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What School Should Teach Research: Case Study of Philippines (Summary)

Sandra Užule - Fons
Katarzyna Pająk-Załęska
Marcin Sakowicz
Karolina Czopek

The school in focus is located in one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the Philippines. It was established in 1939. In April 2022, the school had 58 educators teaching 2385 students. As a recognized school in the community, it has an increasing enrollment due to the mass transfer of learners from private schools. There has been a minimal number of dropouts during the last 3 years.  

The educational system in the Philippines has three levels:

  • elementary (kindergarten, grades 1-6),
  • junior high school (grades 7-10),
  • and senior high school.

Historically, the education system in the Philippines was influenced by Spanish, Japanese, and American systems. The American system became deeply rooted and still dominates today. The English language still serves as a medium of instruction.

The country reshaped its education policy in the early 90s with the system called ‘tri-focalization”. This led to the creation of three agencies managing the sector: the Department of Education (DepEd), Culture, and Sports (DECS) for basic education, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for technical and vocational education and training, and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) for tertiary education. Currently, there are two types or categories of schools: public (government) and private (non-government). In March 2020, the Philippines participated in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment. The results of the program were 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. 

The educational system conditions in the Philippines overview:

In the school where the research was carried out, the students were uniformly positive about their school and education. They did not make any critical comments about the institution or the building they were taught in. One can speculate that this was due to the participants’ cultural background and/or lack of critical thinking skills. They claimed that they love all their subjects, but some students mentioned their favorite ones, such as Math, Science, English, and Mapeh (Music, Arts, PE, Health). At the same time, they admitted that some of these subjects are not easy to learn. They felt strongly about the fact that their education will provide them with a job in the future: “School is very important because when we grow up we will have a job”.

An interesting attempt to visualize the children’s idea of the school was made by them in their diaries.

Pupil’s drawing of the school of his dream (sourcing: research materials)

When it comes to the school as a building, students said that they liked the whole building and all the classrooms. “I like all the places in school”; “nothing can be improved here”; “This school is great and I like its environment”. At the same time, the space outside the building, allowing contact with nature, seemed to be particularly important to them. Students often commented on the green areas around the building, especially the garden and the mini zoo. They would like to have some classes outside of the school building.

In the teachers’ opinion, the school was a “learning hub” as well as a “hub for creativity”.  Teachers saw their job as challenging but fulfilling. Among the negative aspects was that they were underpaid and not trained well enough. They ate lunches comprised of meat and vegetables from the school livestock and garden to save money on food. The school provided wi-fi access only for 30 minutes a day, which meant that the teacher had to pay for the connection needed to conduct online classes. Sometimes parents were involved in buying school equipment.

Another teacher noticed that the school was lucky to have less numerous classes, with 40-45 students per class instead of 50. She claimed that students do not spend their breaks outside, they only use the waiting area before the lessons begin or when they are over. The breaks are very short, lasting only 2 minutes.

Parents often referred to the distinction between public and private schools: “I think you might get a job after graduating from a public school, too”; “why should I spend a lot of money for private classes if my school provides them for free?”; “I chose this school because [of] (…) no enrolment fee”. Pragmatic considerations, in particular, the financial aspect must be of high importance to the respondents, sometimes even constituting the main criterion for the choice of school. The quality of education seemed to be of secondary importance. Public schools were even viewed as slightly superior by the respondents: while one of them claimed that there was no difference between public and private schools in terms of the quality of education whatsoever, another respondent remarked that even though private schools have better facilities, the public ones have better staff. 

 The analysis shows that the relationships formed at school were often seen as particularly close. Teachers were like “brothers and sisters”, the school was like a “second home”, and teachers were the “friends” of the students. However, observation revealed that there was room for strengthening these relationships, which should have been particularly salient in the classroom context. No real teamwork occurred during lessons and student-teacher relationships seemed to lack a personal dimension. Students lined up every day before the start of the lessons, they obeyed all orders and did not speak up unless they were asked to. Teachers used most of the lesson time to speak. The observations of the researcher suggested that there was a strict hierarchical relationship between students and teachers.

