Encyclopedia of Teacher Education

Living Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Catholic Education in the Philippines

  • Jove Jim S. AguasEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-1179-6_147-1


The Philippines is the most predominantly Catholic country in Asia. Its culture and tradition have been influenced by Christianity since the Spanish came in 1500s to colonize what was then an archipelago ruled by different and oftentimes warring tribes headed by local chieftains or datu. Since then, Christian doctrines and teachings had been integrated into the local or native and pre-colonial culture. Today, what can be considered Filipino is an integration of both the local or native pre-colonial traits and practices and the colonial influences – Spanish and American and the influences of the early trading partners of the natives – the Chinese and the Malays. One important aspect of the Filipino culture where Christianity made a lasting impact is in education. Christian education is perhaps one of the enduring influences of the Spanish.

When the ecclesiastical authority of the Roman Catholic Church was established in the country right after the arrival of the Spanish, the church hierarchy’s presence has been institutionalized, and such presence was very pronounced in education. During the Spanish era, the church controlled the educational system from the primary level to the tertiary level of education. The religious congregations or missionaries took charge of teaching and maintaining the rules and regulations imposed to the students. They emphasized the teachings of the Catholic religion starting from the primary level to the tertiary level of education. The students in the primary level were taught the Christian doctrines, the reading of Spanish books and text, and very little of the local language. In fact, one of the earliest, if not the earliest book printed in the Philippines, is Doctrina Christiana an early book on the Roman Catholic catechism, written in 1593 by the Franciscan Friar Juan de Plasencia. The formation of Christian education in the earlier times was made possible because the early schools established in the Philippines were founded either by the local church or by religious congregations where the Catholic teachings became part of the curriculum. When the Americans came in the 1900s, public education was established by the Americans based on secular principles and ideals. The Americans promoted the democratic ideals and way of life and the formation of good citizens, including the rights and responsibilities of people. If the Spanish promoted fidelity to the church and the Catholic doctrines, the Americans promoted loyalty to the state and good citizenship.

Today there is a relative balance between public and free education provided by the state and private education provided by the private sector – some private individuals and corporations and those offered by religious congregations. Most of the top private schools and universities are either ran or owned by religious congregations which are mostly Catholic with some non-Catholic or sectarian private schools. The top state universities include the University of the Philippines which has several campuses all over the country, Philippine Normal University, Technological University of the Philippines, and Mindanao State University just to name a few. The top private universities are Catholic universities – University of Santo Tomas, ran by the Dominicans; Ateneo de Manila University, ran by the Jesuits; De la Salle University, ran by the Lasallian Brothers; San Carlos University, ran by the SVD; and the St. Louis University, ran by the CICM, among others.

Catholic Education

The nature of Catholic education cannot be separated from the nature of the Catholic Church which forms as the basis of why the Catholic schools are instituted. The Catholic Church according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church was conceived to continue the mission of Christ here on earth. It is called to proclaim the good news to all people in all nations. The Catholic schools serve as the arms of the Catholic Church in extending this mission of proclaiming the good news through education. According to the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, the Catholic schools serve as an agency for education in faith, a means toward the attainment of the salvific mission of the Catholic Church.

Catholic schools continue to promote the value for caring for others and values formation through their Christian religious formation programs. Catholic schools integrate into their curriculum Christian education. The aim of Christian education according to Gravissimum Educationis (#1) is “the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share.” It further states that Christian education is tasked to develop harmoniously the persons’ physical, moral, and intellectual endowments so that they may gradually acquire a mature sense of responsibility in striving endlessly to form their own lives properly and in pursuing true freedom as they surmount the vicissitudes of life with courage and constancy.

In the Philippines, the Catholic schools are much an integral and important component of education. There are Catholic schools in all levels of education – from the preschool, elementary, high school, and tertiary or college level. These Catholic schools, while relying mainly on their own resources and efforts, strive to offer quality education not only to Catholics but to other students of different faiths. They provide decent classrooms and facilities even in remote towns and barrios and often provide free education as part of their community development programs to indigent students. Many Catholic schools are consistently among the top schools not only in the country but also around the globe. Three of the top four universities in the Philippines are Catholic universities, namely, Ateneo de Manila University, University of Santo Tomas, and De La Salle University. At great expense the Catholic schools recruit, train, and develop their teachers and personnel, thus contributing a big share in the task of developing and empowering the educational workforce of the society.

