Home » Private Catholic Schools as Agents of Multicultural Education in the Philippines

Private Catholic Schools as Agents of Multicultural Education in the Philippines



            In the Philippines, multicultural education is at the very least, a topic dealt with only at the superficial level. The celebration of the United Nation’s Day on October, the celebration of Cultural Month where the dances, songs, dress and way of life of different tribes and indigenous people are showcased do not account for multicultural education as understood by scholars and proponents of multicultural education. Even in the curriculum of future educators, there is the absence of a dedicated course dealing with multicultural education as it applies in the classroom and in the education and in the learning process as a whole. However, topics such as diversity of culture, respect for other cultures in the form of tolerance are abundant. This is manifested in the localization and contextualization of the curriculum of the Department of Education (R.A. 10533) which aims to create national culture based on the principle of unity in diversity… (Art. XIV 1987 Philippine Constitution). The scarcity of articles in multicultural education in the Philippines[2] including studies show that roughly, the Philippines, both government and church leaders are apparently show little interest in multicultural education.

            Although, a typical Filipino classroom is composed of students, teachers and other school personnel coming from one dominant culture, race, religion and language; it is evident that they come from various socio-economic strata, sexual or gender orientation, religion and learning capabilities. These characteristics can give rise to the question of favoritism in the classroom as teachers are said to favor certain students over other at school and particularly in the classroom (Aydogan, 2008) through subtle and overt actions (Saitz, 2016).  Favoritism is directly contradictory to multicultural education.

Multicultural education supports equal access to education and opportunities for all students regardless of their background as this will enable them to live a decent life and allow them to be competitive in the 21st Century which requires people to be able to live together (UNESCO, 2004). Needless to say, therefore; this accounts for the need to create a framework for a multicultural education appropriate for the Philippine setting. This framework should be initiated by the Department of Education as the duly recognized government office that spearhead educational reforms.[3] However, the task should not be borne to the governing body alone. Schools for their part, especially private Catholic schools has to initiate the implementation of multi-cultural education and practices congruent to the principles of the ideology.

This paper argues that Catholic schools in the Philippines can become agents of multicultural education provided that it re-evaluates practices that limit its implementation and come up with innovative ways to strengthen multicultural education. If Catholic schools begin to re-examine its ways, Catholic Schools can be at the forefront of the implementation of multicultural education which can be used by the Department of Education in crafting a framework that suits best in the particular situation of our nation.

For this purpose, I begin by describing although not exhaustively and theologically the nature of Catholic schools based on the mission of the Church as a universal entity and show how this could be interpreted as a necessary conceptual framework to formulate activities and policies that support multicultural education. Second, I provide an outline of some challenges that is facing the Catholic schools. Third, I enumerate practices observed in a Catholic school which have effects in the practice of multicultural education. Lastly, the author suggests practical recommendations on how Catholic schools can adopt changes that may be controversial at first glance but doable. For the sake of clarity, as there can be numerous interpretation and confusion about the meaning of multicultural education (McCann 2003, Thompson, 1995), multicultural education will mean providing an opportunity for all students regardless of religious background, socio-economic profile and sexual orientation to receive quality education and the means to survive.

Understanding the Nature of Catholic Schools

            There exists an inseparable unity between the role of the Catholic Church and the purpose to which all Catholic schools are instituted. Thus, one cannot fully understand the nature and purpose of Catholic schools without grasping the true nature of the Church. The church was conceived to make present the mission of Christ here on earth. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Art. 820). When discussing the mission of the Church, we intend to mean the call to proclaim the Good News to all people of every nation. As the Church continues to evolve and adopt to the changes occurring in this particular social milieu she seeks to find new ways of fulfilling this mission entrusted to her. The establishment of Catholic schools has for its purpose the propagation of the faith to all men and women through systematic education. In various documents of the Catholic Church regarding education; the following points are highlighted i.e. the Catholic school serves as an agency for education in faith, a means towards the attainment of the salvific mission of the Catholic Church. (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education).

