New Husband Runs the Contest

Uneducated and Dumb Filipinos – Really?

OK, I got your attention with the title – good!

I am on several Philippines expat forums and one thing that seems common is the disdain by some expats for the intelligence and poor education of Filipinos. Americans, Brits and Aussies alike tell story after story of the stupid people they encounter on the streets, in stores, and among their wives’ family members.  Interestingly, they rarely mention their wives’ intelligence – that would make them stupid. Guys even quote worldwide IQ statistics. I am often appalled and it pisses me off.

I could easily think that in a developing nation like the Philippines, everyone is not gonna be a rocket scientist with a fistful of college degrees. Yet my experience is that most people I meet are reasonably intelligent and educated.

I could easily think that in a developing nation like the Philippines, everyone is not gonna be a rocket scientist with a fistful of college degrees. Yet my experience is that most people I meet are reasonably intelligent and educated.

I recently got the chance to test Philippines education up close and personal. Janet and I were in Alcoy for our wedding party. After the entire neighborhood had their bellies filled with lechon and general eats, it was time for fun and games. The games were the type of outdoor activities you’d be unlikely to ever see any more in the U.S., where playing is by definition an electronic indoor activity.

In my household, once electronics took hold, going outside ended. I have a large backyard and the biggest oak tree in our neighborhood but when I would suggest to my kids that they go play outside, their horrified comment was “there are bugs back there.” I fenced the yard and added a patio and grill. “Let’s eat out back tonight,” I’d suggest.

“You barbecue dad, and bring the food inside. There are bugs back there,” would be the reply.

So, just the fact that Filipino kids actually play outside is a plus in my book and shows very good sense. The games at the party consisted of a piñata-like game with little kids bashing for candy, a challenging game climbing an oiled bamboo pole, etc. A girls dance group performed. At each activity candies and prizes were generously given out. There must have been 40-50 kids, from toddler to middle school age.

Dash for Candy
Dash for Candy

The entire neighborhood took part in the activities. The men set up a sound system for music and a mic for the MC, Janet’s sister Jonna, to run the activities. Finally the mic was handed to me. “What should I do?” I asked Janet.

New Husband Runs the Contest
New Husband Runs the Contest

“Do the game Show Me This,” she advised. A simple game, I asked for the kids to show me a common object or piece of clothing and the first to produce it got a piece of candy. I spent what seemed like an eternity going through every clothing item I could think of, as well as items you might find in a pocket or on a child’s person. The kids were loving it – not just the candy – but the fact that the foreigner was running the game. I ran out of ideas and yelled to Janet, “What should I do now?”

“Test them,” she ordered.

OK, I thought. This should be interesting. I started out slowly with simple addition and subtraction. Remember, I was quizzing them in a non-native language. I quickly went to more complex addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I couldn’t fool them. I tried square roots. Nothing phased them.

So, if math doesn’t do it, I’ll move on, I thought. Geography, world leaders, a bit of history. Nothing stumped these kids. Question after question and I couldn’t beat them. It was frustrating. These were children from a poor neighborhood and I am an educated first worlder; surely I should be able to fool them.

On one of my forums a debate raged that Filipinos did not even know how many centavos make up a peso. The answer, just like pennies to dollar is 100, except you have to realize that as useless as we consider a penny, a centavo is equivalent to 1/44th of a penny – so they ain’t used often in the real world. Yet some expats considered it a sign of stupidity that some Filipinos didn’t know the answer. So, I smugly asked the kids, “How many centavos in a peso?” thinking I had them fooled. “One hundred,” they screamed back.

Exhausted, I ended the session with a question I knew they would all answer, “Who’s the greatest boxer in the world?” “Manny Pacquiao!,” they screamed and we threw handfuls of candy at them.


The other day Janet was on the phone with her family. Seems that her youngest sister got a small fish bone caught in her throat. It was Sunday and with no clinic opened in Alcoy, Janet insisted that her mother take her sister to the doctor first thing Monday. Her young sister was resistant. Was it because she was afraid of the doctor? Nope. It was because as a fourth grader she had never missed a day of school and had no intention of doing so now.

It may not be a scientific survey, but in my experience Filipino people value education and knowledge quite highly!

47 thoughts on “Uneducated and Dumb Filipinos – Really?”

