Education in the Philippines

The Philippine education system has been heavily influenced by its colonial history, which has included periods of Spanish, American and Japanese rule and occupation. The United States has left the largest imprint on the education system, with many academics at the nation’s universities having received their training at U.S. universities.

RELATED: Philippines K-12 Reforms Poised to Transform Higher Education System

Another hallmark of the U.S. influence on the Philippine education system has been a relatively inclusive system of higher education, to which access has traditionally been widely available (comparative to other Southeast Asian nations). However, at the primary and secondary school levels, access and completion rates have been declining significantly in recent years.

By 1970, the Philippines had achieved universal primary enrollment. Early success in basic education, however, has been masked by a long-term deterioration in quality, and the national figures obscure wide regional differences. In Manila, close to 100 percent of students finish primary school, whereas in Mindanao and Eastern Visayas less than 30 percent of students finish.

According to United Nations data, the Philippines was the only country in the Southeast Asian region for which the youth literacy rate decreased between 1990 and 2004, from 97.3 percent to 95.1 percent (United Nations, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2006). Meanwhile, between 1992 and 2009, the nation’s net primary enrollment rate dropped by a significant margin from nearly 96 percent to just over 88 percent. It has since risen back up to near 1992 levels, recorded at 95 percent in 2013. Nonetheless, the elementary completion rate was less than 74% in 2013, indicating a significant drop-out at the elementary level.

Major School Reforms Ongoing

To help address these issues, the country began implementation of major structural and curricular reforms with the Kindergarten Act of 2012 and the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013. Together, they extend formal education from just 10 years to 13 years under a kindergarten through grade 12 system (K-12) by adding a mandatory year of kindergarten and two years of senior high school. (Prior to 2011, kindergarten was optional and just six years of education were compulsory.)

The transition period will end with the 2017–2018 school year when the first cohort graduates from the new primary and junior high cycles. Those graduating from the four-year junior high cycle will be the first in the nation to undertake the new two-year senior high school curriculum.

The new 12-year school system has been introduced, in part, to stem the high dropout rates that have plagued the system for decades, and to better ready students for postsecondary training.

The transition period began with the enrollment in 2012-13 of the first cohort of grade 1 students who will graduate, after 13 years, from the entirely overhauled education system. In 2017–2018 the first cohort graduates from the new primary and junior high cycles. Those graduating from the four-year junior high cycle will be the first in the nation to undertake the new two-year senior high school curriculum.

First Reactions

The reform of the education system is ambitious in its scope. The demands it places on existing schools and teachers and on local infrastructure are considerable. It has made necessary additional investment so that the new curriculum can be implemented, so that additional classrooms and school buildings can be built, and so that there are enough teachers to instruct senior high school students. Expenditure on education has increased every year since 2010, with the government allocating 336.9 billion pesos in 2014 (up from 207.2 billion pesos in 2012 and 293.4 billion pesos in 2013). This still falls short of the target set by the UNESCO Education for All High-Level Group, which recommends four to six percent of GDP, however.

While the government hopes that the changes to the education system will leave its students better equipped for employment and further study at home and more competitive abroad, the reactions of pupils and their families as well as educators and school administrations at the secondary and tertiary level have not been uniformly supportive. One petition has argued that more than 70,000 staff at colleges would lose their jobs as a result of the changes. Others have criticized the curriculum or pointed to inadequate staffing levels and classroom space or to school buildings lacking electricity and a water supply. Fear of financial hardship is at the heart of the concerns voiced by many critics, who feel insufficiently consulted by the government. Some parents oppose the reforms because the cost of keeping children in school and out of the workforce for two additional years will be a financial strain for many families. Another group of opponents consists of those who teach entry-level classes at post-secondary institutions. They fear for their employment as the number of General Education credits required at the beginning of post-secondary education is reduced. Some of these critics are attempting to reverse, or at least temporarily freeze, the reforms. The supreme court has rejected the arguments, however, and in March 2016 refused to issue a restraining order or writ of preliminary injunction. The reforms are set to continue.