Further, essential in understanding the nature of Catholic schools is the interpretation of the term “Catholic” as it is used to describe the term school.  The term “Catholic” refers to one of the three characteristics of the Church. It is derived from the Greek word “kata” which means whole and “holos” which means universal. By supposition, Catholicity means all are welcome to be part of the organization formed by Jesus Christ of the Catholics and in our time the school. As such, Catholic schools are open to the world and to the society much so to all students who wanted to take advantage of the education and formation they will receive in the catholic schools.

However, our history suggests otherwise. Catholic education in the Philippines was introduced by the Spaniards in their effort to subdue the rebellion. (Keck 1996). During this time, only the privileged or the “illustrados” were given the opportunity to attend formal schooling although in 2012, Jorge Domecq, Ambassador of Spain to the Philippines claimed that this is one of the misconceptions during the Spanish Colonization. Through hindsight Catholic education therefore is a social status a symbol that shows one belongs to a family close to the Spaniards or one belongs to prominent clans because Spaniards see education neither as a preparation for Filipinos to govern nor to educate them. Furthermore, those who can afford to study in Spain in various universities were also reserved to the rich. The Indios or those who came from the fringes of the society were allowed to study in Church’s sponsored Catechism which by all categories is not considered formal schooling.

The desire for Filipinos to be educated and the thought of schooling is already evident even before Spaniards came to the Philippines. There are existing systems the resemble that of formal schooling only that the Spaniards paved the way for what we now call as “formal” schooling.

The Challenges to Catholic Schools

Recent advancements in educational psychology, learning process, migration, globalization, political views, end of colonization and the uproar to equal access to quality education to which all Catholic schools in the Philippines advocate opened up a new chapter of challenges for Catholic schools to overcome.  For Catholic schools to contribute towards the attainment of the goals of our nation; there is a need to re-vitalize its programs, its processes, its methodology, its activities and its teachers so that every Catholic school will be empowered to respond appropriately to the demands of our time.

The first challenge that will confront every Catholic school and perhaps all school is its admission of students coming from different religious background, socio-economic profile, gender and sexual orientation and students with diverse learning capabilities and needs vis-à-vis religious instruction, signing of contracts, compulsory attendance to religious activities as requirements for graduation and expression of faith-belief in the campus. Undeniably, Catholic private schools have proven its worth in terms of providing quality education, inculcating discipline and right conduct to its students, developing talents and skills. (Dava 2011). Due to this, parents even of non-Catholic can choose Catholic private schools over public schools as school of choice for their children. As education becomes increasingly inclusive Catholic schools are now accepting students from different religious background provided they meet the following conditions: attendance to the required Christian Living or Religion classes, will not proselytize, will respect all religious activities in the school. The rise in number of Overseas Filipino Workers also contributed to this challenge on the part of Catholic schools. Money seems no longer a hindrance to a Filipino family to send their children to these schools as their work abroad provides them better opportunities to earn a considerable amount of money. The result of migration and the new policies of Catholic schools is a more diverse schools were students of different background congregate to attend formal education with the hope that they will be educated. Catholic schools then become a melting pot of different cultures and socio-economic profiles.

The second challenge that Catholic schools need to address is the presence of students with various educational and learning needs alongside students with different gender orientation and students coming from different socio-economic strata.  This challenge is a necessary consequence of the previous challenge enumerated. At present, fewer Catholic schools in the Philippines remain gender-based. What we see is the prevalence of co-education type where boys attend the same class with the girls and vice-versa. Although such decision may be driven by ulterior motives such as financial survival of the school; Catholic leadership sees this phenomenon as an opportunity to evangelize those who do not know Jesus Christ or having difficulties and apprehension, this pose as a challenge in every Catholic school that demands response it must be done in ways that respect cultural diversity and promote multicultural education both in policy and practice. (Russo, Adams, Seery, 1998). This is heightened by the prevalence of different system of thoughts that asks for different approach to students coming from different cultural background and traditions. No longer can the simple catechetical approach to imparting of education possible.

