Rizal had his early education in Calamba and Binan. It was a typical schooling that a son of an ilustrado family received during his time, characterized by the four R’s- reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion. Instruction was rigid and strict. Knowledge was forced into the minds of the pupils by means of the tedious memory method aided by the teacher’s whip. Despite the defects of the Spanish system of elementary education, Rizal was able to acquire the necessary instruction preparatory for college work in Manila.
It may be said that Rizal, who was born a physical weakling, rose to become an intellectual giant not because of, but rather in spite of, the outmoded and backward system of instruction obtaining in the Philippines during the last decades of Spanish regime. Since boyhood Rizal knew the value of good education. His exile in Dapitan gave him the opportunity to put into practice his educational ideas. In 1893, he established a school which existed until the end of his exile in July 1896.
It began with three pupils and in the course of time the enrollment increased to 16 and later 21.
In his letter to Blumentritt on March 13, Rizal said that he had 16 pupils in his school and these pupils did not pay any tuition. Instead of charging them, he made them work in his garden, fields and construction projects in the community. Rizal taught this boys reading, writing, languages (Spanish and English), geography, history, mathematics arithmetic and geometry), industrial work, nature study, morals and gymnastics. He trained them how to collect specimens of plants and animals, to love work, and to “behave like men”.
Formal classes were conducted between 2:00 to 4:00 P. M. In Ateneo, the best pupil was called an “emperor” and he sat at the head of the bench whereas the poorest pupil occupies the end of the bench. During recess the pupils built fires in the garden to drive away the insects, pruned the fruit trees, and manured the soil. Outside the class hours, Rizal encouraged them to play games in order to strengthen their bodies. They had gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, stone-throwing, swimming, arnis (native fencing), and boating.