Advanced studies and researches are undertaken by these Catholic schools mostly out of their own budget, thereby contributing to the advancement of society without incurring much burden on the part of the government. Catholic schools generate their own resources and assist the government in providing employment and saving financial resources. In fact, Catholic schools in the Philippines have been a major contributor to the professional sector of our country. It is not altogether surprising then that quality education is almost always appended to Catholic schools. As already mentioned majority of these schools are not exclusive to Catholics but serve peoples of other faiths; others are dedicated to out of school youths, to the handicapped, to the poor, to cultural minorities, and to the other marginalized sectors of the society.

The Catholic Schools Curriculum

Catholic education strives to remain faithful to its mission of providing complete education which necessarily includes a religious dimension. According to The Catholic School, (TCS, #19) of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, religion is an effective contribution to the development of other aspects of a personality in the measure in which it is integrated into general education. Apart from providing an integral and holistic formation, it is one that aims at a dialogue of culture and faith.

Aside from the required courses in all levels of education, namely, the basic or elementary education, secondary education which is divided into the junior and senior high schools, and the tertiary level, Catholic schools also offer religion or theology as part of their curriculum. In the primary or elementary level, religion is considered as part of the core of the curriculum. Catholic primary schools design programs that would help prepare the young to be truly committed to Christ through the progressive formation of faith, the formation of Christian values and virtues, community service, and Christian living. Such programs are founded on the knowledge and understanding of man’s relationship with God through the study of the scriptures and the church’s doctrines and teachings. The programs include various activities such as basic religious instructions, recollections, retreats, bible sharing, liturgies, devotions, personal prayers, value formation, and involvement in the activities of the local church.

In the preschool and elementary level, a religious education curriculum normally offers a systematic and organic catechesis about the basic doctrines of the Catholic faith and the teaching of the church and the Christian morals. This curriculum may include the understanding and appreciation of the sources of the Catholic faith, namely, sacred scriptures and tradition, basic knowledge of the Catholic faith, understanding of the basic principles and practices of Catholic morality, and participation in the church’s liturgy and sacraments. In the secondary level, courses on Christian living may focus on the integration of Christian ideals and teachings to one’s life and help the students to develop a sense of Christian leadership and service to the society. In the tertiary level, theology courses are part of the college curriculum. These courses aim to incorporate Catholic doctrines into meaningful activities that arouse social awareness to pressing issues and to come up with viable solutions to societal problems. It is through the theology courses that a Catholic institution of higher learning can integrate the Catholic teachings into its intellectual traditions. Through the different theology courses, the Catholic university can systematically and holistically integrate the Catholic or Christian vision and way of life into the academic formation of the students.

Another important component of the Catholic schools in the Philippines is the campus ministry program or office which oversees all the religious activities of the school. This office is the one in charge of promoting the Catholic formation of every member of the school especially the students by organizing activities like masses and other liturgies, recollections, retreats, bible sharing, and involvement in the activities of the local church and community services.

History of Catholic Education in the Philippines

The history of Catholic education in the Philippines started during the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in Philippines. The Spanish conquerors arrived in the islands together with a number of missionaries. In 1565 after their arrival in Cebu in central Philippines, the Augustinian missionaries, five of them, aside from establishing their missionary house and building the oldest church in the Philippines – San Agustin Church – also opened the first school as part of the mission to evangelize the natives. The Franciscans were the second missionaries to arrive in the island in 1578, and aside from building beautiful churches, they also build schools providing primary instruction to the natives. The Spanish Jesuits were the third missionaries to arrive in the islands arrived in 1581. In the same year, Bishop Domingo Salazar, O.P., who traveled with the pioneer Jesuits expressed to the King of Spain the need for a college to educate priests. To this end the Spanish Jesuits founded the now defunct Colegio de San Ignacio in 1590 originally conceived as a school to prepare young men for the priesthood making it the first educational institution in the Philippines and the first Spanish educational institution in Asia. However, it was only in 1595 when the college formally opened wherein Latin grammar and “cases of conscience” were initially taught to priest and candidates for the priesthood. It was first named Colegio de Manila but was renamed Colegio de San Ignacio in 1626 in memory of the Saint Ignatius of Loyola. In 1621 it was authorized to confer degrees in theology and the arts; 2 years later, King Philip IV of Spain confirmed this authorization, making the school a royal and a pontifical university, the very first university in the Philippines and in Asia. The Jesuits also opened the now defunct Colegio de San Ildefonso in Cebu in 1595 and the Colegio de San Jose in 1601; now it is the San Jose Seminary. In 1587 the Dominican missionaries whom Bishop Salazar requested from his Dominican Master General to be sent to the islands arrived in Manila. They immediately went to their missions and also helped in the effort to educate the natives. This came into fruition in 1611 when Archbishop Miguel de Benavides, O.P., and the Dominican friars established the University of Santo Tomas. It was first called Colegio de Nuestra Señora del Santissimo Rosario and later renamed Colegio de Santo Tomás in memory of Dominican theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas. In 1624, the Colegio was authorized to confer academic degrees in theology, philosophy, and arts. UST is the oldest existing university in the Philippines. The Dominicans also established in 1620, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran.

