Educational Trends in the Philippines

Written By Trent Lorcher

The Philippines completed its transition from a 10-year public school system to a 12-year system in 2017, bringing it on par with the global standard in much of the world. This education expansion will no doubt impact the lives of Filipino students. 

Let's take a look at what else influences student behavior in the Philippines.

An Overview of Filipino Culture

To understand student culture in the Philippines, it must be examined within the context of the nation's culture in its entirety.

The Philippines consists of over 7,000 islands, each with its own cultural norms. Expecting all Filipinos and Filipino students to share the same cultural beliefs, traditions, customs, and norms in a singular monolithic harmony is not realistic. There are, however, consistencies that those working with Filipino students should know.

The traditional nuclear family structure holds much sway over Filipino children, even those in their teens. Fathers have great influence over the direction of their children's lives and mothers play a large role in everyday decision-making. It is not as common for children to voice strong opinions to their parents about future plans in the     Philippines as it would be for children in the US or Canada. 

Other important cultural aspects include the following:

  • The Philippines is an ethnically diverse nation. The most common ethnicity among Filipinos is Tagalog, with less than 30% of the population.
  • Filipinos speak many languages and dialects. English and Filipino are the national languages. Filipino students receive instruction in English.
  • About 80% of Filipinos consider themselves Roman Catholic. The Philippines is the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia.

Predominant cultural values have an obvious influence on culture in the schools.

Student Culture in the Philippines

The typical Filipino school schedule goes from 7:30 am-5: 00 pm, Monday-Friday. The National Department of Education mandates high school students take 10 subjects per school year. In most schools, electives are not an option, neither are extra-curricular activities.

Average class size is around 50 students, with a mix of boys and girls. Unlike the United States and Canada, students do not transfer rooms to go from one class to the next. Students stay in the same classroom for most of the day and teachers rotate rooms.

An individualized curriculum is rare and students are not asked to elaborate, investigate, or offer an opinion on a topic. Immediate feedback is uncommon. Students wait until the end of term and report card time to receive specific feedback. Parent-teacher meetings, not student-teacher consultations, are the norm for discussing academic progress or other issues.

Filipino students who attend American or Canadian schools may appear passive to teachers, other students, and adults. An American student attending school in the Philippines would probably come across as a trouble-maker and malcontent. It's about school culture, not personality in most cases.

Other important considerations on student culture in the Philippines include the following:

  • Students address elders, teachers, and others in positions of authority with the proper title--Miss, Ma’am, Sir, etc. It is disrespectful to not use a title of distinction when speaking to an elderly person, even in casual conversation.
  • Students stand when a teacher enters or leaves the classroom. Students are required to greet a teacher in the hallway and offer help with carrying items, if necessary.
  • Students are not familiar with school-based extracurricular activities. It is the cultural norm to ask parents when participating in any activity or event--even those sponsored by the school.
  • Most Filipino public and private schools require uniforms.
  • Filipino schools prohibit cell phone use in classrooms.
  • Upon return to the Phillippines, Filipino exchange students must take an exam to demonstrate academic readiness for the next grade or redo the school year.
  • Communication with Filipino students is not as direct as it is with students from the US or Canada. It is important to know that Filipino students are not being evasive, this is how they show respect.

Filipino students transitioning from a Filipino school to an American school encounter extreme differences. The transition will lead to culture shock. Be aware and supportive when working with study abroad students from the country.

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About the author

Trent Lorcher has taught high school English for 19 years. In addition to hosting a foreign exchange student from China, he's traveled extensively, including 18 months in Central America, 2 years in Italy, and additional time in Mexico, France, Morocco, and Spain. He dreams of one day retiring to Spain with his beautiful bride in a place big enough for their 5 kids to visit.

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