Claimed for Spain by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, the Philippines existed as a Spanish colony until 1898. No public educational system was instituted by the Spanish until the mid-19th Century. Education existed only for the Spanish colonists and reflected the strong heritage of the Catholic Church. Defeated by the United States in the brief war of 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the victor. The American Colonial Administration set up a public school system patterned on the U.S. model which is evident even today. In 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation creating the Philippine Commonwealth, a status designed to last only 10 years preparatory to independence. Delayed slightly by the war in the Pacific and Japanese occupation in World War II, independence finally came to the Philippines in 1946.
The Philippine Government essentially kept the American educational model though one major exception was made. Strong central control over the educational system, reminiscent of the Spanish model, provides a stark contrast to the situation prevalent in the United States. The Constitution of 1946 invested control over education in the form of cabinet-level agencies, the current version of which is the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports/DECS. In 1993, after a year-long review of higher education, the Commission on Higher Education/CHED was created out of DECS (since 2001 called Department of Education or DepED) to focus more sharply on post-secondary education. The Technical Education & Skills Authority/TESDA has oversight over technical and vocational education.
Since independence, both secondary and higher education have grown tremendously. The Philippines has followed a 10-year (6 years primary and 4 years secondary) educational format since 1957, though a few Catholic schools still maintain the old 11-year model borrowed from the Spanish. In the past 20 years much emphasis has been accorded graduate education and doctoral programs have grown markedly. DepED and CHED mandate curricula to public and private schools alike through memo orders that spell out the course requirements. Accreditation, however, is somewhat complex as CHED can truly not guarantee the quality of schools once these have been reviewed upon initial approval to open. Instead, voluntary accreditation, like that in the United States, has attempted to fill the void with the Federation of Accrediting Associations of the Philippines (FAAP) leading the way. A four-tiered system of accreditation examines schools on a progressive and periodic basis to assure quality, though no Philippine school at present possesses Level IV accreditation. The 2001 PIER publication on the Philippines addresses this topic at length.
The Philippines' Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education oversee the country's education system.
Primary education lasts six years with students passing year for year based on annual ending exams. At the successful conclusion of Grade Six, students receive the Certificate of Primary Studies.
Secondary school lasts for four years, culminating in the High School Diploma at the end of Fourth Grade. A few Catholic schools, notably those operated by the LaSalle Brothers, still maintain the 11-year system with an additional year following 6th Grade. By the late 1990s (then) DECS was determined to add an 11th year throughout the educational system, but until recently lacked sufficient resources to carry out this plan. Now, however, the Philippine Government has begun implementation of a new K-12 initiative that will change the system from a 6+4 primary/secondary system to a 6+6 model with graduation from high school at the end of Grade 12.
In 2012-13, 33 high schools began implementing the new scheme with Grade 11 for the incoming Grade 7 cohort. Full implementation for all schools is scheduled for 2016-17 and there will be no Grade 10 graduates (old system) in 2016 and beyond. The first cohort of Grade 12 graduates would be 2018. The First batch to go through the entire K-12 process fully will graduate in 2024. The secondary curriculum, especially in the regional science schools and other well-supported schools such as the Philippine Academy of the Arts in Los Banos, compares quite favorably with the high school curriculum in the United States. English is compulsory throughout elementary and secondary education and most Filipinos possess excellent English language skills. Since the 1970s and the Marcos Government, however, Filipino or Filipino, a variation of the Tagolog dialect of Central Luzon, has been the official language.
Admission to higher education is based on high school graduation and other internal institutional requirements. Two and four-year colleges exist offering programs varying from 1-year Certificates, two-year Associates degrees, to bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Very reflective of their similarly-named U.S. counterparts, the post-secondary degrees/diplomas require specific units and types of coursework as mandated by CHED. The units are defined identical to American semester units (and Philippine schools operate on a semester calendar), however, the large average number of units per semester (20-24 per term) leads most U.S. evaluators to count them as equal to .75 a U.S. semester credit hour.
Master’s degrees require coursework and thesis, while doctoral degrees have course, oral exam, dissertation (with defense) requirements just as in the States.
The Philippine Regulation Commission (PRC) administers exams in 43 professions based on input from regulatory boards associated with the named professions. Upon graduation from university degree programs, applicants sit for the professional exam in their field in order to become licensed by the PRC and practice their profession. CHED also monitors the results of these exams in conjunction with the PRC and moves to close down those schools producing continuously low-performing graduates. Coaching schools have become increasingly popular for the high profile professions (especially nursing, physical therapy, medicine, etc.) with the most graduates. One of the prime exports of the Philippines is the thousands of Overseas Workers, particularly in the health professions, that proliferate around the world in hospitals and clinics and who send a major portion of their earnings back to family in the Philippines.
A. English Proficiency: Despite the omnipresent nature of English in the Philippines, especially as a language of instruction in the schools (especially higher levels of education), it is still not the primary language spoken in the home. Not even Pilipino is the absolute lingua franca as in Cebu City they prefer Cebuana; Illongo is the dialect of choice in Iloilo, etc. etc. Therefore, it is recommended strongly that some form of English Proficiency measure be required (TOEFL, IELTS, other).
The first English course in Philippine universities, Communication Skills I (also goes under other names though this the most common), is NOT equal to first freshman English in the USA. After that (Communication Skills II) it does begin to meet normal course content seen in the USA.
B. Given the 10 year duration of primary/secondary study in the Philippines, many Admissions Officers are inclined to 1) not count the Philippine bachelor’s as comparable to the US bachelor’s due to an overall 14 versus 16 year comparison and 2) soak off the first year or two of university study to ‘make up’ for perceived deficiency in the total number of pre-university years of study. Regarding the first, whatever one may say about the Philippine High School diploma representing only 10 years of education, the subsequent stand-alone nature of the university degree programs (four years, eight semesters, over 140 semester units) truly deserves full credit and review as fully comparable to the US bachelor’s degree. Thus, the author recommends granting full credit for acceptable courses from the beginning of the university experience and complete US bachelor’s comparability.