The students’ responses suggested that what they learned at school included a lot of practical skills which they were able to take advantage of in their everyday life outside the school, e.g. „cooking, experiments, how to take care of your body and animals. And how to survive by myself”. Another person mentioned learning to care about the environment, which seems to be an important part of the curriculum. In the course of the research, the interviewer noticed that students lack certain cognitive skills, such as creativity and critical thinking. This might suggest that the school neglected to develop abstract and creative reasoning, favoring more pragmatic, tangible skills. The school did not provide any extra-curricular classes, and students’ parents couldn’t afford any additional classes outside of the school. However, there was a school newspaper that children could contribute to.

The school did not have the means to provide enough equipment to make the technology-focused lessons effective. The teachers mentioned topics such as “Audio and Video Conferencing” or “PowerPoint Presentations”, but due to the lack of internet connection and computers, the lessons were only theoretical. The parents did not blame the school itself, but rather the government, for not providing schools with the necessary tools. Interestingly, the parents were keener to elaborate on the educational system itself than on the learning content that their children were acquiring.

The researcher noticed that the children learn primarily by rote memorization and repetition, not by experiment. They did not answer the teacher’s questions independently, only as a group. They seemed to lack critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Even in the process of preparing diary entries, the teachers wrote the answers for the students on the blackboard. Another significant observation was that the teacher did not provide feedback on incorrect answers, but waited for the correct one and then praised it.

The respondents did not have developed reflections on what schools should teach. It is difficult to find a common denominator in all interviews, but all respondents in one way or another mentioned preparing students for their future jobs and everyday life. It is worth repeating that students pointed out that their mental health should be taken care of, as it was the only instance of student interviewees hinting at their struggles. This is very different from what parents and teachers focused on, who preferred to elaborate on things such as “discipline” and “attitude”. This might mean that adults were not aware of the problems that young people were facing and when thinking about the role of the school, they adopted a more collective rather than an individualized perspective.

The full report from the research “What Schools Teach Vs. What Schools Should Teach: A phenomenography of the school environment” will be published in Q4 2022.

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About the authors
Sandra Užule - Fons
Holds Ph.D. in history, journalist, documentary filmmaker. Researcher and author of scientific and other publications about the Baltic States and media. Her professional career started in Warsaw in Polish Public Radio working for more than 10 years as an editor in Polish Radio External Service. She cooperates with media outlets in the implementation of media projects in Central Europe and Post-soviet countries. Currently, she is working on an alternative school project.
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Katarzyna Pająk-Załęska
holds a doctorate in health science along with a degree in philosophy. Over the years, while remaining an enthusiastic educator, she has been researching and tracking education system changes with a particular focus on alternative education. As a researcher she worked for the Educational Research Institute, the Association for Open Education, and the “House of Peace” Foundation.
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Marcin Sakowicz
Academic and mentor, holds PhD degree in economics, Visiting Fellow at the Oslo University, Department of Political Science, International Policy Fellow - OSI Budapest, at Warsaw School of Economics he was involved in research and expertise on local self-governance, state institutions and democracy, he has more than 20 years of experience in learning and development of youth and adults, works as trainer and mentor, cooperated with Bullerbyn Foundation for Community of Children and Adults, within the National School of Public Administration he stimulates innovative and interactive approaches to training and education in the public sector. He is enthusiast of life-long learning which happens anywhere.
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Karolina Czopek
A linguist, qualitative researcher and language teacher who has been working with learners of all ages. She co-authored numerous scientific publications in the field of applied linguistics and anthropology. As a PhD student at the University of Warsaw and a firm believer in the power of education, she currently investigates how the experience of learning in late adulthood affects one’s self-beliefs.
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