  1. I”m sure you know, as do I, many Filipinos who have hawked their land and houses to put their kids through school. Also, for what it’s worth, Filipinos — most of whom were educated in the Philippines — are among the most successful immigrant groups in the U.S.

    1. Thanks David for your insight. Yes, my experience is that Filipinos value education. Whereas in the U.S. a college education is considered valuable for future high paying jobs, in the Philippines it’s almost considered valuable for life itself.

    2. Filipinos who come to the US must be educated, pass an IELTS/TOEFL test or with big money. The ones who don’t have education or don’t pass those tests won’t be allowed to enter.

    1. Thanks Donna. I hope to bring my kids someday but as teens they have the same attitude towards the Philippines as about our backyard – “are there bugs there?”

  2. I will copy my answer from FB:

    I couldn’t agree more. and i must quote again:

    “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” (Albert Einstein)

    Education or not – i meet so many really smart and intelligent people here, they find new/different way to solve problems. Abolutely not dumb
    Some may be “uneducated” because school is too expensive, but that still doesn’t make them dumb. Dumb is he who say so!

    1. Axel – your response is more sophisticated than mine. After all I am just a wiseass and get pissed off when expats are too critical of Filipinos. So yes – Dumb is he who say so!

  3. Some idiots went to the Philippines & proved to the Filipinos that they are superior. Yet, he/she is a trash from the country where he came from!

    1. Unfortunately, Barbara, it’s not just from the U.S. And again I want to be fair – that some complaints have legitimacy. Also I know a few parents who moved from the Philippines back to their home country for the sake of their kids, thinking the education would be superior; totally their right.

      But my experience has been different and for that I feel grateful.

  4. Today, June 9, 2014, I redeemed two scratch-off lottery tickets. One was for P170 and the other for P20. The recent college graduate clerk said 170+ 20, that’s 180. I told her it was wrong, then she said 210. Again I told her it was wrong. She brought out a calculator and proudly announced that I had won P190. I’m glad there were batteries in the calculator.,

    1. You could have told her she was right at 210 🙂 But really, Mike, you don’t think every 7-11 clerk in the US can add correctly, do you?

        1. I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one Mike. I wouldn’t expect a 7-11 clerk to do math very well without electronic assistance.

  5. Intelligence is a relative concept and is hard to describe or qualify. It’s also culturally biased. The Filipinos possess a great deal of social intelligence as far as behavior is concerned.

    However, because their educational system is patterned after the American one, they seem to suffer from the same American educational flaws- they only know their subject, but nothing else very well. It’s very hard to talk to even the most educated ones about the world politics, history, geography- they just don’t know anything outside of their field. Most have never even heard of more than half countries in the world.

    For example, I’ve met college graduates from the Philippines who told me that ” foreigners killed Lapu-Lapu”, and that “Ukraine was part of the United States”. I tried to talk about the apartheid is South Africa and they had no clue what it was, except that ” in Africa, they had ebola”.

    Also,I met high school graduates had never heard of Jakarta and didn’t know what country lay south of the Philippines. But they knew everything about the Kardashians and all the US songs, etc.

    Not intelligent– I wouldn’t go that far, but “very uninformed” is definitely true. Just like the former colonial masters- the Americans.

    1. I think that most of what you say is true, but the same can be said of the citizens of all countries, including 1st world countries. Think most Americans or British have heard of Jakarta? Think they know where the Philippines is? Most don’t. But yes, they know the Kardashians. Priorities, man!

      1. Americans would probably know that Mexico is south of the US. The British would know that below them is France with Paris as capital.

        Jakarta is the capital of neighboring country and one wonders what kind of education would produce a person who doesn’t even know what country lies to the south.

        Can you imagine a Canadian who doesn’t know that the US is the neighboring country?

        But again, you are basically saying what I’m saying- they take after Americans. And Europeans ( and Canadians) are constantly on Americans’ case for being d*mb hicks.

        OTOH, Germans, Russians, Japanese would know all those things because they have lots of required subjects which make sure they come out well rounded individuals; not specialists as Americans and…Filipinos.

        If you stay in the Philippines 20 years and learn the language, then you would know it more thoroughly. Being there as a tourist with money and not knowing what the people are saying protects you from a lot of things.

        I’ve been there on and off since 1991 and I speak Tagalog very well and reasonable Visaya. Seen all kinds of things and met all kinds of people. Kind of hard to measure Filipinos by Western standards.

