Teaching teachers | Inquirer Opinion
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Teaching teachers

/ 01:22 AM October 07, 2015

Ever wondered why our teachers’ colleges or universities have the tag “Normal”? I learned the origins only last Monday, when Philippine Normal University (PNU) president Dr. Ester B. Ogena gave me a book titled “An Enduring Legacy: The Journey of Normal Schools in the Philippines.” It got me looking for materials on these institutions.

The occasion was the signing of an agreement between the University of the Philippines Diliman and PNU, under which PNU faculty will be supported in getting a PhD in Philippine studies from UP. Rather appropriately, we signed the agreement on Monday, which was World Teachers’ Day.


The book’s content, supplemented by additional information from the Internet, got me to better appreciate the importance of schools that can teach people to teach.

The term “normal” came from the French école normale, the first one established by Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, with the idea that norms should be set, and taught, for education. La Salle schools are now found worldwide.


The first ecole normale dates back to the late 18th century. By the 19th century, the term “normal” had spread through Europe and into the Americas. The oldest normal school in the Philippines was established by the Catholic order Daughters of Charity in Naga City. The sisters first established a girls’ school, (escuela de las niñas) in 1868, which led to the Escuela Normal de Maestras de Colegio de Sta. Isabel in 1875.

(There were other normal schools established, such as one in Manila put up by the Jesuits for male teachers, and another one for female teachers by the Augustian Religious of the Assumption. These closed down before the American colonial period.)


The tradition of normal schools also became popular in the United States and Canada. The Americans put up many normal schools in the 19th century, including, in 1881, the southern branch of the California State Normal School which, in 1927, became what is popularly known as the UCLA (University of California Los Angeles).

The US government knew the strategic value of education when it annexed the Philippines, sending American teachers called Thomasites (after the ship that transported them to the country) to handle our public schools. It also appointed an anthropologist, David Prescott Barrows, to be the first head of the Bureau of Education. (Barrows later became president of the University of California, at a time when there was only one campus, in Berkeley. He supported the conversion of the southern branch of the California State Normal School into a second campus for the University of California.)

The Americans put up the Philippine Normal School (PNS) in 1901, in Ermita, Manila, where the Philippine General Hospital is currently located. They moved in 1912 to a whole strip on Ayala Avenue, leading to Taft Avenue. These grand buildings survived World War II, serving as a fortress for Japanese soldiers and for housing prisoners of war. Collections from the National Library were also housed in the PNS grounds. The buildings still stand, but, with the ravages of time, will need millions of pesos for renovation.

PNS was converted into a university and now has branches in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur; Cadiz, Negros Occidental; and Alicia, Isabela. In 2009, Congress passed Republic Act No. 9647, designating the university as the National Center for Teacher Education.


There is now a National Network of Normal Schools that has 10 members, established through the years, some of them evolving from colleges into universities, and sometimes diversifying way beyond teachers’ training.

Mariano Marcos State University in Ilocos Norte started out as Laoag Normal School in 1917. It went through several name changes until it got its current name.

Another institution in the north is Pangasinan State University, which began as Bayambang Normal School in 1922, becoming Pangasinan Normal School, and then a university.

In the Visayas, Cebu Normal School was established in 1902 and is now a university. West Visayas State University, which I always identified with a medical school, actually started out as Iloilo Normal School, founded in 1902.

Last week I wrote about Bicol University’s new medical school. Bicol University started out as Albay Normal School in 1921, becoming Bicol Teachers College and then Bicol University, with many more colleges besides education.

Leyte Normal University traces its origins to Leyte High School, established in 1905, at a time when a high school student could take a two-year normal course to become an elementary teacher.

Down south, Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) began as Zamboanga Provincial Normal School in 1904, serving the largely Muslim areas of Zamboanga, Lanao, Cotabato, Davao and Sulu. It became Zamboanga State College and was given its present name in 1978.

WMSU has the distinction of having the first-ever woman president of a state college in the Philippines. Ignacia Olaso was installed president in 1971, amid the turbulent years of very active rebel movements—the Moro National Liberation Front and the New People’s Army. It hosted the first peace talks between the government and the MNLF, with the latter demanding that the institution be renamed Muslim State University. Ferdinand Marcos, the president at that time, opposed the name change.

Bukidnon State University also started as a high school in 1928, then evolved into a normal school (to get to “non-Christian provinces”), and then into a state college and, finally a state university.

The “bunso” (youngest) in the network of teachers colleges and universities is Palawan State University (PSU); it was established by law in 1965 as Palawan Teachers College, but the law went unimplemented for seven years. It is now a state university with a very dynamic system of Extramural Studies Centers, where the most far-flung municipalities have PSU-affiliated centers where they can take college courses in education, business administration, entrepreneurship, hotel and restaurant management and a ladderized program in engineering technology.

New challenges

Teachers’ training has become more difficult through the years, with teachers expected to handle courses that did not even exist when they were in college. The move toward a K-to-12 program will pose new challenges, with senior high school teachers expected to handle courses in advanced math, ethics, even some psychology.

Many of them are expected as well to offer specialized training in such fields as preschool education, special education and alternative learning systems. A number also offer certificate courses for professionals from other fields who want to become better teachers—for example, a history graduate who wants to teach.

On World Teachers’ Day, we pay tribute to the teachers of the teachers, their institutions often neglected when compared to institutions offering other more “saleable” courses.

Our leaders would do well to look at history and how the Americans recognized the value of putting up teachers’ colleges, as part of governance.

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TAGS: “Philippine Normal University”, education, Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, normal schools, Teachers, thomasites, university of the Philippines diliman, world teachers’ day
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