The third challenge is that seemingly Catholic tradition has already abandoned multiculturalism as “multiculturalism” supports the idea of cultural relativity. Cultural relativity is seemingly dangerous to Catholic tradition for it purports the idea that no culture is above other culture or in technical terms cultural relativism. With this Catholic schools supporting the call of the Church teachings advocates inculturation and other processes. Seemingly Catholic school’s leadership is holding aback fearing that allowing for more opportunities for non-Catholics in a catholic school to express their faith belief will be detrimental to its students and to the Catholic Church as an institution.

The fourth challenge is the fear of Catholic schools’ administrators that these students coming from different religious tradition will recourse to proselytizing. In proselytizing, students belonging to a different religious background actively recruits students to become their members. This is considered a major offense in almost every catholic school.

The fifth challenge that every Catholic school will encounter as it admits students coming from other religious tradition is the availability of qualified school personnel who will attend to the needs of this “minority” group. Usually, the task to assist these students are delegated to either the Coordinator of Student Services or the Campus Ministry team who are basically Catholics with limited exposure to other traditions. The problem lies in what will these support group do to the students? What activities will they provide to enhance mutual respect from all groups? Certainly, the activities will be consistent with goals and objectives of the school. But school will not tolerate activities that will “endanger” the faith of the little ones or put the tradition of the school in question to higher authorities.



What Catholic schools are doing?

The Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines,[4] the biggest organized group of Catholic schools with over 1,250 member-schools, through its representative took bold actions to accommodate the changing landscape of the Catholic school to ensure that the presence of non-Catholics is addressed and that they are given the opportunity to learn and improve like their counterparts by introducing the Project Philippine Catholic School standards. It is an assessment tool that not only discusses the nature and the goals of Catholic education in the Philippines but also recognizes the presence of students coming from different sect or religious belief (Ferrer, 2013). The instrument talks about the direction that every and all Catholic schools in the Philippines should head in response to the 500 years of Christianity. But just like in any other report, assessment and evaluation tools, the presence of these criteria does not reflect the reality. Oftentimes, there is a big gap occurring between the practices, ideals in a school community.

Another significant undertaking that is considered is the development of “terms” or “language” used to address students who come from different religious background. (Grajczonek, Ryan, and Chambers, 2007). Catholic leadership through various documents exhorted Catholic school leaders as well as teachers to promote not simply tolerance of the presence of the “minority” in the school community. In Gravissimum Educationis, 1965, Catholic schools are encouraged to assist “to fulfill their function in a continually more perfect way, and especially in caring for the needs of those who are poor in the goods of this world or who are deprived of the assistance and reflection of a family or who are strangers to the gift of Faith.” Those who are strangers to the gift of Faith are taken as “objects of care.” However, the document does not stipulate the kind of care that every school will provide to every student especially those who are non-Catholics and those who are lacking in means to live a decent life. And this is one of the issues that every Catholic school needs to address if it wants to be relevant in the 21st Century. Among the responses that almost all big Catholic learning institution is providing an opportunity for mutual interreligious dialogue. However, this interreligious dialogue oftentimes takes place in the context of a social problem and oftentimes conducted with other Christian denominations and not those belonging to other religion that do not recognize the same Creed as Catholics or Christians do. To aggravate the situation, taking care of them means attending the same Religion class and the same formation such as annual recollection, Youth Encounters and retreat, all these are traditions are reflective of the Catholic belief which on the other hand is irrelevant for non-Catholic students who profess a different faith system. Parents cannot complain regarding this practice as they are asked to sign a contract stipulating their unwavering support for all activities of the school and for their children to attend the compulsory Religion class and other religious activities.      This is an opportunity for Catholic school to express its dedication to the multicultural approach to education provided that school administrators fully support the idea of contract signing and other practices.