In 1632 the Colegio de Sta. Isabel, the first women’s college, was opened. This college is now run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul who arrived in the Philippines in 1862. In 1872 they also opened a college for girls in Naga City in the Bicol region the very first Normal School for Women in the Philippines at the request of Bishop Francisco Gainza, O.P. In 1859 the Jesuits upon their return to the Philippines opened the school called the Escuela Municipal de Manila in Intramuros, Manila; this would later become Ateneo de Manila University. In 1862, the Vincentian Fathers came to the Philippines by virtue of the 1852 Royal Decree of Queen Isabel II of Spain in order to administer the conciliar seminaries of Manila, Naga City, Cebu City, Iloilo City, and Vigan and to take care of the religious and scientific instruction of the diocesan seminarians and lay students in Colegio Seminarios. In 1904, the first Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres opened the first Paulinian school in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, in the Visayas (Central Philippines). In 1906 the German Benedictine sisters founded St. Scholastica’s College. In 1907, the CICM Missionaries arrived in the Philippines, mandated by the Holy See to evangelize the northern part of the country particularly the Cordillera mountain region which is home to numerous indigenous tribes. In 1911 they established Saint Louis University in Baguio City in the Cordillera region. In the same year, 1911, the Brothers of the Christian Schools, known as La Salle Brothers, opened their first school in the Philippines, the De La Salle University.

In 1941, Catholic educational institutions organized themselves into an association called the CEAP (Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines) to be able to collectively respond not only to urgent educational issues but also societal issues. CEAP was established upon the inspiration of Bishop Michael J. O’Doherty, and Msgr. Jose Jovellanos became the president.

The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP)

In 1941 the Catholic educational institutions formed a national association of Catholic educational institutions the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP). At present it has more than 1,484 member schools and more than 120 superintendents of Catholic schools. It is a voluntary organization which operates through regional educational associations located in the 17 regions of the country. The CEAP represents the interests of Catholic educational institutions in national and international fora, fosters unity of action with other organizations in educational matters, and assists members, particularly those in mission areas to achieve common and specific aims. It is commissioned to advance and promote the teaching function of the Catholic Church. It contributes toward the attainment of the objective “the total development of the human person,” through a Catholic orientation in accordance with the norms of the church, consistent with national development goals as expressed in the Philippine Constitution. It promotes religious instruction as an essential element of Catholic education, thereby contributing toward character formation and citizenship building. Moreover, it strives to respond to social, political, moral, and other critical issues based on consultations with the different regions and calls for the collective action of its members when the situation so requires. The CEAP expresses its Mission “to promote solidarity among member-schools through Catholic education, to foster inclusive and transformative Catholic education, to serve as steadfast and effective catalyst of change through education in the different dimension of life.” Its Vision is “a world transformed, a Philippines renewed by the people educated in the principles of communio and service as taught and lived by our Lord Jesus Christ and shaped by the missionary mandate of the Catholic Church.” It adheres to the Values of Christ-centeredness, integrity, solidarity, stewardship, empowerment, and service.

The “defining characteristics of Catholic schools” according to the Philippine Catholic Schools Standards for Basic Education (PSCS) published by the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines and the Phoenix Publishing House Educational Foundation Inc. are the following:
  1. 1.

    Centered in the Person and Message of Jesus Christ. “Every Catholic school has Jesus Christ as its foundation and inspiration therefore its purpose and motivation is a living encounter with Him and His message present in the Sacred Scripture, Tradition, and the living witness of the Church. This encounter empowers the Catholic school to grow as a community of witnesses to Jesus Christ, the fullness of life.”

  2. 2.

    Participating in the Evangelizing Mission of the Church. Since “education is an essential element of evangelization,” it is “through its educational activity that the Catholic school promotes and aids in the evangelizing mission of the Church in a unique and privileged manner. In its work of educating the whole person, the Catholic school guides men and women to human and Christian perfection, and helps them to arrive at the fullness of Christian life toward the interior transformation and renewal of humanity.”

  3. 3.

