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Rizal’s concept of Education

By Renato Perdon
Sydney, Australia
December 8, 2016


‘Rizal taught his boys reading, writing in foreign languages, geography, math & geometry, industrial work, natural study, morals and gymnastics’

The problem with Rizal is the wealth of materials available for use. One who is doing a research on Rizal is always faced with the problem of selecting the right and the best materials for the purpose.

Rizal has been written as a poet, writer, novelist, physician, nationalist, linguist, traveller, and many other works he excelled at. And all this covers a short period of his life.

Rizal always considered education as a medicine or something that could cure the problems of Colonial Philippines. He believed in education that is free from political and religious control. He asserted that reform can not be achieved if there is no suitable education, a liberal one available to Filipinos.

Rizal was not happy at the University of Sto. Tomas compared with his student days at the Ateneo Municipal. At least, he enjoyed the little freedom students were given in expressing themselves. This he could not find at the Dominican university.

In 1893, Rizal’s idea of education as an instrument of change has not diminished a bit. In one of his letters to Alfredo Hidalgo, a nephew, Rizal stated: ‘Life is very serious thing and only those with intelligence and heart go through it worthily.’

In the same letter, he also told his nephew that ‘to live is to be among men and to be among men is to struggle…’ He concluded that ‘on the battlefield man has no better weapon than his intelligence…’

His leaving the UST to pursue his studies at the Madrid Central University was in conformity with the ideas of Fr. Jose Burgos, one of the three martyred priests of 1872. Fr. Burgos strongly advocated that Filipinos should study abroad because overseas education was considered an essential step to achieving reform. And this thinking he shared with his only brother, Paciano Rizal.

Why all these reactions? Was Rizal not over reacting? Was he reasonable? Let us look into one of his works to find some answers. Specifically his The Indolence of the Filipinos, an essay he wrote in 1890 which described the education of the masses under the Spanish regime. Rizal said ‘the education of the Filipinos from birth until the grave is brutalizing, depressing, and anti-human’.

During the same period, majority of student have ‘grasped nothing more than what the books say, not even what their professors understand of it.’ In other words, Filipinos were not allowed to think. Students were subjected to the ‘daily preaching that lowers human dignity, gradually or brutally killing their self-respect—that eternal, tenacious, persist effort to humble the native, to make him accept the yoke and to reduce him to the level of an animal’.

In the same piece Rizal talked of the situation in detail. He said, ‘since childhood, they have learned to act mechanically, without knowing the purpose, thanks to the exercise imposed upon them very early in life to pray for whole hours in an unknown language, of worshiping without understanding, of accepting beliefs without questioning, of imposing upon themselves absurdities, while the protests of reasons are repressed.’

‘This condition’, he continued, ‘made the Filipinos accept the ideas that they belong to an inferior race and this assertion has been repeated to the child and became engraved in his mind and finally seals and shapes all his future actions.’

To ensure that this orientation retained in the child’s mind, Rizal observed that the child who tries to be anything else is charged of being vain and presumptuous. The curate ridicules him with cruel sarcasm, his relatives look upon him with fear, and strangers pity him greatly.’ There was no chance to go forward, just follow the faceless crowd, was the order of the day.

It is through this scenario that we could better understand why Rizal was clamouring for a different education, a new idea of teaching the Filipino youth. Rizal believed that even modest education, no matter how rudimentary it might be, if it is the right education for the people, the result would be enough to awaken their’ ideas of perfection and progress and eventually, change would follow.

This is the situation how education was acquired during that period. Rizal’s idea of education was therefore the most enlightened. His concept of education was felt as early as when he was only 16 years old.

In one of his poems, ‘Education gives luster to the Motherland’, he dwelt on the excellent conception of education as a means of instilling enchanting virtue and raising the country to the high level of immortality and dazzling glory.

The first few lines of the poem are as follows:
Wise education, vital breath
Inspires an enchanting virtues;
She puts the Country in the lofty seat
Of endless glory, of dazzling glow.
And just as the gentle aura’s puff
Do brighten the perfumed flowers’ hue.
So education with a wise, guiding hand,
A benefactress, exalts the human band.

This is, I would say, an affirmation of Fr. Burgos’ influence over the young Rizal, mainly, due to the close association of his only brother Paciano with Fr. Burgos.

Rizal’s dream of an education for the youth has been embodied in his conception of a modern school or ‘Colegio Moderno’. A working practical, liberal education and a system of instruction for the youth of the land was envisoned.

This school was actually planned to be established in Hong Kong but found reality in Dapitan during his four year exile in Mindanao.

In Talisay, a few kilometres away from the town of Dapitan, now called Rizal Shrine, Rizal operated a school following the modern conception he envisioned for his countrymen.

It was a school fifty years ahead of its time. A school the main purpose of which was to teach the students to behave like men. Agriculture was completely integrated with formal instruction and the development of self-reliance was emphasized.

The school was unique. Intelligence was necessary to be part of it. The school existed for more than two years. Rizal’s students became successful farmers and honest government officials. A Muslim student, became a Datu while another became the governor of Zamboanga.

In brief, Rizal’s idea or concept of education is determined by the following requirements:

1.       The curriculum of a modern liberal education should include either: religion, hygiene, mathematics, the physical, natural and social sciences, literature (Spanish, rhetoric and poetry), languages (Spanish, English, French, German, Chinese and Tagalog), physical culture, and the arts.
2.       There should be a weekly accounting by teachers of student progress and conduct, the well-behaved ones to be rewarded with a posting of their names, and parents should be informed monthly of the progress, conduct, and health of their children.
3.       The school should insist on accuracy and punctuality.
4.       Teachers ware to be employed on passing an admission examination on a competitive basis if there are several applicants.
5.       There is to be no racial discrimination in the admission of students.
6.       Gymnastics and swimming are obligatory.
7.       Classes would be six hours a day including a total of two hours of physical culture and the arts.
8.       Human relations between teachers and pupils should not be ignored. The teacher should work with the students and be their leader and co-workers as well as their mentor.
9.       Instruction should be practical and should stimulate thinking rather than be a parrot like reproduction of book learning. Students should learn by participation in a natural situation. Field work has its place in effective instruction.
10.    Education should received substantial aid to make instruction effective. It is not sufficient that there are students to be taught. There must be proper accommodation and equipment conducive to learning.
11.    The teacher should have prestige, reputation, moral strength and some freedom of action.

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