Jeremiah M. Inocencio
20 September 2021
The word “normal” evokes a lot of thought especially nowadays. Casual language defines being “normal” as to abide by a standard, to conform with expectations, and be usual, typical, or routinary, according to Merriam-Webster. When unprecedented and life-changing circumstances arise, using the word “normal” is akin to making “throwbacks”, where one reminisces the moments where ease, certainty, and familiarity are well within reach. But for an aspiring educator, being “normal” means taking steps in making their dreams come true; that is to be honed as the guiding light of the nation’s hope. For many decades and amid changing times, an institution in Manila has kept true and dedicated to this mission – the Philippine Normal University (PNU).
During the incipient years of their colonial rule over the Philippines, the Americans introduced efforts in overhauling the public education system put up by Spain. Such a move was aimed at two goals: a strategy to pacify localities that continued the struggle for Philippine independence during the Philippine-American War (Constantino, 1997) and to build a sense of unity through mass literacy among Filipinos, which was deemed important in a democratic society (Abinales and Amoroso, 2005). While the first schools were built by the US military in Corregidor and Manila as early as 1898, changes in the public school system patterned after the American system was formally institutionalized on January 21, 1901, when the American-led second Philippine Commission legislated Act No. 74 (Alzona, 1932). Aside from laying the foundations of the current public education system in the country, it also established three educational institutions, one of which was the Philippine Normal School (PNS), the precursor of today’s PNU. Therefore, it is important to distinguish PNS from the Jesuit-run Escuela Normal as the two institutions are not related to one another (Reyes, 2020)
The word “normal” in the phrase “normal school” could be traced from a French teacher-training institution called école normale, commonly associated with Jean Baptiste de La Salle of the Brothers of Christian Schools (Tan, 2015; Hilton, n.d.). Consistently, Act No. 74 mandated the PNS to educate Filipinos in the science of teaching (Philippine Commission, 1901). On April 10, 1901, under the supervision of Manila schools superintendent Dr. David P. Barrows as acting principal, the Normal School conducted the start of its preliminary term inside the spacious Escuela Municipal de Manila building along Victoria Street at Intramuros, Manila (Philippine Commission, 1904). The 600 students enrolled were divided into 33 sections to study primary instruction on English, geography, and arithmetic using American textbooks and English as the language of instruction (Atkinson, 1902). The preliminary term concluded on May 10, 1901, with 570 students as completers. Sometime in July until August 1901, ships carrying American schoolteachers from mainland America arrived in Manila to augment the native teachers and the US soldiers teaching in the barrios. They are collectively known as the Thomasites, named after the ship that brought them to the islands (Torres, 2010). On September 6 of that same year, Elmer B. Bryan was appointed Normal School’s first principal, a position he held until 1903.
In 1902, tributary branches of PNS were established in Nueva Caceres, Camarines Sur; Cebu, Cebu; Iloilo, Panay; Vigan, Ilocos Sur, and Zamboanga, Mindanao (Atkinson, 1902). Soon, these were converted into provincial high schools (Alzona, 1932). In the same year, the PNS transferred to the administration buildings of the 1895 Exposicion Regional de Filipinas along Padre Faura Street in Ermita, a site that now forms part of the Philippine General Hospital and the University of the Philippines Manila (Reyes, 2019; Tan, 2015, Philippines Historical Committee, 1952). During that period, PNS also admitted students who studied introductory courses in law, medicine, and nursing aside from the college preparatory course. These courses were later placed under a separate department called the Junior College, more popularly known as Junior College of Liberal Arts, from which the University of the Philippines’ College of Liberal Arts was formed (Bureau of Education, 1918; Alzona, 1932). In 1903, the PNS produced its first batch of graduates while after two years, the Training Department, later known as the Laboratory School was formed (Reyes, 2019).
According to a historical sketch included on the 1918 bulletin of the Bureau of Education, the PNS moved from Padre Faura to its sprawling campus bounded by Ayala Boulevard, Taft Avenue, and Arroceros Street in 1912 where the flagship campus remains at present. The three-story Philippine Normal School Building was built from reinforced concrete and had 42 rooms that included recitation rooms, laboratories, a kitchen, sewing, embroidery, and basketry rooms, an 800-seater auditorium, and a library with 6,000 volumes. It is currently known as the Main Building or Geronima Pecson Hall, named after the author of the law that elevated PNS into a college in 1949. On its athletic field were baseball diamonds and volleyball courts.
Two years later, the 250-bed, three-story Normal Hall dormitory was built across the Main Building. These two structures were both designed by Architect William Parsons following a V-shaped configuration.