    Animated by the Spirit of Communion. “Every Catholic school, rooted in the Church as communion, provides an experience of Christian community. It is distinguished by collaboration, co-responsibility and solidarity.”

  4. 4.

    Established as an Ecclesial Institution. “In its very nature, the Catholic school embodies the living tradition of the Church. This ecclesial dimension of the Catholic school is a distinctive attribute which penetrates and informs every moment of its life and mission; it is written in the heart of its identity as a teaching institution. To preserve its identity as an ecclesial institution, the Catholic school should think and act with the Church, anchor its formation programs and academic curriculum on the principles of Catholic doctrine, and be recognized, established and supervised by competent Church authority.”

  5. 5.

    Distinguished by a Culture of Excellence. “The Catholic school is known for its excellence in humanistic and cultural development along with its pursuit of outstanding academic standards that cultivate the learners’ intellectual, creative, and aesthetic faculties as well as the correct use of their judgment, will, and affectivity. Catholic education should transform the logic of excellence into love for wisdom, passion for truth and commitment to service, caring for others, and forming minds and hearts that are open to communion and solidarity. The school provides programs, activities, and services that provide leaders with appropriate formation both on the professional and religious plane.”

  6. 6.

    Committed to Integral Human Formation. “The Catholic school is intentionally directed to the formation of the whole person in the pursuit of his/her ultimate end and the good of society. This formation is attentive to the physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, social, cultural and creative dimensions of the human.”

  7. 7.

    Engaged in the Service of the Church and Society with Preferential Option for the Poor. “The Catholic school performs an essential service for the Church and to society. As one of the vital evangelizing bodies of the Church, the Catholic school guarantees the freedom and right of families to see that their children receive the sort of education they wish for them.”

  8. 8.

    Promoting Dialogue on Faith and Life and Culture. Since the Philippines is an archipelago with diverse cultures, indigenous beliefs, and foreign influences, “in the face of such pluralism, the Catholic school takes on a prophetic stance characterized by being faithful to the newness of the Gospel while at the same time respecting the autonomy and methods proper to human knowledge. The Catholic school in its various programs engages with people of different faith and cultures in a dialogue where the school is mindful of their respective worldviews with the view of helping the students integrate the tenets their faith to the practices of their cultures and the secular world.”


Challenges of Catholic Education in the Philippines

Catholic education and the Catholic schools in the Philippines carry an enormous and significant responsibility of providing quality education centered on the teachings of the Catholic Church which is tasked of carrying out the salvific mission of Christ. The Catholic schools in particular carry this responsibility with great challenges. One particular challenge that the Catholic schools face is the general perception that Catholic schools are wealthy institutions or are only for the wealthier social classes. The mere mention of Catholic schools would already elicit the thinking of big universities or exclusive schools. But in the Philippines, many of these Catholic schools are actually relying on their own meager income generated from the tuition fees of students. Since there is a separation of church and the state in the Philippines, the Catholic schools are tax-exempt, and they do not get financial support from the government. According to the CEAP, the biggest educational institution in the country, out of its more than 1400 schools, there are more than 900 small, struggling mission schools spread in different parts of the Philippines, whose teachers work with missionary spirit. Many of these same schools rely on their meager resources as they strive to provide quality education to the marginalized in far-flung areas. Hence, the challenge is complicated because while the perception of Catholic school is that it is rich and for the rich, the reality is that majority are struggling but have to continue in their mission.

Another challenge of the continuing trends is the decreasing enrolment and the increasing migration of teachers from private Catholic schools to public schools especially in the primary and secondary levels. The free or low cost of public education and the increasing salaries in public schools in the primary and secondary levels have a huge impact to Catholic schools in the same levels. Some Catholic schools lose students to public schools, and some teachers transfer to the public schools once their application to the public school is accepted.

The Catholic schools since they are the arms of the Catholic Church in promoting its teaching especially in the area of morals have to speak out about the moral and social ills of the society. And because of this, the Catholic schools are often put in the bad light and are oftentimes criticized for meddling in the political arena and in engaging in political issues. True enough, the most vocal and vigilant students against the moral ills of the society like corruption in the government are those from the Catholic schools who were formed to be socially aware and morally upright.

Despite these challenges and many others, the Catholic schools in the Philippines continue to maintain an institutional Christian or Catholic presence in the academic field and serve the Filipino society in general.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy Department and Center for Religious Studies and EthicsUniversity of Santo TomasManilaPhilippines

Section editors and affiliations

  • Janis (John) Ozolins
    • 1
  1. 1.School of PhilosophyAustralian Catholic UniversityMelbourneAustralia