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An Expats Experience with Private Schools in Davao

One of the readers here is “Steve in Davao” who offered to write an article about enrolling his daugheter in school here in Davao. I usually give in introduction, but he included it in his article. I thank Steve and offered him to write more for this site in the future. Steve’s daughter is enrolled in one of the better private schools in Davao. I hope someday someone will write about public schools here for us to get an understanding from the average Filipino perspective. I offer a thank you to Steve for sending me this story for us all to enjoy.

Hi, my name is Steve and I have recently arrived here in Davao, from the United States. I’m a retired firefighter and farmer from the beautiful farm fields of Ohio. Six years ago, a beautiful Filipina changed my life. Ten months later we had a pretty little girl and life was wonderful.  About three years later a sudden illness and a pacemaker/defibrillator changed my life again, and now I’m retired. So, we decided to come to the Philippines and raise our daughter in my wife’s culture. My lovely wife will also go back to college and obtain her advanced degree. She is a product of the Davao public schools and she’s very well educated. She has a Bachelors degree from The University of Mindanao that is fully recognized in the U.S.A. We both like the schools and the morality of the Filipino people.

So, we started looking for a preschool for my five year old daughter and found Ateneo de Davao elementary school.  OK, just go register her and start school, right! Not so fast, first there is an entry test to take; she was tested for Level II preschool (her age group). I suddenly found myself worried about my little girl’s first test.

I was much more nervous about the test, than was my daughter. Next were questions for the parents to answer (why Ateneo? …What are your expectations of Ateneo? …Do you attend Church?… What Church?… and such…) Questions that I did not expect, but they do make sense coming from a Christian school. Then came the fees, (reasonably small fees when compared to the states, so I’m not complaining) lots of fees, at different steps of registration and on different days. I found myself falling into the trap, “in the states, we do it better”. Well that’s an easy trap to fall into. We may do it different in the states, but who’s to say its better?

Next came uniforms, backpacks and books; all provided by the school or thru school resources. (ie… books, pencils and learning materials from the school, uniforms from the mall, necktie from the school canteen ..Etc..). Suddenly we were ready for the final step, my baby’s.. err.. ah.. my BIG girls first day at school (she doesn’t like to be called baby anymore, catch-on Dad)! I was more apprehensive, than excited. “What am I thinking; I’m sending my precious little girl off to school in a foreign country and into the care of people I didn’t necessarily know or trust.”  “What am I thinking?”

“This isn’t Ohio or the states or anything I understood”. “How could I entrust my baby with all these strangers?” As my wife put it, “relax Dad!”

Ateneo is a private Christian (Jesuit/Catholic) school with tight security and very high standards for Teachers and Staff. That translates to a safe campus, a great school environment and high expectations. My daughter was doing very well at her preschool back in Ohio. But, here we were, registering in the middle of the school year, which meant she was actually a little behind. The schools here start teaching kids to read in preschool, so my daughter was behind her class.

I must say that I am very impressed with her teacher, Mrs. Annie. She immediately evaluated my daughter’s skill level and suggested homework ideas and started tutoring her. With tutoring and a little help from me, on homework assignments, she’s catching up nicely and should progress to Level III next year. My daughter is very outgoing and adjusted very quickly. She had a few bouts of “I miss my old school and classmates!” a few tears and nostalgia for her home in Ohio, but all-in-all she’s adjusted just fine.

The Teachers and staff at Ateneo have been wonderful. All classes are taught in English, but my daughter is being exposed to the native language as kids still use their home language at play. The school will teach the Filipino language (Tagalog) in later grades. I want her to be multi- lingual. That’s something that I don’t believe we, as Americans, put enough emphasis on. We have borders with French speaking Canada and Spanish speaking Mexico and yet we do not push enough for languages in our schools. The Philippine people speak English and their native tongues as a minimum. They understand the need to talk the languages of the world. You don’t have to go far to hear French, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Hangul (Korean), Arabic, German and I’ve even heard Flemish spoken here.

My wife rides with our daughter on her school bus (another expense) and stays in a special area reserved for caretakers or nanny’s (called Yayas). This is a very common practice; sitting outside the school waiting for the children to complete their school day. My daughter attends half day classes now, but I think she will go full time next year. That should mean no more sitting and waiting outside her school.

Do I worry? Of course I worry. I worry about her safety, her hygiene, her diet, her friends and …well you get my drift…I worry, I’m her Dad. I also know that I’d worry the same worries anywhere in the world, including back home in the states. It’s our plight as fathers to worry about our children.
I have very limited knowledge of public schools here in Davao. My wife has told me about her life growing up in Bocana Elementary school, Davao High School and the University of Mindanao and I will try to relay those stories for you.

