UP's new GE curriculum: Should Diliman make the shift?

 

MANILA, Philippines – This month, the flagship campus of the University of the Philippines (UP) will make an important decision regarding its general education (GE) curriculum.

UP Diliman is the last of the premier state university's 8 constituent units to vote on whether or not it will shift to a GE curriculum that is "interdisciplinary" in nature, but with less units: a range of 21 to 36, from the current 45.

Critics call the proposed shift a reduction of units, while supporters say this is the university's way of responding to its 21st century learners.

Like the Commission on Higher Education's (CHED) new GE curriculum, UP's proposed GE, once approved, will apply to its campuses by 2018.

In both cases, the revision of the GE came about because of the full implementation of the K to 12 program, since some GE courses in college are expected to be included already in senior high school.

With its autonomous status, UP does not have to follow CHED's shift to a new GE curriculum.

But Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Alyssa Peleo-Alampay said the review of UP's curriculum started as early as 2013, in response to the K to 12.

"Parang noong nagka-K to 12, as a national university, it's imperative upon us to respond to a national situation. If it's UP who's caught na parang hindi naghanda, nakakahiya 'yun. It's really not UP na hindi maghanda. Medyo late na nga kami e," she told Rappler in an interview.

(When K to 12 happened, as a national university, it's imperative upon us to respond to a national situation. If it's UP who's caught unprepared, that's embarrassing. It's really not UP not to get ready. In fact, we're already late.)

But in Diliman, the clamor against the shift has been louder this year. Aside from protests, an online petition opposing the new GE has gained more than 1,000 signatures as of this posting.

Students, faculty, and staff opposed to the new curriculum formed an alliance called UP Sagip GE. They are calling for a GE curriculum that is "critical, holistic, nationalist, and service-oriented."

What's in the GE

Why are groups like UP Sagip GE opposed to the new GE curriculum? The short answer is the reduction in units.

In a system conference last February 2015, Alampay said representatives from the 8 constituent units agreed that the new GE curriculum must consist of 21 to 36 units – much less than the 45 units of the current curriculum.

According to the 2016 UP GE Framework, the new GE must be an interdisciplinary curriculum that has core and elective courses drawn from the following domains: arts and humanities, social sciences and philosophy, and mathematics, science and technology.

Each constituent unit will determine the number of units in their GE curriculum and the mix of core and elective courses. At least 11 GE courses were also proposed through system-wide "mini-conferences" on the new curriculum:

According to Alampay, 6 of the 7 units (Baguio, Cebu, Los Baños, Mindanao, Open University, Visayas) that already approved the new GE curriculum have decided on a single number of unit, while UP Manila is adopting a range since their colleges want different numbers of GE units.

All 7 constituent units are now working on what courses will go into their new GE curriculum. So far, Alampay said 3 from the 11 proposed courses are common across the campuses: Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas, Ethics and Moral Reasoning in Everyday Life, and Science, Technology, and Society.

"So feeling namin, 'yun 'yung Tatak UP, 'yung 3 'yun (So our feeling is that, those 3 courses represent the UP brand)," she added.

Criticisms

For UP Diliman Associate Professor Danilo Arao, who is part of UP Sagip GE, reducing the number of GE courses is not "Tatak UP."

"If you reduce the number of general education courses, you compromise, if not, you lose or you dilute what should be the characteristics of general education, and general education should be liberal in character. When we say liberal education, it is something that provides for something like an interdisciplinary perspective of looking at life," he said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

But Alampay said it is precisely the need for interdisciplinary courses in the GE that led to what she calls a "natural reduction" in units.

For instance, in the sciences, the different GE courses like Geology, Chemistry, and Physics would all be part of a course called Probing the Physical World under the new GE curriculum. Alampay said this interdisciplinary course will incorporate concepts from the 3 sciences to understand the beginnings of the earth.

The "natural reduction" is also because of the K to 12 and the supposed redundancy of some of its subjects with those in the GE curriculum. According to Alampay, some of their GE courses are in the Department of Education's curriculum guides for Grades 11 and 12.

"Actually it's even more enhanced, the reason being that, a lot of the technical people who did those outlines, those course syllabi for Grades 11 and 12 actually are UP professors, and they even enhanced it, so sometimes it's even better than our GE courses," she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

But Arao lamented there is no adequate research yet on the K to 12 that will merit a change in UP's GE curriculum. K to 12's senior high school, after all, was just rolled out nationwide last June.

"Let's also check if the redundancy is true or not because we're not saying there's no redundancy at all. What we're saying is it's not yet time to tinker with the general education program, given that we're only implementing K to 12 now…. It's not simply the course titles. It doesn't mean that if there's Kasaysayan (history) in high school, you'll remove Kasaysayan 1 here in UP," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Another argument for the new GE curriculum is what Alampay called a "need" to reduce 5-year courses to 4 years.

For example, Alampay said in the College of Engineering, they want to enhance the GE curriculum and collapse GE courses that are "repetitive" already.

"It became a number's game just because they heard that the [College of] Engineering wants 21 units. So since then, the idea of 'Why do they want 21 units?' has resounded, not thinking that Engineering actually really thought about it. For one, they have to make [it] into a 4-year course…. Actually it's quality assurance also to a certain extent because there are no 5-year engineering programs in the world anymore," she explained in a mix of English and Filipino.