The second problematic situation in Catholic schools is the one-size-fits-all delivery of instruction specifically in Religious Education. Given that this is part of the curriculum and all students need to comply with the requirements and that they are not free because they decided to enroll at a Catholic School. Nevertheless, there are some changes in the practice of teaching. Teachers become more aware of respecting the beliefs of other students by not imposing the belief of the Catholics. Further, the methodology used today is much more sensitive to cultural differences existing in every classroom compared to the processes observed before the Vatican implements its guidelines in dealing with students of other faith denomination. Before the Second Vatican Council, school teachers present the faith as it is enumerated in the Bible or other Church documents. With the advancement of educational psychology, teachers in the Catholics no longer present the teachings of the Church per se. They begin by exploring the experience of the students which are related to the lesson.

What Catholic Schools Can do?

As Catholic schools begin admitting non-Catholic students and other students coming from non-Christian denomination, it must continue to evolve and adopt practices that do not only tend to respect the presence of these students but more so practices that are consistent with the aims of education in the 21st Century and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Ordinarily, Catholic schools cannot come up with activities or practices that are inconsistent or blatantly defying the teachings of the Church. Therefore, there is a need to strike harmony and balance between the prescribed norms of the Church and the tenets of multicultural education.

Harmony and balance can occur first and foremost in the way non-Catholic students are accepted in Catholic schools. Is it really essential to have a waiver signed by students with their parents in order for them to be admitted? Catholic schools being private educational institution have rights including to determine who will be accepted. The policy is political in nature and therefore requires political will on the part of school administrators to address this problem by providing what we call in discipline as preventive measures. With proper infusion of values such as mutual respect for different religious background, respect for persons of other cultures, treating peoples as equal regardless of race, of beliefs and different socio-economic profiles and sexual or gender orientation waiver may not be essential. Secondly, oftentimes the reasons for Catholic students leaving the Catholic fold and joining fellowship of other charismatic group is attributed to the way we celebrate our sacraments and the kind of support system we have in our Catholic schools. By compromising within the limits of the approved Liturgy, Catholic schools can have more lively celebration of the different sacraments as our clientele are the younger generations or what we call as millennials. There is a need to provide mechanism that will allow them to enjoy every liturgical celebration. Further, there is a need to introduce new ways of fellowship such as sharing of experiences outside the scheduled class hours. When prayer encounters are done within the timeframe of a regular class encounter, subconsciously students feel that somehow they are graded with regard to their participation. As a result, there only exists a superficial involvement devoid of any meaning and significance to the students. During Eucharistic celebrations, Catholic schools still plays the usual songs and celebrates it with minor to no changes at all. Compared with celebration during fellowships of this faith communities; there are dances, there is a band accompanying the faithful in their worship and most of all there is a sharing of experiences. This experience is lacking in the celebration of Eucharistic Celebration in Catholic schools at least in those schools that have not adopted to the needs of students.

Harmony and balance can also exist in the curriculum. Is it necessary for non-Catholics to attend the required Religion Classes for Catholics? Can we offer something that does not violate our mandate and yet respectful of their traditions? The answer to this question is a double-edged sword as Catholics will begin to question why non-Catholics are not required even if they are attending the same school and follows the same policies. It can be seen as prejudice and therefore Catholic students may also opt to change their religion in order for them to skip Christian or Religion classes. In this case, one can advocate a more fluid holding of Religion classes in private schools. Instead of focusing more on the doctrinal side of the teachings of the Catholic faith, why not give more importance to the pastoral implication of the same doctrine. This can be done by introducing concepts which are related to the experience of the students in general and not begin by exposition of the Catholic faith. Further, teachers can more subtly convey Christian message rather than explicitly informing the students of the topic. The Daughters of Charity and other religious organizations in the Philippines is correct in establishing a methodology that is more multicultural in approach i.e. the See-Discern-Act model. In this model, the class begins by looking at the common experience of the students. This experience can be personal in nature or societal events. From these experiences, the facilitators draw some values from the students. These values are then connected to a longing for all students. It does not necessarily mean Catholic value as values are considered universal. This particular value is then connected to all religious beliefs and not necessarily to Christ alone. There will be no disagreement on this part as all values being inherently good and desirable are considered by all religious denominations.