First of all, as I said before, my wife is a product of public schools here. She is well spoken, in English, and had no problem in college classes or working in hospitals in the states.
I personally believe the schools here do a great job educating. My wife tells me about having classes sitting under a tree outside the school, because there were not enough classrooms or chairs. She said she loved rainy days, as that meant no school. I have been to a few of the schools and have driven past others and I have to say the facilities are poor, at best. I also realize that I am seeing them from an American point-of-view and I don’t always “get-it” here. My wife tells me some of the schools are quite nice, but I just don’t see it. That old “in the states, we do it better” trap, again.

Public schools do have a required miscellaneous fee. It’s a small amount, but if you don’t have it, you don’t have it, and your kids don’t attend school. It’s a very different philosophy over here. In the states, your kids attend school or child services visits you to know why. It’s often a challenge here just to meet the miscellaneous fee, the book fees, PTA fees (required here), uniform costs… etc.

Most all schools require a uniform of some type. I was driving past a school near my home this week and saw several kids in uniform, but one or two were barefooted. When I pointed this out to my wife, she told me the kids could not afford shoes and went to school without them. I looked the kids over closely and could see that the uniforms, they wore, were old and faded, but clean; so, Mom and Dad were trying. Shoes were just more that they could afford. The kids were smiling and seemed happy with their friends, but it did bother me that my daughter had it so well and these kids did not. Since then, my wife and I have purchased extra slippers and keep our eyes open. If we see those kids again, we will offer shoes to them. We hope they will accept them.

Education is important and kids cannot learn on an empty stomach. I wonder how many of these kids go to school hungry. Meals before school are no problems for most of us, but I wonder if I can do more, so I give what I can to charities that feed kids.

Just as my parents did, I live to make my daughter’s life better. Paying for the best education I can afford is extremely important to me. Private schools here are much more affordable than in the states. My education dollars (Pesos) go much farther here. That’s part of the reason we came to Davao to live. My wife and daughter can both attend the best schools available.

Please understand that I have no insight into the Philippine education system, because I don’t! I am only an expat parent with a kid in school, like millions of parents here; I just want the best for my child. I invite your insight into the education of our children and would be interested in your view. Please feel free to comment.

I hope you enjoyed the read.

21 Responses to “An Expats Experience with Private Schools in Davao”

  1. The education system is something that worries me in the Philippines which is why I will be doing a lot of home study to fill in the gaps. But then again I would do the same in the UK as the education system has dropped to a very low level to be “PC”.

    • Bruce says:

      I wonder too about the level of education provided here. I have seen college students having assignemnts that look like elementary school things in the States. Such as presentations where my niece had to stand up for a nutrition class being “Cheese” and reports dressed up like scrape book covers.
      But, they pass the licensing for jobs in other countries, so I guess they have the required education.

  2. vee says:

    hi my name is vee currently here in bribane australia and have four girls!!!two of them are in year 1 and year 2. I’m looking on moving to Davao and searching on the web about more informationin in terms of schools that i would put my children if ever we really decided to go back for a while just for me to have abit of help with my little ones as well as to have more time to complete my tertiary qualification. Thanks steve of davao !! it helps me have abit of idea what i can expect from primary private school there!and that would also give me abit of direction what school to check in davao.

    • Bruce says:

      Most of the colleges and universities also have private elementary and high schools. There are many other private schools here too. Who is the best or the highest level, maybe Steve can enlighten us.

  3. Steve in Davao says:

    I don’t know your situation. Are you looking at education for wife, kids, yourself. Let me know, I’ll get answers to your questions, if I can.

  4. Steve in Davao says:

    Vee, If you decide to come too Davao, My wife and I will gladly help search for the right school for your kids and help with the registation process.
    Steve in Davao

  5. Steve in Davao says:

    Bruce, that does sound odd… and kind of funny, wish I could have seen the “cheese” speech. My wife attended college in Ohio and tells me the professors spoon feed students there. She tells me the instructors make you work harder for the grade here.
    I’ve talked to several filipina nurses recently (in the states) and all are doing very well with high paying jobs, so something works here.

    • Bruce says:

      With spoon feeding, I know it well. I went to two tech schools, one for electronics and one for computer drafting. The review the night before a test was the teacher asking the questions we would see on the test the next day.
      I agree, the Filipino graduates are well qualified and do well in most OFW positions. But from what I see, I am surprised. I once met a young lady about to graduate to be an English teacher and I had trouble understanding her.

  6. I dont think its an issue of study as I think the people I know have developed more after they graduate. But i do think it is very important that students get a “balanced” education. A lot of people I have met havent got a clue where the UK is for example and also with better education there could be a better understanding of things like littering and developing ideas for people to get a better life. Currently to many people look to the Visa process as the solution but thats only led to a brain drain in the Philippines that is without a doubt having affects. I think the international schools have a better education level but even then still could be better.