But Arao made the case for GE courses and why even Engineering students need them.

"So when you have very little appreciation, for example, for the classics, or for humanities, if you're studying engineering, your world view will be too myopic. What you'd think of instead is, how do you treat things as engineering problems? You also lose the social dimension," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Bryle Leaño, chair of the University Student Council (USC) at UP Diliman, agreed that the purpose of students' GE is to promote critical thinking and how a student can think outside his or her specific course or discipline.

The USC, he said, is opposed to the GE because of its "colonial and commercialized" orientation.

"So when you have very little appreciation, for example, for the classics, or for humanities, if you're studying engineering, your world view will be too myopic."

FLAGSHIP CAMPUS. UP Diliman is the last constituent unit to decide whether or not to shift to a new general education curriculum. File photo by Nathan Gatpandan

Rushed?

The proposed shift to a new GE curriculum comes just as the UP system has begun its search for the next university president. The term of incumbent president Alfredo Pascual will end in February 2017.

Arao said Pascual wants to change the GE curriculum in the context of internationalization – reminiscent, he said, of the academic calendar shift issue back in 2014. UP Diliman was also the last constituent unit to decide on the shift back then.

"We can appreciate the [GE] issue along that line because it's part of the internationalization scheme, or if you want to be more precise, it's a market-driven internationalization scheme being perpetuated by the Pascual administration," he added.

"We would like to think that it's not dependent on who is the sitting president. It depends on the research that we will be conducting that will justify such changes. For this case, there's no research."

He claims this shift to a new GE curriculum did not go through a rigorous process. While a committee was eventually convened to review the current GE curriculum, Arao said members of the committee were given barely 5 months to come up with a study.

"Their scope is too limited because first, they only reviewed past literature on an analysis of general education here in UP. And they tried to benchmark GE programs abroad, but it's too limited as well. So it's not consultative because it's as if they just conducted archival research and they did not talk to concerned sectors, especially the students, the alumni, the faculty, most especially the faculty who handle GE courses," he added.

Is there a rush to implement the new GE curriculum? Alampay insisted the process has been ongoing since 2013.

"It's not just this piece of paper [2016 UP GE Framework] which took so many months to finish. It's also developing those courses, and all the teaching materials that go with it, all the administrative stuff that goes with it – team teaching, developing blended learning – all of those actually have been delayed only because, you know, we don't have all the 8 CUs yet," she explained.

This month, Alampay said she will have the 11 proposed GE courses approved by the GE System Council so that the 7 constituent units can use them already, should they include any of these courses in their curriculum.

'GE of our time'

Alampay said she personally wants to see a "revitalization" of the university's GE curriculum. The new GE, she believes, is a better one "because this is the GE of our time now."

"I come from the Sciences; we want to move forward. We are really looking forward to [this], because we really want to fix our curricula, we really see that reduction in units. Our curriculum and discipline calls for it, and that's how we want to deliver it to our students, that's how we want to develop our discipline," she explained.

But John Pelias, a faculty member of the College of Science's Institute of Mathematics, said any reform of the GE curriculum should not result in a reduction in units because he believes even the current number of 45 units is not enough.

"UP students are supposed to be artists, engineers for some higher purpose," he told Rappler in an interview. "It's not the smarts we're after for GE – it's the wisdom."

Pelias made headlines in 2011 after he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Math and a general weighted average (GWA) of 1.016 – among the highest GWA in UP history.

His record was eventually broken in 2015 by Tiffany Grace Uy's average of 1.004.

"The solution is not to reduce [the number of units]. The solution is in the implementation [of the curriculum]…. The solution is to reform the actual programs, actual courses that GE offers," Pelias said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Leaño also agrees that the current GE curriculum may not be the best for the students, but what the university needs, he said, is to point the GE curriculum toward a "nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented GE program."

Move forward or revert back?

Alampay said Diliman will decide whether or not to adopt a new GE curriculum this coming November 21. As it is, a lot has been delayed already, such as the revision of the curriculum, faculty development, and the rollout of other initiatives.

"There are a lot of things left hanging academically. Pedagogy, blended learning. There are many things we have to train them [for]. The outcomes-based education, making it into a more student-centered classroom…. It's hard. It's a waste. If only they will decide, we will decide – I'm part of Diliman – [if only] we can decide already, whatever it is we want to do," she added.

She believes those rejecting the new GE curriculum are "a vocal few" who are in the minority.

"I think most people are pretty much convinced [about the new curriculum] and they just want to move forward…. I really believe that we need this change, otherwise I would be the first one to say 'Let's not push through with that.' But there's really a need," Alampay said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Since UP Diliman is the last constituent unit to decide on the issue, is there pressure for the campus to shift to a new GE curriculum despite the opposition?

"Actually, it's the other way around, there is pressure for them [other constituent units] to justify why they did it and perhaps to go back, to revert to the previous one in the absence of adequate research," Arao said.

He dismissed this "bandwagon mentality" and instead encouraged everyone to look at the wisdom behind decisions made by the university.

"We want to remove the recklessness that informs the current proposals because this really lacks assessment, because this is not the time to make changes in the GE program," he added. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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