The Three Rs

Educated, informed citizens are essential to the establishment and maintenance of a democratic government. On this score one of the gravest doubts about the Filipinos’ readiness for independence has been raised.

Among the finest contributions of the first Americans in the Philippines was their interest in the education of the people and their labors toward that end. One of the first moves of the American administration was to bring several hundred teachers from the United States and distribute them over the provinces. Much of the lasting cordial relationship between Filipinos and Americans has been due to the fine work of those early teachers.

Language has been one of the greatest handicaps to the introduction of Western teaching. Some eighty-seven native languages and dialects are still spoken in the islands. The most common are: Tagalog, the language of central Luzon; Visayan, spoken by the people of the central islands; and Ilocano, used in northwestern Luzon. Even today, after forty years of American influence, the native tongues are still commonly used at home. Children who speak Tagalog at home must learn reading and writing and arithmetic through the medium of English. It is surprising, therefore, not that their English is less than perfect but that they have been able to learn as much as they have.

The first generation of pupils learned English from American teachers. But the demand for education was so great and the number  of qualified teachers so small that Filipinos began to take over beginners’ classes even before they had themselves completed grade school.

Though America gave the Filipinos the opportunity for education, the people themselves paid for it. With slim resources and inadequate equipment they made it possible for schools to be continued and expanded. The result is that the English language, English literature, and, through them, the liberal ideas of the West, have been carried to every part of the islands.

Nevertheless, it has not been possible to bring education to every outlying barrio (village) and to every poor laborer’s child. Nor has it been possible even to achieve the goal of compulsory education through the first four grades. In 1939, nearly two-thirds of the Filipinos over twenty years of age had received no schooling; only two-fifths of those who had attended school had completed the fourth grade; less than half the population over ten years of age were able to read and write in any language or dialect.

But the Philippines have enjoyed freedom of speech and of the press for the last forty years. These freedoms are safeguarded by the constitution. A vigorous press flourished right up to the time of the Japanese invasion. And if a large number of persons were unable to buy papers or to read them, they still learned much about the affairs of their country by word of mouth-by the active “bamboo telegraph.”