  7. Steve in Davao says:

    I think you have a very valid point. The philippines have been experiancing a “brain drain” for years now.
    I don’t believe that world history is a big subject here. They are probably concentrating on the history of Asia more than the western world. That’s hard for a westerner to understand, but kind of makes since here, don’t you think?
    How many young people in the U.K. could find Korea, or Japan or the Philippines on an un-labeled map. It’s the same in some area’s of the U.S. I’ve seen high school and even some college level students who can’t find Australia or Poland on a globe. Many don’t know that the U.K. is an island, or that australia is NOT an island. It just goes to show that the teachers DO teach to the students needs and JOBS are the priority here. Any education is good and certainly better than none. It’s just what you want and go after as a parent or student. And, that’s why I shopped schools for awhile before choosing Atenao. It’s probably one of the best schools here in Davao, so I’ll do what I must to keep her there.
    We as parents can watch our children closely and adjust their education accordingly. I think that my generation is more versed in the world, than was my parents. They pushed me in school and spent the time with homework and such. I’m doing the same with my daughter and will closely moniter her education and make adjustment if I think it’s the best thing to do.I already know she will go to college in the U.S Her mother and I have dicussed that and already have a savings plan and school in mind.
    I hope she will be better educated, than I was. We, as parents have great hopes for our kids, and I’m willing to sacrifice just as our parents did. I know you are doing the same for your kids, what else can we do; we’re parents!
    All-in-all, I think the education requirements are being met here and improving every year. It could always be better and some of that responsibility will fall on us parents.
    Keep teaching our kids, and give them the best we can. Thanks for talking about education with me, you’ve made me re-think some things and I’m probably better informed for it.
    Thanks, Steve in Davao

  8. Rich says:

    Not looking forward to that transition, Matt better get his Bisayan / tagalog down pat before we get there, he’ll be jumping into the system a bit latter than preschool.

  9. Steve in Davao says:

    Rich, I have seen many advertisements for tutoring schools and have even been recommended to one by the school my daughter attends. We may start her early, on her language courses, just to get a head start. You might want to research tutoring here in Davao. Maybe even contact Ateneo at their Website for assistance at
    Don’t worry, all education at Ateneo is in english. Tagalog is just anthor subject to be learned, Matt will be fine.
    Steve in Davao

  10. Mario says:

    To any expats there

    Does a child with a permanent visa need to pay higher fee or regular fee like regular citizen ? How much does it cost per year ?

  11. ann says:

    Hi Bruce

    I have been looking for a good school for my kid also, but I dont think its Ateneo. Ateneo has like almost 30 kids or something per class. There is no way that they will learn properly if the teacher cannot focus on each child’s weakness/strengths. I am not saying its bad, or horrible. What I am saying is it is overrated.
    The most Ateneo will teach your child would be being outgoing, not shy, career driven or goal oriented but intelligence wise – not really.

    I am speaking from observation of my friends who graduated from Ateneo, or have spent a decade and a half of their lives there. They went to Ateneo pre-school, then elementary, then high school..after that where do they go to college..Ateneo College of course.

    If you prefer your child to be brainy/intelligent I would say Davao Christian High School is the way to go.

    Great blog by the way keep it up.


  12. Jennifer says:

    I was born and raised in Davao and currently in MN. My American husband is moving to Saudi Arabia for a teaching job and my 2 kids and I will move to Davao in September. I graduated from Ateneo many years ago so my husband and I trust that the kids get the best education they can possibly have while living there. There will be gaps, I’m sure, plus the system there focus too much in rote learning, than in critical thinking (been there). So, while they’ll go to Ateneo for learning and some fun, plus a lot of cultural immersion, I will also have to have homeschool resources to make sure they don’t get left behind by their peers here.

    “In the states we do it better?” I used to tell my husband when he gets that attitude: oh white man, master, pls tell, pls tell this native how to do things, rescue us from ourselves, mster.” My nationalist friends over there would disown me for saying this, but, yes, we DO do things better (my Kindergartner has a smartboard in her classroom), faster (have you tried retuning an item back to the store?) over here. But then again, maybe it’s just different?

    • Matt says:

      Hi! I matriculated at Ateneo de Davao from pre-school to college. And I am currently a physician in Los Angeles.

      I have to tell you that the standards of this school is at par or better than American schools.

      I retire in ten years in Davao, and I will be sending by kids to school there.

  13. Guen says:

    Hi Guys!

    I was just wondering. Does anyone know of private schools that cater to the less privileged? There’s a 196 hectare development in Baliok, Toril (affordable housing) that is currently in the pre-selling stage, and 1 hectare has been set aside for educational institutions (all the way from day care to highschool). That amount of land may be cut down of course, especially since we’re looking at relatively lower monthly incomes. I was just wondering if anybody had ideas regarding who to invite.

  14. mabuhay says:

    I agree, we are force to study in an overrated schools or universities not just for formality sake but to escape poverty. You might even say that what’s the purpose of attending school if that would be the result? If all schools here in the city will set the standards like those in other countries, then a lot of children will discourage to continue their studies. I am a product of overrated public schools from elementary to college but personally i am contented of what I have. And I know, while reading this comment, you will surely find mistakes in my statements and let it be. As long as I can get what is better for me, I will continue to patronize it.

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