Philippines Education: Institutionalizing Failure

A couple weeks ago it was time to enroll my son in school again.

He is four, almost five, and has already had two years of nursery, and one of kindergarten. The idea was to enroll him in “Kindergarten 2”–one of his previous teachers suggested he is ready for Grade 1 but I think the socialization is as valuable at his age as the actual learning.  He reads, he is fluent in my language as well as his mother’s language, runs his own Google searches, and is generally awesome. (Sorry for the cheesy proud father bullshit.)

There are four private schools where he lives–all terrible.  Terrible as in terrible. Terrible as in teaching him in “Computer Science” that every part of a computer that is not a keyboard is called a “CPU.” Terrible as in making the kids wear special PE uniforms on Fridays even though there is no PE.  Terrible as in “Jupiter has only two moons, and one is called Titan.”

I was curious about the local public schools, especially as there is one school known for teaching advanced students, and as the teachers in public schools here are generally better credentialed (for whatever, probably not much, that is worth). And, how could they possibly be worse?

The public schools were NOT very happy with admitting a kanu. (His mother is a local girl, but hey, one drop, right?) Nevertheless the teachers I spoke with were at least civil. Until it came time to actually enroll him …

Me: So he just finished Kinder 1. He is reading in English and Tagalog and can do basic addition and subtraction.  Here is his certificate of completion for last school year, and his NSO.

Teacher: (Looking at his NSO) When is his birthday?

Me: July 4, 2010

Teacher: How old is he?

Me: (Not surprised the teacher will not willing/unable to do the requisite math) He will be five on July 4.

Teacher: Hmmm…. We can enroll him in nursery.

Me: He has already had two years of nursery and one year of kindergarten. (This is already heading south–I remind myself to stay calm and politely direct her attention to the big pile of papers I brought.)

Teacher: We can’t enroll a child in Kindergarten unless he is six years old on June 30.

Me: But that won’t be until 2017–and even then only four days before he is four years old.

Teacher: Yes.

Me: What will he learn in Nursery that he doesn’t already know? He is already reading and doing basic math! Can’t you make an exception?

Teacher: Well much better for him that he doesn’t read yet. Department of Education says that he is too young to read. We can fix that.

Me: Are you saying you want to put him in Nursey so you can un-teach him to read?

Teacher: Yes. (She produces a Department of Education Local Division Office document that indeed specifies that my kid is too young to read.)

So … having no choice I enrolled him in the least-terrible private school available. Still terrible, but at least they will not purposefully try to un-teach him.

Is it just me or is the educational system here actually designed to produce authority-obsessed, obedient, and merely vaguely-literate drones?  Could this be an explanation for a lot of the absurdity we, as outsiders, see here?

Or am I assigning too much directed planning towards what is actually only absurd?

Published in Education


  1. Profile gravatar of emrys

    well happy birthday to your boy. but yeah that is pretty stupid that he is probably better educated than kids that are older than him. he would probably be way ahead of the curve. I bet you any money that the other kids in grade one don’t know anything.

    it’s so dumb that they think that a kid shouldn’t read until he is 6. that’s ridiculous. I say keep teaching him, even if it’s a bit of home schooling for an hour a day. just so they don’t make him dumb.

    I think it’s a bad sign when your talking to someone from the education department and they can’t do basic math.

    1. Profile gravatar of BloodlessStone
      BloodlessStone Post author

      Thanks emrys.
      He only knows how to read because I and the sometimes-ex-baby-mamma taught him. (Education being one of the very few things we agree on, in principle at least).
      I’ll keep it up until I can hopefully get him out of here.
      Yes, I was also curious as to the attainment of the public school first graders … no solid info however.
      My kid is back in his old private school.
      As a side note to the education debacle the private school is already demanding more money.
      School: Sorry sir, suddenly our books cost twice as much as we thought they would last week.
      Me: I’m not going to pay.
      School: Sorry sir, but if you don’t pay we will have to expel your child.
      Me: Okay, fine, I will transfer him to a different private school.
      School: You can do that, but you already passed the deadline for refund of tuition.
      Me: When was the deadline?
      School: Yesterday.
      Me: So you waited until the day after non-refundability to tell me that I suddenly owe you a $100?
      School: Sorry sir.
      Me: When did you know about the book increase?
      School: Sorry sir.
      Me: Do you understand this makes you look less like an educational institute, and more like a bunch of cheap scammers?
      School: Sorry sir.
      Me: Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth right at this moment? Why can’t you answer my questions?
      School: Sorry sir.
      Do all the parents have to pay, or only the foreigners?
      School: Sorrrryyy siiiirrrr

      1. Profile gravatar of Beavis

        I don’t believe it. I would talk to other parents with kids in the same grade if I were you, and see if this fee is truly real. Sounds like something that the office workers made up to supplement their salaries.

  2. Profile gravatar of BloodlessStone
    BloodlessStone Post author

    Yep. At least bore the crap out of him by making him sit in class with a bunch of three year olds learning shapes and colors.
    Sometimes I just want to grab someone here by the shoulders and make them look around–a real good look. Why do you, teacher, think your country is so fucked up? The teacher was yammering on about global standards and competitiveness when she literally was suggesting that a Filipino child would be better served by REMOVING the ability to read.
    Almost every goddamned day I think I can’t get any more shocked.

  3. Profile gravatar of Fr. Bong Bong Jolog Jun III
    Fr. Bong Bong Jolog Jun III

    “…is the educational system here actually designed to produce authority-obsessed, obedient, and merely vaguely-literate drones?”

    Right the first time. The purpose of education in the Failippines appears to be exactly what you have stated. My first brush with the idiocy that they call education was several years ago. I had a girlfriend at the time who had not finished high school, and wished to take adult eduction classes in order to complete high-school and enter university. Seemed simple enough to me.

