by Faith Esther Brown and Ma. Nina Pamela Castro
As the University of the Philippines adopts an “internationalization” trend, another hurdle awaits the embodiment of its liberal education tradition. The General Education (GE) program, which has long given students the freedom to choose units and learn beyond their fields of specialization, now hangs in limbo in light of a proposed revision.
The current GE program of the national university has already undergone a series of revamps in the past. In 1958, then UP President Vicente Sinco summoned a committee to create the first GE program in UP, which was implemented in the same year. This required students to take 63 units of GE courses comprised of specific number of units of English, Spanish, Math, Logic, Humanities and Social Science, and Biology and Physical Sciences courses.
But after the Marcos regime collapsed in 1986, the number of GE units required was reduced to 42 under three domains–communication and humanities, math and natural sciences, and social sciences and philosophy.
In 2001, the university’s GE program took another major change under the Revitalized General Education Program (RGEP). This required students to take 45 units of GE courses, composed of 15 units under three domains: Arts and Humanities (AH), Social Science and Philosophy (SSP), and Math, Science and Technology (MST).
Although there were required domains to choose from, students were free to choose any course they want. Former UP Diliman Chancellor Caesar Saloma told the Philippine Collegian in 2011 that the “cafeteria-like” system may have been quite lenient as the number of students who graduated as summa cum laude comprised 40 percent of the whole UP population from 2009 to 2011.
Hence in 2012, the university introduced the Hybrid RGEP which required students to take specific courses: Math 1 and Science, Technology, and Society under MST, Kasaysayan 1 and Philosophy 1 under SSP, and English 10, Communication 3, and Filipino 40 under AH. Although there were required GE courses, students were given more free GEs than the required ones.
In October 2013, the UP system released another proposal to revise the UP GE program known as Resolution No.7.
Two of the factors that influenced the formation of the 2013 GE proposal are the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 or K-12 program and the “internationalization of higher education” aligned with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) integration.
The UP GE Task Force, the committee tasked to formulate frameworks for the revision of the GE program, views the inclusion of some GE courses in grades 11 and 12 as a chance to “strengthen the specialist or major programs to meet international program accreditation standards.”
Hence, a part of the GE proposal aims to reduce the minimum and maximum number of required GE units to 21 and 36 units respectively. Each college unit is now free to determine the total number of GE courses and choose what GE courses are necessary for their students to take from the list of choices to be approved, instead of listing a number of specific courses to be taken by all UPD students.
However, instead of the domain-based GE system, the new proposal suggests a thematic classification of courses that includes these initial set of themes: Culture and Identity, Language and Expression, Social Systems, and Natural Systems.
It adopts an interdisciplinary ‘synthetic-integrative’ teaching model for GE courses. Unlike the current domain-based structure, the hybrid model gives equal importance to the perspectives from different disciplines, and works to integrate these various themes for the courses.
Courses, thus, can cover different themes. For example, the Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas course can encompass not only the culture and identity theme, but also the social systems theme.
The themes, too, “can be a shared focus of courses from different disciplinal domains.” For instance, the culture and identity theme can be the focus of courses traditionally under the humanities and social science disciplines such as Philippine Arts and Culture, and Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas.
Thus, the GE courses will require faculty who not only have at least a graduate degree and experience in their fields of specialization, but are also interdisciplinary in orientation. They should have experience and training on interdisciplinary teaching, and be encouraged to undertake research on GE courses and publish such in scholarly journals.
But after the proposal’s formal release in 2013, various discussions and debates were held to study the necessity for GE reforms. Since then, some institutions and organizations have expressed their opposition against the proposal.
The cries to vote against Resolution No. 7 intensify as the UP Diliman University Council referendum approaches on Jan. 25. UP students and professors staged a protest action at Palma Hall on Jan. 19 and 22 while last Jan. 21, a protest was also held in the College of Science. Both mass mobilizations aim to denounce the proposal for GE reforms.
UP Sagip GE, an alliance of faculty members from various colleges who believe that the university’s GE program must stay to its “holistic, critical, nationalist and service-oriented” nature, explained why the curriculum change will bring more harm than good.
“The utilitarian justification behind the move to reduce the GE requirement reduces the UP graduate to a mere technical school product,” National Artist and UP Professor Emeritus Bienvenido Lumbera said.
Prof. Danilo Arao of the College of Mass Communication, another member of the UP Sagip GE, said many studies show the proposed curriculum change is not related to the implementation of the K to 12 program at the elementary and high school levels nationwide.
Other countries also have a 12-year basic education program and, even then, “the five highest ranking universities in Asia have 36 to 54 units of GE subjects,” Arao added.
In addition, All UP Academic Employees Union president Ramon Guillermo said the reduction of GE subjects is detrimental to the employees of colleges that offer the largest numbers of GE courses such as College of Arts and Letters, College of Social Science and Philosophy and College of Science.
Guillermo added that if the proposal is implemented, the administration must face the loss of jobs among teachers with lecturer and instructor status as an effect.
Sulong Wikang Filipino, a community dedicated to the propagation and conservation of the Filipino language, issued a statement denouncing the proposal’s provision to disqualify Filipino as one of the core subjects in the university.
“If the GE reform is passed (with this provision), this will be the end of the intellectualization of the Filipino language,” Habi Collective, a media broadcasting production and member of Sulong Wikang Filipino, said in their position paper.
Meanwhile, Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND)-UP Diliman said curriculum change is a critical matter that must be “an occasion for university-wide consultation and not fragmentation” because the future of the country lies on the values that is taught in its national universities like UP.
As what UP Sagip GE said: “If the GE units in UP Diliman are reduced to a mere 21 units, it is likely that other UP units may be pressured by the UP administration to follow suit. Thus 21 units will also become the minimum in other big campuses like UP Los Banos and UP Manila. It is not impossible that other Philippine universities will subsequently follow in UP’s blind wake.”
The UP Diliman University Council – composed of assistant, associate and full professors – will meet on Jan. 25 to vote the proposed GE program reform.