Student Mobility

The number of Filipinos studying abroad still makes up just a small fraction of the number of students enrolled in local tertiary education, at just 0.3 percent. Various government schemes and academic exchange programs set up by universities in the Philippines aim to increase this figure. The Philippines has a young population (with a median age of just over 23 years) and has been one of the fastest-growing Asian economies in recent years. Furthermore, English is one of the languages of instruction, facilitating international student mobility. It is no surprise, then, that the number of students enrolled at universities abroad has increased steadily since the start of the new millennium: According to the most recent UIS data available, approximately 12,000 students from the Philippines studied at foreign institutions in 2013, almost double the figure for 2002. Most of these students are self-funded. The two most important host countries, the U.S.A. and Australia, account for approximately a quarter of students from the Philippines, followed by Saudi Arabia, Japan and New Zealand. The number of Filipino students at post-secondary institutions in the U.S. dropped by almost 3 percentage points in 2014/15, to 3,026, 50% of whom were studying at undergraduate level. Following a steady increase over the course of the previous decade, 2,003 Filipino citizens were enrolled at institutions in Canada in 2014/15 (up from 511 students in 2004/05). Although the effects of the current education reform remain to be seen, it is to be expected that outward and inward student mobility rates will increase as the addition of two further years of secondary education aligns the education system of the Philippines more closely with those of many other countries.

Education System

Education is offered through formal and non-formal systems. The number of years of formal schooling in the Philippines used to be one of the shortest in the world (only Angola and Djibouti shared the 10-year basic-education structure). The educational ladder had a 6+4+4 structure, (i.e., six years of elementary education, four years of secondary education, and typically four years to gain a bachelor’s degree).

As noted above, major reforms have been implemented to lengthen formal schooling to 12 years on a 6+4+2 structure. A year of kindergarten has also been added, with children beginning their formal education at the age of 5 (versus 7 previously) starting with the academic year 2011-2012. The extra two years in the 12-year basic education program have been added at the senior high school level, which is an entirely new tier of the education system designed to better prepare students for higher studies or the job market. It is hoped that the extra two years will also take some of the pressure off remedial education programs at tertiary institutions.

The academic school year in the Philippines starts in June and ends in March, covering a period of 40 weeks. Institutions of higher education operate on a semester system with an optional summer semester. A number of prominent universities have recently (2014) changed their academic calendars to start the year in August, in line with international and regional norms. The Department of Education is said to be considering a wholesale change to this new calendar to bring it into line with other Southeast Asian nations.

English was the official language of instruction from 1935 to 1987. The new constitution of 1987 prescribed that both Filipino (Tagalog) and English are the official languages of communication and instruction. English continues to be widely used from the higher primary level onwards, owing to a dearth of materials and resources in Filipino, as well as a shortage of Filipino-speaking teachers. This is especially true in vocational and technical fields.

Under the new education reforms, 12 new mother tongue languages have officially been introduced for early grade teaching to enhance comprehension and learning. English and Filipino are taught as subjects starting in the first grade, with a focus on oral fluency. From grades 4 to 6, English and Filipino are gradually introduced as languages of instruction. From the junior high level (grade 6), they are the only languages used for instruction.

The administration and supervision of the school system is the responsibility of the Department of Education, which has an office in each of the 13 regions of the country. Historically, the government has been unable to fund the whole education system and has concentrated resources on the primary sector.

Consequently, over 91 percent of enrollments at the primary level are in public schools; whereas, at secondary schools that number is approximately 80 percent (Department of Education, 2013), and at the tertiary level over 70 percent of institutions are private, representing 57 percent of enrollments (Commission on Higher Education, 2013), where the quality of programs ranges from high to marginal.

Elementary Education

Elementary education is compulsory and is six years in duration. The year of compulsory kindergarten introduced under the K-12 reforms is in line with the structure already used by private primary schools prior to 2011, which have long operated a seven-year curriculum starting a year earlier than public schools.

The new K-12 curriculum for grades 1 to 7 was introduced in 2012-13. The elementary curriculum covers language arts (Filipino, English and local dialect); mathematics; science (grades 3-6); social studies; civics; music, art & PE; health; technology (4-6); history/geography (grades 4-6).

The Certificate of Graduation is awarded to students who complete six years of elementary education. It is not clear currently if this will still be awarded to the first cohort of graduates under the new K-12 system in 2018. No examination is required for admission to public secondary schools.

Junior High

Students graduating from the elementary level automatically enroll in junior high, which covers four years from grades 7 to 10. This level is now compulsory and free to all students attending public schools.

