01 September 2019

The Philippines School System - For Australians

We've got kids in schools here in the Philippines. Very different to the school system in Australia. A mix of good and bad, like most things you could say. Nothing can be done to change it, but it takes a bit of adjustment to when you've only experienced Australian schools.

I will say that Filipino kids seem to me to be better-behaved and more respectful than typical Australian school kids, but I think that comes down to how respect for elders is part of Philippines culture.

Schools in Philippines, filipino schools
Gorgeous collection of Filipino schoolkids

Schools in Philippines

You have extremes in Philippines, from some of the overcrowded and under-resourced public schools to the really expensive private schools and everything in between. And you have Filipino schools which are highly ethical, and others who will pass your child with wonderful grades even if they don't know very much at all. Let's go over some of the differences.

Public Schools

We had one of our kids in a Philippines public school many years ago, and nearly put a child into one on another occasion. Oh, and had one of our household helpers with a child in a public school once. So I have some brief observations only:

  • Often classes are overcrowded and child may not get a desk
  • The overcrowding means not much teacher-time for individual attention
  • Filipino public school teachers tend to offer to tutor your kids (for a fee, of course) after hours to get them up to speed
  • Expect (as a rich white person) to be flattered and invited to be the class PTA (like P&C) president or similar, because they want donations! We donated a P500 toilet bowl once (I think the school had two toilets for hundreds of kids....must have been a bit smelly!) and our child got remarkably high grades despite being a poor scholar!
  • Sometimes public schools have two "shifts", ie one from 5:00 or 6:00 am until about midday and one from then until about 7:00pm at night. They do this because demand outstrips classroom space. 

Private Schools

Philippines private schools go from the under-resourced and overcrowded right through to smaller classes and excellent resources. And they go from highly ethical to downright corrupt. 

What do I mean by "corrupt"? Well, private schools in Philippines are a business. They are there to make money for the school owners. More students = more fees, and parents (being parents) tend to blame the school if their kids are not doing well. Couldn't possibly be because little Marcelito is as dumb as a post or is just plain lazy. Must be poor teaching! Student doesn't do well, and they take their kids and their fees elsewhere. You may well find your child, who doesn't appear to be overflowing with knowledge, still ends up with fantastic grades in some schools. 

A bigger, better and more established private school will set and maintain standards and cannot be "bought"!

They will, however, tend to listen to you when you have legitimate concerns and will address matters more so than the public school teacher in Australia will do.

Philippines Schools - Some notable differences

English Instruction

Not sure about public schools, although I gather it's generally the same. Philippines schools teach in English! Filipino and Araling Panlipunan (exciting stories about the founding fathers of the Philippines Republic) are taught in Tagalog, but everything else is English. The grammar may be a bit questionable, and you can expect pronunciation like "Pirrrrst, sekond, tirddddd, porrrrrt....". Could be worse! They could say "Righhhhtoh, dja-avagoodweegend?" 

Parrot-Fashion Learning

Filipino students tend to learn a lot of memory-facts, ie the date of Jose Rizal's birth, the names of Emelio Aguinaldo's parents, English terms like "predicate" (heard my 5 year old daughter saying that yesterday) and other words I've never even heard of, names and dates of birth of composers, etc. What they lack is instruction indepth. Very little theory. Very little intellectual exploration of subject matter. They know English grammatical terms that I've never heard of, yet their grammar is usually poor. They even learn to recite reports off by heart! 

Bluntly? You can teach a parrot to repeat what you say, but the parrot has no understanding of what it means. I really dislike the fact that Filipino kids are taught to remember and repeat, but not to understand the substance behind the subject. But there's nothing I can do about it!

Regular Exams

Unlike Australian kids, Filipino school kids have a lot of exams. I think they have them four times a year, and they will do well if they remember Jose Rizal's birthday and what a "predicate" is. And once the exams are over, they usually forget whatever they had to remember because they then move on to the next set of memory exercises. 

Projects instead of "Assignments" 

They seem to spend a lot of time with colours and illustration boards! We have two kids in Year 10, and they still colour things in. They still cut out things from magazines and stick them on sheets of cardboard. Applying their knowledge to researching a topic in more depth? I don't see as much of it happening as I would have expected.

AND parents and/or older siblings will do projects for kids, and think nothing of it! 

Extracurricular Activities and sources of grades

I'm accustomed to marks and grades being earned through a demonstration of knowledge of a subject. Knowledge of facts and knowledge of how to apply that knowledge. To me? That's why you study in the first place. Yet in Philippines they give marks for:
  • Classroom participation (ie putting hand up and answering questions)
  • Dance performances, musical performances, drama performances
  • Sport participation
  • C.A.T. participation (ie marching with wooden rifles....watch out, enemies!)
Extracurricular marks could add significantly to overall grades, ie maybe 5 - 10%. Dancing or marching with a wooden rifle could push a child over the edge from failure to a safe passmark. A kid could actually fail an exam yet pass the subject for something that has nothing to do with the subject itself. 


I suppose my hope for our kids is that if they're interested in what they're doing they'll retain knowledge and their curiosity will take over. Worries me when I see Philippines college graduates knowing very little about what they've learned. Yes, this style continues into tertiary education too. We had a niece in her final year of a management degree be unable to cope with work in our office doing basic clerical work.

I have no solutions to offer, sorry. It is how it is, and they won't change it for li'l ol' me. I write this more to explain how it all works for those Australians who are new to Philippines schooling to help you to understand.


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