Education in PH during the Spanish colonial era | Inquirer Opinion

Education in PH during the Spanish colonial era

/ 10:48 PM July 06, 2012

I was delighted to participate in the 10th-anniversary celebration of Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day in Baler on June 30, two days before the arrival of Queen Sofia of Spain for a 5-day visit of development projects in the Philippines.

Our bilateral relations are in good shape and both governments are committed to further stimulate our countries’ enduring partnership. Sen. Edgardo Angara has been and is a driving force in this endeavor and his efforts were justly acknowledged in June in Cadiz, where he has been admitted as a member, the first in Asia, of the Real Academia Hispano-America de Ciencias, Artes y Letras.


This year we also commemorate the bicentennial of the Cadiz Constitution, the first in Spanish history in whose drafting three Filipino lawmakers participated. The Cadiz Constitution is one of the most liberal charters of the time, and contains a specific chapter on education.

I am taking this opportunity to respond to a statement by Ramon Tulfo in his column “On Target” (Inquirer, 7/3/12): “Only the ilustrados or the very rich and the mestizos were allowed to study during the Spanish era. And now the prestigious Spanish academy has accepted an indio as one of its members, Other discerning Filipinos would have rejected the membership.”


This statement is just another product of the black legend that surrounds the Spanish period in the Philippines. Chapter 9 of the Cadiz Constitution established that all villages and towns in the kingdom should have one school for basic literacy and numeracy, i.e. primary schools, where children should be taught to read, write and count, and also the catechism of the Catholic Church. It also accounted for universities and other educational institutions to be established besides the already existing ones where sciences, literature and the arts would be taught.

But the first specific law on public instruction that established an organizational implementation of public education in Spain was the Act for Public Instruction of 1857, known as the Moyano Act because it was promoted by Claudio Moyano, minister of development at the time. The Moyano Act was the fundamental legislative instrument for education in the Spanish education system for over 100 years (until the 1970 General Education Law).

It aimed to improve Spanish education at a time when Spain was a country with high illiteracy rates in comparative terms in Europe, by implementing: primary education (three grades), compulsory for boys and girls until 9 years of age and free for those who could not afford private schooling; secondary education (six years), known in Spanish as enseñanza media, which anticipated the creation of secondary schools and normal schools to train teachers in each provincial capital; and higher education, which authorized the institutions responsible for tertiary and professional education.

The Moyano Act is 24 years younger than the first English law regulating education, the 1833 Factory Act, which introduced compulsory 2-hour schooling daily for children of all backgrounds in Britain. But it was not until 1870 that Britain issued its Elementary Education Act, thus legislating compulsory education for all children between 5 and 13 years of age.

As another European example, France only established free primary education by its law of June 16, 1881, continued by the laws of March 28, 1882, and Oct. 30, 1886 (the so-called Lois Ferry).

Furthermore, on the basis of the Moyano Act, Filipinos had to wait until 1863 for its implementation as the Decreto de Educación de 1863 signed by Queen Isabella II, which provided for the establishment of at least one primary school for boys and girls in each town under the responsibility of the municipal government. Primary instruction then became free and available to every Filipino regardless of race, sex or social class.

The results of its implementation should not be underestimated. By 1866, the proportion of literate persons in the Philippines was higher than in Spain; the total school attendance was 150,000 out of five million inhabitants—that is, one in 35 of the active population, a proportion higher than in some European countries at the time. Again, in 1882, and for a population of six million, the country had a university, three high schools, five schools of occupational training, five seminaries for secular priests, four schools of higher studies, an academy of painting, a nautical college, several centers for military training and social formation and 1,000 public elementary schools with a total of 380,000 pupils.


In the academic year 1886-1887, the University of Santo Tomes had 1,982 enrolled students, of whom 1,367 were Filipinos. These all explain why, in the historic Congress of Malolos in 1898, out of the 100-odd deputies of the young Philippine nation, there were 40 lawyers, 16 doctors, five pharmacists, two engineers and one priest, and the rest were businessmen.

I could elaborate further on the wide scope of Spanish education in the Philippines, but I trust these brief reflections will suffice to shed some light on the clichés and misunderstandings that, though very uncommon and rarely heard, do surface from time to time.

I congratulate Senator Angara on his appointment to the Real Academia Hispano-America de Ciencias, Artes y Letras. I am confident that this new responsibility will enable him to deepen even further his commitment to excellence in education guided by the spirit of the Cadiz Constitution and the many other ties that Spain and the Philippines share.


Spanish ambassador to the Philippines

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