There are two main types of high school: the general secondary school, which enrolls more than 90 percent of all junior high school students, and the vocational secondary school. In addition, there are also science secondary schools for students who have demonstrated a particular gift in science at the primary level.

Entrance Requirement: Admission to public school is automatic for those who have completed six years of elementary school. Some private secondary schools have competitive entrance requirements based on an entrance examination. Entrance to science schools is also by competitive examination.

Curriculum: Communication arts (English and Filipino), social studies (including anthropology, Philippine history and government, economics, geography and sociology), mathematics, science and technology, youth development training (including physical education, health education, music and citizen army training), practical arts (including home economics, agriculture & fisheries, industrial arts, and entrepreneurship), values education and some electives including both academic and vocational subjects.

Vocational Schools

Vocational schools offer a higher concentration of technical and vocational subjects in addition to the core academic subjects studied by students at general high schools. These schools tend to offer technical and vocational instruction in one of five main fields: agriculture, fisheries, trade-technical, home industry, and ‘non-traditional’ courses while offering a host of specializations.

Curriculum: Technical-vocational education underwent the STVEP (Strengthened Technical-Vocational Education Program) reforms starting in 2007/08. During the first two years, students study a general vocational area (see above). During the third and fourth years they specialize in a discipline or vocation within that area. Programs contain a mixture of theory and practice.

Upon completion of grade 10 and junior high, students can obtain Certificates of Competency (COC) or the vocationally oriented National Certificate Level I (NC I). After finishing a Technical-Vocational-Livelihood track in Grade 12 of senior high school, a student may obtain a National Certificate Level II (NC II), provided he/she passes the competency-based assessment administered by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

Science Schools

The Philippine Science High School System is a specialized public system that operates as an attached agency of the Philippine Department of Science and Technology. There are a total of thirteen regional campuses, with the main campus located in Quezon City. Students are admitted on a selective basis, based on the results of the PSHS System National Competitive Examination.

Curriculum: As well as following the general secondary curriculum, there are advanced classes in science and mathematics. The PSHSS system offers an integrated junior high and senior high six-year curriculum.

Students who successfully completed a minimum of four years of secondary education under the pre-2011 system were awarded a diploma and, in addition, the secondary school Certificate of Graduation from the Department of Education. Students are also awarded a Permanent Record, or Form 137-A, listing all classes taken and grades earned. Under the new K-12 system, the permanent record will be issued after the completion of senior high school.

Senior High School

An entirely new two-year stage of school education – senior high school – is being introduced across the country this year, after several major high schools piloted the K-12 program, with the first cohort graduating this year after completing twelve years of study. Prior to the introduction of the 2011 K-12 reforms, high school ended after 10th grade, now the end of junior high school.

To accommodate this new high school level, existing public schools have been creating new senior high schools (5,903 for 2016). In addition, new standalone senior high schools are being built. In total, more than 8,200 senior high schools are being created across the country, including in the private sector.

Curriculum: The new high school curriculum includes core classes and specialization classes based on student choice of specialization. Students may choose a specialization based on aptitude, interests, and school capacity.

There are seven learning areas under the core curriculum. These are languages, literature, communication, mathematics, philosophy, natural sciences, and social sciences.

For their specialization classes, students choose from four tracks: Academic; technical-vocational-livelihood; sports; and arts and design. Students in the academic track choose from three areas: business, accountancy, management (BAM); humanities, education, social sciences (HESS); and science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM). The technical-vocational-livelihood track consists of four subject areas: Home economics, agri-fishery, industrial arts, ICT.

The government projected that some 1.2 to 1.6 million students would enter senior high school in the 2016-17 academic year.


According to the Commission on Higher Education there are currently 2,299 institutions of higher education registered in the Philippines, of which 1,643 (71 percent) are in the private sector. Of the 656 institutions in the public sector, 547 are state universities or colleges, 95 are local universities and colleges.

In academic year 2012/13 total post-secondary enrollments amounted to 3.56 million (of which 57 percent were in the private sector), an increase of over one million since 2004 when there were 2.40 million students in the system.

Recognition and Accreditation

Prior to 1994, the supervision of tertiary schools was the responsibility of the Bureau of Higher Education, a division of the former Department of Education, Culture and Sports. With the passage of the Higher Education Act in 1994, an independent government agency, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) was created to exercise general supervision and control over all colleges and universities – both public and private – in the country.