        It’s a Hindu country with Catholic veneer. Their intelligence is really of a different kind.

    2. Having read your post and after living in The Philippines for over 13 years I must ask, “If they are intelligent why do they behave like idiots?” The creatures here are dumber than a box of rocks in my opinion and that is why I am going back to civilization.

      1. Well, welcome back to civilization. After 13+ years you may find it to be a little less smart than you remember.

  6. you are addressing a red herring. Very rare is the ex-pat who thinks — ALL— Filipinos are dull. Without a doubt many parts of Filipino culture seem very poorly thought out by those of us who have seen another way in action. By failing to change counterproductive cultural traits, by failing to call out and publicly expose those who use short sighted practices, leads outsiders to assume that there is tact support for seemingly wrong headed actions.

    To say “Why do so many act so stupidly?” is not saying “So many are so stupid”.

    1. My post, like all those on my new shiny blog, was meant to be personal and hopefully humorous. There are no references to how Philippines culture was thought out (hell, I can’t imagine how to analyze any culture’s origins), or whether traits are or are not counter-productive in a society. It was merely to give my experience that contrary to the statements of “some” expats, Filipinos are not dumb and the kids I have encountered are not as uneducated as some maintain.

      But it is interesting and for me educational to see how what I viewed as a primarily personal and funny piece has become a debate. Don’t mind the debate, but it has little to do with what I wrote.

  7. Hi Dave! I totally agree with you! Filipinos place a very, very high premium on education. Whatever limitations they have in terms of knowledge is more a matter of curriculum and what they’re taught. But it’s not from a lack of wanting to learn.

    I married my Filipina bride just a couple of months ago. She just graduated from college, majoring in English. She’s teaching English now part time at STI, a well known college in the Philippines. Even though she’s married to a foreigner and knows that she doesn’t have to work, her ambitions haven’t dampened at all. She teaches part time because she wants to get her Master’s Degree in Education which she will be taking on the weekend. I totally support her in her efforts and really appreciate that she still has the drive to continuously learn, even after getting married.

    Her brother was valedictorian at his high school, her sisters are high achievers in their schools as well. It all depends on the parents and how much of a premium they place on education. In this case, one can see just how important it is to them.

    1. Sounds like you have a great, smart wife. Congratulations! Janet worked for 5 years putting herself through college. I came along but of course it was essential that she graduate before we married, which she did. I was so proud of her!

      1. Sounds similar to my situation. I waited a year to marry her because her father wanted her to graduate first before getting married. I totally agreed with him and was happy to wait for her.

  8. Hey Dave! Great blog!

    Yup, we did have this on that forum. As you saw there, I still get very upset when somebody comes out and demands that people listen to only them while they go on about how Filipinos have such low IQs, how they are lazy or how horrible it is to live in the Philippines… I used to believe that people everywhere are the same but lately I am starting to think Filipinos have higher IQs and are harder workers than most “kanos”! Just look at what’s going on in our home countries! I know I definitely can’t wait until I will be living in the Philippines!!! Then I will be with my beautiful girlfriend… She only speaks 4 languages fluently, a couple more somewhat less capably and also is fluent in signing. This will be handy as she is currently working on her Masters in Special Education and hopefully following up with her Doctorate. Can you tell I’m extremely proud of her? 🙂

    I loved your response above. I think too many of us look too intensely at every situation… What ever happened to looking to see if a person was a good person or not? Do we get along? Do we make each other smile? Did we have a good time? Isn’t this more important than using an out-dated system that doesn’t really say if a person is intelligent or not?

    1. Thanks Bob. Nice to see you here and glad you’re enjoying the blog.

      I have no problems with people who don’t like the Philippines, Filipinos, Filipinas, the food, the beaches or whatever. Totally their choice, of course. But when you start getting into the basic intelligence of an entire country of 100 million – well it’s a slippery slope toward racism.

      I know one well known expat who constantly reminds people that the average IQ in the Philippines is 86 and that his IQ is a whopping 120. I haven’t had the heart to tell him that 120 doesn’t exactly put him in Einstein territory 🙂

    2. HEY! sounds like you have a top of the line GF there! My wife is similarly gifted, but her education was useless here in the USA. They did not count a single class she has in the Philippines towards any degree she might attain here. darn!

      I have seen several occasions where a really smart Filipina married a… well lets say an army guy who did 20 years, never got his third strip… slow talker… but they were as loyal and loving as any would expect.