During the Commonwealth period, the PNS had its first Filipino superintendent in the person of Manuel Escarilla who assumed the post in 1939. In the gloomy years of World War II, the Japanese Occupation of Manila in 1942 put a halt to the operations of the Normal School, declaring batch 1942 as graduates (Reyes, 2019). As recounted by historian Ambeth Ocampo (2015), when the liberation forces approached the Philippines in the latter part of 1944, the edifices of the Normal School at Ayala Boulevard were temporarily used by the neighboring National Library to store its Filipiniana collections including a number of historical manuscripts and rare books such as Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, and Mi Ultimo Adios.
As these parts of the prewar collection were supposed to be transferred to Manila City Hall, it was thought that the artifacts have been either lost or damaged during the Battle for Manila in 1945. Fortunately, these were recovered inside the Normal Hall Building; away from the lootings at city hall and unscathed by intense shelling that reduced the nearby Legislative and Finance buildings into rubble. However, photographs show that the Main Building and Training Department Building sustained significant damages. After the war, the Normal School grounds were temporarily used by the Bureau of Education as headquarters along with the People’s Court in hearing collaboration cases (Reyes, 2019).
After the inauguration of the Third Philippine Republic, PNC remained a trailblazer in the field of education as manifested by its successive milestones.
On June 18, 1949, President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act (RA) No. 416 which converted the Philippine Normal School into the Philippine Normal College and subsequently authorized it to confer degrees on Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Master of Arts in Education in addition from the two-year general curricula and three-year combined curricula (Republic of the Philippines, 1949). The first full-fledged graduate courses were finally offered in 1953 (PNU Graduate School Handbook, 2017).
The enactment of RA 4242 on June 19, 1965, expanded the PNC through the creation of five regional branch campuses. However, only the Agusan (Mindanao), Isabela (North Luzon), and Negros Occidental (Visayas) campuses were realized. On July 22, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos signed RA 6515, amending certain sections of RA 416. This allowed PNC to offer and conduct courses on Bachelor of Science in Education, Master of Arts in Education, Doctor of Philosophy in Education and other academic degrees relevant to the training of education professionals, and appropriate in, the preparation and training of teachers, specialists, researchers, supervisors, administrators, school and education managers and other professional personnel in education (Republic of the Philippines, 1972; PNU Graduate School Handbook, 2017). In 1976, through the efforts of PNC Batch 1951, the iconic monument “Alay Sa Guro” made by Rosario Arcilla was erected while in 1985, the PNC Library, now called Edilberto P. Dagot Hall was completed through financial assistance from the Japanese government (Reyes, 2019)
On December 26, 1991, PNC was finally elevated into a state university through RA 7168; thereby renaming the PNC into the Philippine Normal University. The law only took full and legal effect on January 11, 1992, following Section 1 of Executive Order No. 200 of 1987. Another branch campus was established at Lopez, Quezon in 1993. At the Main Campus, the Administration Building and PNU Worship Center were completed in 1996 through the funding of the Office of Sen. Ernesto Maceda and donations from Don Emilio Yap, respectively (Reyes, 2019).
A year after the turn of the new millennium, PNU celebrated its 100th year. Consequently, teacher development programs such as the Teachers Networking and Research Center (funded by the Ford Foundation), Southeast and East Asia Sub Regional Workshop on Policy Development and Curricular Renewal of Teacher Education, and the International Conference on Teacher Education were launched.
In 2009, the PNU became distinguished as the National Center for Teacher Education by the virtue of RA 9647, and the Torch memorial was inaugurated.
Today, PNU is also recognized as a Center for Excellence in Teacher Education in the National Capital Region by the Commission on Higher Education and continues to be recognized as a leading institution for research and development on teacher education in the Philippines as well as the ASEAN region.
In its more than 12 decades of existence, PNU became home to many esteemed educators and civic leaders. Among its prominent alumni are scholar and educator Cecilio Putong, war heroine and social worker Josefa Llanes Escoda, former first lady and civic leader Aurora Aragon Quezon, former mayor Valeriano Fugoso, writer Ismael V. Mallari, war hero General Vicente Lim, author and professor Genoveva Edroza Matute, educators and civic leaders Conrado Benitez and spouse Francisca Tirona Benitez, senator Esteban Abada, civic leader Soledad Roa Duterte, while National Artist for Theater Severino Montano and National Artist for Music Lucio San Pedro were among the noteworthy individuals who once taught at the institution.
As we observe National Teacher’s Month for the extent of September until October and World Teachers Day on October 5, may we take time to remember and appreciate our hardworking educators whose efforts, service, and passion for their craft inspired our minds’ desire to learn and seek knowledge about the world. Through their guidance, we learned to stand on the shoulder of the giants as we aspire for the betterment of our lives and our societies. Moreover, the development of our society is measured by how we treat our schools and our educators, and we have known for quite a long time that this sector has been deprived of the support that it extremely needs. If we truly want our fellowmen to be free from illusion and ignorance and to achieve a decent state of living in our country as the norm to this day forward, we must not cease in acknowledging the needs and amplifying clamors that support and actively campaign for the progress of the sector that brings enlightenment to the path of our nation’s future.
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