capacity is still not yet in their agenda.

Apart from the issue of poverty, educational inequality, teacher shortage, and lack of facilities, there have been several other issues. In 2014, a decline in the quality of Philippine education at the elementary and secondary levels were noticed and stressed in the outcomes from the National Achievement Test (NAT) and the National Career Assessment Examination (NCAE). The students’ performance was dramatically below the target mean score in both the 2014 NAT and NCAE. What is more, completion rate in Metro Manila primary schools was almost 100% and other areas of the nation, such as Eastern Visayas and Mindanao held less than 30%.

Government’s budget for Education in the Philippines remains one of the lowest among all ASEAN countries. This explains the lack of facilities in schools and shortage of teachers, since their salary is relatively low and unfavorable. Public schools also have insufficient resources and serve large numbers of disadvantaged students, whose family, economic, social or any other circumstances hinder their ability to attend lessons and learn.

This means education is not affordable and accessible for low-income families due to poverty. Therefore, it causes another problem of high level of drop-out rates. The Philippines is one of the top 5 countries in ASEAN with the highest number of drop-out (out-of-school youth). The country has 1.4 million children who are out-of-school according to UNESCO. The drop-out rate was 6.38% in primary school and a 7.82% drop-out rate in secondary school in 2012 according to the data from Department of Education (DepEd) highlighting the poverty as a main reason.

Poverty also leads to social division and ‘Brain Drain’ phenomena. Social division refers to equalizing effect in the social system that has made education become part of the institutional mechanism and a division between the rich and the poor are distinctly created. Brain drain is the ongoing mass emigration of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). It was estimated at 2.3 million Filipinos worked abroad in 2014. Therefore, it is a persistent problem – a lot of Filipinos spend their more productive years abroad.

There is also a major issue at the tertiary level caused by the continuation of a substantial amount of underemployed or educated yet unemployed people. This issue brings a large mismatch between educational training and actual jobs.

The government with its political landscape plays a very important role to the success of educational system in the Philippines. Changes in terms of governance, holistic support and assistance of local government units are inevitable to uplift learning achievements of the students and improve the country’s quality of education. It is not without significance to recognize welfare of teachers through the laws pertaining to their competency and trainings, compensation, and sufficient learning materials. However, above all, the root problem of poverty has to be solved in the very first place in order to attain a successful solution to improve educational system in the Philippines.

Authors: Nyoman Agus Indrawan & Pawel Rogalinski


About the authors
Nyoman Agus Indrawan
He obtained a Master's Degree at the University of Social Sciences in Warsaw, a Bachelor's at Sekolah Tinggi Pariwisata Bali, and a Postgraduate Degree at the University of Health Sciences in Bydgoszcz. Passionate about traveling, education, business analysis, sociology, and cultures around the world. Working as a manager in the United Arab Emirates.
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Paweł Rogaliński
a researcher and manager in the media and education sector. Doctor of Social Sciences in Communication and Media Studies (Jagiellonian University). Graduated from the University of Łódź doing the following faculties: Management (2010-12), International Relations: Political Science (2006-11) and English Studies (2006-10). Editor-in-Chief of a popular science online magazine 'Przegląd Dziennikarski' ( and a president of an NGO organization. Working on a managerial level in education sector in the United Arab Emirates. Dr Pawel Rogalinski has received several international awards, e.g. in Brussels, Berlin, Warsaw and London.
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