      What is very nice about getting one that thinks well is that she will be far more likely to understand you by learning your root culture, rather than simply saying that “foreigners are different”.

      Having smart wives helps you get smart kids. I have a second grader that figures sq root (one decimal point only) in his head and almost instantly. My kids came here with marginal English and now they are all top of their class. She picked me, I was not smart enough to pick her.

      Even though English is only a language she learned in Filipino schools, she has a 3.4 GPA in college here, and is taking an average of 20 units a quarter (double load).

  9. Something could be said about who are the people traveling and who are the people travelers are likely to meet.

    It takes more than an average IQ to attempt to travel independently (non tour bus). People with difficulty understanding complex instructions, select not to do things that require that understanding. Let us always remember that only one in 10 adults who were born in the US ever get a passport.

    On the reverse, who are travelers likely to meet? Filipinos in lower level jobs, service jobs, or no jobs. People with high mental horsepower are movers and shakers, not lay abouts socializing with foreigners.

    So, in a way, the rational of observers that “every day” Filipinos are poor thinkers might be justified more than my hatred of racism likes to admit.

  10. You seem to have a nice website… yet a very biased and “rosy” opinion of life in the Philippines. I’m sure you’re very happy with your Filipina wife and it is this fact that makes it difficult to see the Philippines in a realistic fashion….I have seen this many times with some people here……you seem like a really nice guy….I would encourage you to not be so naive and to open your eyes a bit….your “playground” is hostile towards you and you should be careful…….there is no point getting into the ignorance of the Filipino…I doubt you can see it thru your “glasses”….I wish you the best.

    1. Of course I am biased – it’s my blog based on my personal experienced. I am not writing a sociological treatise – just giving my personal experience. I stand by that experience just as I’m sure you do. I’m sure there are dumb Filipinos just as I am sure there are dumb expats.

  11. once last thing….uneducated and dumb…sure…definitely….while having the illusion of a “proper” or “western” level of education…..80-90% of the schools here care more about money than teaching……I bet back home you have many libraries and it’s common to see people reading….how about here? ….how many libraries do you see? How many Filipinos standing in line at the library to check out and read a good book?….sounds like a joke, right?

  12. This is a waste of server space.

    I do like the Anti American circle jerk you old ass white guys have going on here though.

    I am half Pinay and half American and I am embarrassed at you oldies in my country and for the women that marry you.

    Hopefully you all die soon so your wives can find a younger man like they really want.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Clearly you have proven that my piece was not entirely accurate; there are some uneducated and dumb Filipinas.

  13. Hi Dave,
    Thank you for this article. I am a Filipina married to an American and I have been reading some really horrible articles about husbands bashing the intelligence of their Filipina wives and their families. I find it really disrespectful. What kind of husband does that to his wife? My hubby would never talk like that about me and it’s nice to know he is not alone. Also, if you don’t mind, I would like to quote your blog in the article I am writing. Thanks

    1. Of course you can quote my blog.

      As to why a husband would make such comments about his wife – that escapes me. It seems pretty dumb, frankly.

      However, lots of husbands of Filipinas (myself included) tell funny stories about their wives, indicating that Filipinas do think differently than Americans. This is true and part of the reason for my blog. However, different thinking does not mean stupid thinking!

  14. My observation as college professor in the US it this: a college degree in the Philippines is the equivalent to a good high school in the US. I also don’t get why parents have 6+ children other than for support.

    1. Well he wasn’t a college professor, but maybe you know the old Groucho Marx line from You Bet Your Life. Interviewing a man with 10 kids he asked what accounted for his having so many children. “Well, Groucho, I love my wife,” to which Groucho responded, “Well I love my cigar but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.”

  15. Have you ever watched Filipino TV. Do these people have a brain? They don’t have the intellectual fortitude to have any culture. Then they think think they’re so great. Pretty messed up.

    1. You’re spending time watching Filipino TV and you think they’re stupid 🙂

      Let’s face it, most TV in all cultures is strange. The Japanese are pretty smart but they’re TV is insane.

        1. Really? Over three years after I posted this you’re busting me over a grammar error. My grammar may be imperfect but unlike you I can read. I mention that because the title and point of this post is not that “Filipinos are smart,” but that they’re not as dumb and uneducated as some Westerners think.

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