    What they had her do was turn up to weekly classes at the local high school, dressed in a school uniform with other similarly dressed men and women, ranging in age from their early twenties, into their fifties. I still remember the form that had to be completed in order for her to enrol in this school of horrors. It included the necessity for me to state that I was her legal guardian – despite her being an adult.

    My girlfriend regularly came home from classes in tears, after tolerating people who literally could not spell their names taking up all of the class learning time, with idiotic questions. Having reviewed the texts that she was learning from along with the assigned homework, I would generously describe it as an insult to the intelligence of your average, institutionalized retard. I would not have fed some of that shit to a pre-schooler.

    I employ Pinoys in my business. The primary interview “filter” is the possession of at least one degree. Most don’t make it through the interview process. Those who do are given a paid, three day trial with is. Sixty percent plus fail to make the cut. This is for people who just need to be able to perform rudimentary tasks, such as writing grammatically correct and error free sentences, or cutting and pasting basic information into web pages. They can’t do it.

    I almost never take into consideration what a Pinoy has been trained to do at university, especially if it is IT related (my field). The likelihood that they have the skills to accomplish even rudimentary tasks related to their training is remote. Having employed well over 100 Pinoys over the last 5years or so, I can emphatically state that it is RARE to find an individual who has the faintest idea what to do, without serious levels of direct supervision.

    The entire education system in the Philippines is a national disgrace. If I had a child in this country, I would get them the hell out of here before there was any possibility of them being subjected to what is undoubtedly one of the worst education systems in the world. Add the cultural poison of their classmates into the mix, and you have a toxic brew which produces ignorance, stupidity and drone like compliance.

    Do your child a favor and get them the fuck out, whilst they have a fighting chance.

    1. Profile gravatar of Beavis

      Okay, but I do have a serious question for you. If you were the owner of a fast food franchise, how comfortable would you be with employing those same individuals? I think most, if not all, McDonald’s cashiers are university graduates (and they still can’t do their jobs right). But at least the McDonald’s business model is designed for workers who can barely read. And also for workers who like to steal.

      Do you think that a foreign owner of a foreign fast food franchise like that would run into any extra, unexpected problems in addition? For example, I could foresee problems with local authorities stopping by weekly for some sort of shakedown – i.e., time for a health inspection, now pay me. What other problems would there be?

      1. Profile gravatar of Fr. Bong Bong Jolog Jun III
        Fr. Bong Bong Jolog Jun III

        The biggest issue I found is dealing with the culture. I found it best to groom and promote some of the better people to become managers (quickly) – relieving me of the obligation to deal with the day-to-day shit that goes hand-in-hand with employing Pinoys. Stuff like people just not bothering to turn up for work without explanation, or even a call to let you know. Asking for salary advances constantly. Expecting your business to “sponsor” their fat, ugly fucking kids in the local pageant. Requests for a loan to purchase a new laptop. The list is pretty much endless. You really do need a buffer from all of that.

        I can’t comment on the local authorities. My business operates in a virtual environment, so it isn’t something that I have to deal with. The people I know who own local business and are successful long term, all employ locals to take care of the kind of things you mentioned. Really, they are much better equipped to deal with the many cultural sensitivities that we’ll just never get. If it was me, I’d employ a smart local person – and just try to keep out of all that stuff as much as possible.

        As for the McDonalds staff, the business systems are robust in something like that, so employee problems are of course lesser. Just the same, I’d be getting local managers to act as a buffer against Pinoy employees. I just can’t see any upside to engaging with them. Degree qualified or not, the majority of Pinoys you’ll be employing will be functioning with a level of education and with a cultural inheritance which makes them less than ideal workers. Just learn to expect substantially less than you might from a western employee. I find that’s the only realistic way to approach it.

  4. Profile gravatar of Rottt

    Depends on the school. My daughter scored 1400+ something on the SATs, though shes staying here at Ateneo for her undergrad and law degrees.

    1. Profile gravatar of Fr. Bong Bong Jolog Jun III
      Fr. Bong Bong Jolog Jun III

      I am aware that some decent schools exist here. Ateneo is one of those (rare) exceptions. Your daughter is fortunate to have a family who see the value of that kind of education, and can afford to provide it. Most Pinoys end up in colleges and universities which pump out the most sub-standard graduates I have experienced in close to 30 years of employing people. That is clearly reflected in how the country is.

  5. Profile gravatar of Rottt

    Depending on what course theyre taking, we have maybe three or four Universities where you can get a decent education. Theyre out of reach for most locals, but for expats its still cheaper than going to school in the US or europe. The rest are questionable diploma mills. The only public grade and high school i would recommend would be Philippine Science in Quezon city. Getting in i tough, but i shit you not, i know of grads who ended up with scholarships to Ivy Leagues.

  6. Profile gravatar of Elias Loco
    Elias Loco

    Pinoy culture and the type of formal education. I’d very much like to quote CyberGod’s ” Add the cultural poison of their classmates into the mix, and you have a toxic brew which produces ignorance, stupidity and drone like compliance.” And to Rottt’s “This a classist country of privilege, not rights.”

    If you’re a graduate of the “Big Four prestihiyosong unibersidades”, then you’re most likely to get the job you’ve applied for; no surprises there; standards. If you’ve graduated from a less familiar name, then they might not even give you a chance to prove yourself or you’d come last. And or it could just be enough for you to find whatever job that requires you to be a “college graduate”.

    And there’s still a culture of bullying, hazing, cheating on exams, misinformation, etc. time and time again. And that parents from the provinces would send their young to go to the capital to seek “higher learning”. And or students that are graduates from provincial universities and colleges would find work, where else, but in the capital as well. So Long Live The Capitol, the place of great beauty and endless opportunities that await you there.