The commission regulates the establishment or closure of private higher education institutions, their program offerings, curricular development, building specifications and tuition fees. Private universities and colleges follow the regulations and orders of CHED, although a select few are granted autonomy or deregulated status. Departments in tertiary education institutions that are considered to have great potential are classified as Centers of Development and those that are consistently rated as outstanding are recognized as Centers of Excellence.

In 1995, legislation was passed providing for the transfer of supervision of all non-degree, technical and vocational education programs from the Bureau of Vocational Education, also under the control of the Department of Education, to another new and independent agency, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). The establishment of TESDA has increased emphasis on and support for non-degree vocational education programs.

In addition to regulating higher education, CHED is also responsible for developing policies to support quality improvement in the higher educational system. As a matter of policy, CHED encourages institutions to seek accreditation and provides a number of incentives in the form of progressive deregulation, grants and subsidies to institutions with accredited programs. However, all educational programs can operate legally if they have government recognition in the form of applying for and receiving a grant of authority and official recognition to operate. Government recognition should not, however, be confused with accreditation.


The voluntary accreditation system is modeled on the regional accreditation system in the United States, although only program evaluations and not institutional evaluations are performed. Four accreditation associations, recognized by CHED and organized into a federal system, encourage private institutions to raise the level of their programs above the minimal standard. These are: the Association of Christian Schools, Colleges and Universities Accrediting Agency Incorporated (ACSCU-AAI); the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (PAASCU); the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities Commission on Accreditation (PACUCOA); and the Accrediting Agency of Chartered Colleges and Universities of the Philippines (AACCUP).

With the exception of AACCUP, the accrediting agencies collectively constitute a federation, the Federation of Accrediting Agencies of the Philippines (FAAP), which coordinates and certifies the activities of the individual agencies. In 2014/15, only 25 percent of institutions, both public and private, had pursued accreditation. A total of 4856 programs were accredited.

There are four levels of accreditation. As defined by CHED, Level I gives applicant status to schools that have undergone a preliminary survey and are certified by FAAP as capable of acquiring accredited status within two years. Institutions with programs accredited at Level II receive full administrative deregulation and partial curricular autonomy, including priority in funding assistance and subsidies for faculty development. Programs with Level III accredited status are granted full curricular deregulation. Institutions with Level IV accredited programs are eligible for grants and subsidies from the Higher Education Development Fund and are granted full autonomy from government supervision and control. Level IV accreditation is reserved for academic programs considered to be comparable in quality to those of internationally renowned universities. In 2014/15, 181 programs in the country had been granted Level IV status.


The structure of the tertiary system in the Philippines in terms of awards and style of programs offered at Philippine universities strongly resembles the US higher education system.

Admission Requirements

Entrance to universities and other institutions of higher education is dependent on the possession of a high school Certificate of Graduation and in some cases on the results of the National Secondary Achievement Test (NSAT), or in many colleges and universities the results of their own entrance examinations.

The NSAT is administered to fourth-year high school students to gauge the quality of the individual institutions they are attending, it was not designed or intended as an admission test, but has nonetheless served that purpose for some institutions. With the introduction of the new senior high school level of education, it is unclear at this point if the NSAT will still be administered, and if so if it will be used by institutions of higher education for admissions purposes.

Privately administered testing programs through the Center for Educational Measurement (CEM) are also widely used by colleges for admissions purposes. The two most common ones are the College Scholastic Aptitude Test (CSAT) and the Admission Test for Colleges and Universities (ATCU).

Programs and Degrees


Bachelor’s degree programs are a minimum of four years in length. During the first two years of study, students are required to take general education courses, with courses counting towards the major usually being undertaken in the last two years of the program. Occupational therapy and physical therapy are usually 5 year. programs. Engineering, architecture and some accounting programs post-2007 are 5 year programs as well. Music is a 4 year program, with the exception of programs at the University of Santo Tomas and the University of the Philippines system.

Some institutions offer a two-year associate degree program, usually in arts, science or commerce. Graduates of these programs can, if desired, transfer into the last two years of a bachelor degree program. An increasingly popular associate-level program is midwifery and the sole tertiary-level credential in the field is the two-year Graduate in Midwifery Certificate. A four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the sole entry-level degree for nursing. Graduates are required to then take licensing examinations.

