Philippine literature in English has its roots in the efforts of the United States, then engaged in a war with Filipino nationalist forces at the end of the 19th century. By 1901, public education was institutionalized in the Philippines, with English serving as the medium of instruction. That year, around 600 educators in the S.S. Thomas (the "Thomasites") were tasked to replace the soldiers who had been serving as the first teachers. Outside the academe, the wide availability of reading materials, such as books and newspapers in English, helped Filipinos assimilate the language quickly. Today, 78.53% of the population can understand or speak English (see List of countries by English-speaking population).