On the question of school personnel who are inadequately prepared to handle students coming from different religious background. There is an evident need to address this situation and Catholic schools have two options. First, they can recourse to retooling personnel to acquaint them to the belief system and traditions of these students. The second option is to employ non-Catholics to lead in all activities for these students. The second option is again a prerogative of each Catholic school and the possibility of setting guidelines is essential to ensure that the employee will adhere to the aims of the Catholic school that is providing quality education and opportunity for all students.




As Catholic schools continue to admit students coming from different faith system, from different social strata, from different learning abilities and from different sexual or gender orientation, she must take necessary actions to attend to their needs and to provide everyone equal access to education by providing learning experiences that are not only Christian or Catholic in nature. Catholic education through various activities should not be divisive. Catholic authorities may find this article not compatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church, but there is a need to revitalize the programs and activities of every Catholic schools so that the real purpose of multicultural education can be realized. The proposals presented here are all questions of whether Church authorities can be willing to adopt to the changes occurring in our generation. Without these actions, Catholic schools will remain just an ordinary arm of the Catholic Church in propagating the faith through outdated means that run in contrary to the advancements in educational Philosophy and culture.


Aydogan, I., (2008). Favoritism in the Classroom. Journal of Instructional Psychology. 35(2). Retrieved from http://www.freepatentsonline.com/article/Journal-Instructional-Psychology/181365763.html

Davis, Ava M., “Why Do Parents Choose to Send Their Children To Private Schools?” (2011). Electronic Theses & Dissertations. Paper 382. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1382&context=etd

Domecq, J. (2013) Education in PH during the Spanish Colonial Era. Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Gravissimum Educationis (1965). Sacred Congregation for Catholic Schools. Daughters of St. Paul, Manila.

Grajconek, J., Ryan M., Chambers, M. (2007). Inclusion of Students who are not Catholics in Catholic Schools: Policy, Practices and Problems. Retrieved from http://www.acu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/89896/Inclusion_of_Students_who_are_not_Catholics_in_Catholic_Schools.pdf

McCann, A. (2003) Multicultural Education Connecting Theory to Practice. National Center for the Student of Adult Learning and Literacy. 6(B). pp. 1-7.

Russo, C.J., Adams, S., & Seery, M.E. (1998). Catholic Schools and Multicultural Education: A Good Match. Journal of Catholic Education, 2(2). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/ce/vol2/iss2/7

Saitz, G. (2016) Are you being Fair? Tips for avoiding teacher’s pet and favoritism in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/tools/49345.htm on November 20.

Thompson C. (1995). Multicultural Education and Curriculum Transformation. The Journal of Negro Education. 64(4) pp. 390-397.

UNESCO. Four Pillars of Learning. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/networks/global-networks/aspnet/about-us/strategy/the-four-pillars-of-learning/

[1] This assertion was made by the Graduate Students of the Philippine Normal University in their discussion of Multicultural Education with Dr. Bill Atweh. The students concurred that in the Philippines, there is no such thing as multicultural education for several reasons: a. students are almost treated the same way, b. the curriculum of the BSED and BEED does not contain an actual course on Multicultural Education and c. in the school setting, the population are made up of individuals coming from one culture who speak the same language and who are from the same racial origin.

[2] The author painstakingly scours the internet for articles dealing with multicultural education in the Philippine context but found very little resources from the web.

[3] In the Philippines, the Department of Education oversees the planning, implementation and evaluation of the Basic Education Curriculum. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) monitors the curriculum of HEIs while the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority monitors vocational courses offered by participating agencies.

[4] The Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines is the governing body that assists the Department of Education in monitoring Catholic Private Schools in the Philippines although they function more as a support group.

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