The postsecondary programs leading to the Doctor of Dental Medicine and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine normally require six years of study, usually involving two years of appropriate preliminary studies and four years of specialized studies.

Master’s Degrees usually require one or two years of full-time study and a minor thesis, comprehensive examinations or a project. The entrance requirement for most master degree programs is a bachelor degree in an appropriate discipline, with an average grade equal to or better than 2.00, 85 percent or B. Some professional degrees, such as law and medicine are undertaken following a first bachelor degree.

The first degree awarded in medicine is the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), which generally requires that students study basic medical sciences for the first two years followed by two years in clinical rotation. This is generally followed by a one-year internship, after which graduates take the licensing examination and, as appropriate, three to five years’ residency (for specialization). All students seeking admission to medical programs must attain a passing score on the National Medical Admission Test (NMAT) as established by each institution.

The Bachelor of Laws (LL.B or L.I.B) also requires four years of study following the first degree. The Juris Doctor (J.D.) requires an additional eight units (2-4 classes) of coursework and a thesis beyond the requirements for the LL.B. Students of both programs are expected to complete an internship of not more than 12 months, completion of which combined with completion of the LL.B/J.D. qualifies them to take the bar examination administered by the Supreme Court.

A few universities offer four-year master’s programs that build on a four-year bachelor’s degree for veterinary medicine, rather than the usual six-year program (see above).

Doctor of Philosophy programs often involve a substantial amount of coursework, while the dissertation may comprise as little as a quarter or a fifth of the total credits. Ph.D programs usually require two or three years of full-time study beyond the master’s degree. Programs that require primarily coursework without original research emphasis, and sometimes without a major dissertation, award professional degrees identified specifically as Doctor of the program’s disciplinary field, such as Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Public Health (D.P.H.) and others. The entrance requirement is usually a master degree, with an average grade of 2.00 or B.

Academic Credit System

Degree programs at all colleges and universities are weighted according to a system of instructional units based on class hours where one unit of instruction equals one hour of lectures or three hours of lab work per week. Typically, courses are three units in value and require 54 hours of classroom instruction over an 18-week semester. Four-year bachelor degree programs in the arts and sciences require a minimum of 120 units for graduation, although the minimum at many schools is likely to be 140 to 160 units or more. CHED sets the credit requirements for professional degrees such as the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, which require 170 to over 200 credits.


Technical and vocational schools and institutes offer programs in a variety of fields, including agriculture, fisheries, technical trades, trade technical education, hotel and restaurant management, crafts, business studies, secretarial studies, and interior and fashion design. The entry requirement is a high school diploma, and entrance examinations are generally not required. Postsecondary programs lead to either a certificate (often entitled a Certificate of Proficiency) or a diploma. The Professional Regulation Commission regulates programs for 47 different professions and administers their respective licensure examinations.

Programs and Degrees

Credentials are awarded by individual institutions and authorized by TESDA. TESDA has established a process called the Technical Occupation Qualification and Certification System (TOQCS) through which standards are set for a specific set of craft/trade-level qualifications based upon the type of program and occupational skill level involved.

All technical credentials are referred to as certificates and are awarded after the successful passing of standardized examinations administered by TESDA. The National Certificates generally require a program of study of between one and two years. There are a series of tests that lead to certifications on a four-step ladder (Level I, II, III and Technician or Master Craftsman). All four levels do not exist in all occupational categories. Technical and vocational institutions label their credentials by a wide variety of titles in a particular field, these include diploma, associate, graduate or craftsman.

Some technical institutes are authorized to award bachelor degrees in a similar range of subjects to those of technical and vocational schools. Community colleges offer two-year programs leading to an an associate degree or diploma in a range of vocational areas.

bigSample Documents: the Philippines

This file of Sample Documents (pdf) shows the following set of annotated credentials from the Philippine education system:

1. Secondary school (St. Rose of Lima Catholic School) permanent record and diploma.

2. Bachelor of Nursing (four year) transcripts and degree certificate from Holy Child College of Davao.

3. Master of Arts in Teaching (two year) transcripts and degree certificate from Southwestern University, with transfer credits from two other schools.

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