[OPINION] Part 1: Why language subjects in college are better optional

[OPINION] Part 1: Why language subjects in college are better optional
The Supreme Court's decision is a victory for flexibility and diversity. Finally, we can move beyond the cumbersome, overly prescriptive policies of the past.

Part 1 of 2

In 2018, the Supreme Court (SC) decided that the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) new General Education Curriculum (GEC) is constitutional. On March 5, 2019, the SC upheld this decision with finality. It can now be freely implemented in all colleges and universities.   

Some groups are against the new GEC because it does not include Filipino as a required subject. But before judging CHED and the SC for being unpatriotic, it is important to know the history and purpose of the GEC.

The latest GEC was promulgated in CHED Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 20 in 2013. It was the culmination of several years of study by the Technical Panel on General Education, and consultations were conducted across the country.

It was designed to complement the new K-12 curriculum and the Philippine Qualifications Framework. It was likewise designed to fix the problems of the old GEC dating back to CHED Memorandum No. 56 s. 1996. The old curriculum had too many required subjects, and its subjects were limited to specific disciplines. It looked more like a high school curriculum than a general curriculum for a liberal arts, university education.

The new GEC is more holistic and less disciplinal. It contains general, interdisciplinary subjects like “The Contemporary World,” “Purposive Communication,” and “Science, Technology and Society.” These subjects address the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the 21st century.

The specific, single-discipline subjects of the old GEC – like English, Filipino, Natural Science, and several others – were not abolished; they were transferred to Senior High School (SHS).

The claim that CHED is anti-Filipino does not stand up to scrutiny. CHED did not create the new GEC in a vacuum. The Technical Panel on General Education, composed of people across disciplines, universities, and regions worked independently and in consultation with the public.

Secondly, Filipino was not unfairly targeted; on the contrary, many subjects were affected by this reorganization, including English. Thirdly, CHED has clarified that any of the new GEC subjects may be taught using Filipino language. Course titles, descriptions, syllabi, learning materials, and instruction may all be in Filipino (and even other Philippine languages).

So does this mean the end of the Filipino language in higher education? Not at all. In fact, rather than being an isolated subject, as it was before, it can be used more powerfully as a language of discourse across the interdisciplinary curriculum.

Some major universities have indeed begun to do this, using Filipino and even regional languages. This will aid the intellectualization of Filipino far more than having it as a separate subject. And students will be able to use it for class discussions and outputs, along with English and other languages as needed.

College students complained before that the old GEC had too many requirements. It consumed two years of a student’s life, leaving little time for his/her chosen field. Now we have a GEC with almost half the number of requirements, which means students have more room to customize an academic program suited to their needs and interests. They may even be able to finish their degrees earlier, saving time and money. A 5-year engineering degree, for example, can be shortened to 4 years. The SC’s decision has preserved this advantage.    

To make the Filipino and English language subjects mandatory again would be a step backwards. It would be a missed opportunity to make higher education something more than “High School Part 2.” It would also infringe on the academic freedom of higher education institutions.

In a press statement on May 29, 2019, CHED challenged Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to take advantage of this freedom: “HEIs must now exercise their academic freedom to include innovative reforms in their various curricula that may include language proficiency not just in Filipino but also other Philippine languages such as Ilocano, Waray, Cebuano, Ilonggo, Pangasinan, Bicolano, and Asian languages that will make graduates regionally and globally competitive.”

CHED respects its lawful role to coordinate, integrate, guide, and ensure academic freedom. If they ever reinstate a language requirement, it would be more appropriate to keep it flexible. That is, students would be expected to take at least one language subject, but they could choose from several options: Filipino, another Philippine language, English, or another foreign language. 

The SC’s decision to uphold CHED’s new General Education Curriculum has multiple educational benefits:

  1. It upholds academic freedom. The Philippine Constitution states, “Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning” (Article XIV, Section 5). The SC’s decision means that colleges will not be forced to teach a particular language; they will now have complete choice about what languages to offer and use, which is a freedom that the world’s top universities enjoy. The US and UK governments do not force their universities to teach a particular language to all students. Likewise, the governments of Canada, South Africa, Spain, India, Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, and most other advanced democracies do not force their universities to teach a particular language. We should be grateful that our government is not forcing our universities either.

  2. It will enable more contextualized, relevant, and effective education. Flexibility in language practices is essential for colleges to provide quality education aligned with their priorities, research thrusts, capabilities, and the needs of their students. Many university departments do well using English, while others use Filipino as the preferred medium. Instructors should also have the liberty to use the first language (L1) or mother tongue, because students learn efficiently through it. Catanduanes State University has produced top-notchers in engineering while using Bikol as a medium of instruction, and University of Bohol has successfully used Cebuano. According to language acquisition research, the L1 can be an invaluable tool to learn second languages too. In a country as diverse as our own, language flexibility is critical. CHED’s inclusive policy provides this.

  3. It keeps the GEC to a manageable size. The old GEC with the Filipino and English requirements was a hefty 63 units, placing additional time and financial burden on students. At 36 units, the new GEC will give students more room to take electives and to go deeper in their selected fields. They may even shorten their overall bachelor’s program, so they can proceed to graduate school or work sooner. We should not add any more GEC units – even 36 units is arguably too much! In the UK and most European Union countries, for example, students only take general subjects in senior high school and go straight to specialization in university. This is why their students are able to graduate in only 3 years. 

  4. It ensures that college is not a repeat of high school. The old GEC was bloated because high school was shorter. College students had to take many subjects to fill the gaps of their inadequate secondary education. Now that we have Grade 11 and 12, there is no need for preparatory subjects to remain in college. College should be a time for exploration and specialization, not remediation. Students from the UK are not required to take English language when they enroll at university, so why should Filipinos have to take Filipino? We must have confidence in our SHS teachers that they will teach English, Filipino, and other key subjects well enough so that students don’t need to retake them. If our high school graduates are still not college-ready, the solution is to improve our secondary education, not repeat these subjects in college.

  5. It aligns with the purpose of general education. The new GEC is composed of general, interdisciplinary subjects, like “Science, Technology, and Society” and “The Contemporary World.” To require a specific language subject in this curriculum, whether Filipino or English, would contravene the purpose of general education. Specific languages belong in specific language departments, so CHED was right to keep them out of the GEC. The only case in which a language requirement would be suitable in a general education curriculum would be if it dealt with language generally: for example, if students learned about languages, their origins, how they are related, and their importance to human society.

The SC’s decision is a victory for flexibility and diversity. Finally, we can move beyond the cumbersome, overly prescriptive policies of the past. Since there are fewer required courses in the new General Education Curriculum, colleges will have more room to enhance it with subjects that fit their contexts.

University language departments will not be like high school, restricted to English and Filipino. They will develop more offerings, both of local and foreign languages, befitting a higher education institution. Students will have wider choice to take what serves their life goals.

Meanwhile, Filipino language instructors can continue teaching GEC subjects, and continue using the Filipino language freely. They can create new Filipino subjects with their respective institutions, teach in SHS, and can access other employment and training opportunities through CHED’s K-12 transition program. We invite Filipino departments to also accept our other native languages, and employ people to teach them. It would be a wonderful milestone in nation-building if we are able to embrace our linguistic diversity and promote Philippine languages together. 

The SC’s decision ensures higher education will be more relevant, manageable, dynamic, and adaptable to both local and global contexts. It is in the best interest of our country. (To be concluded)Rappler.com

READ: [OPINION] PART 2: Why language subjects in college are better optional

Multilingual Philippines is an informal network of advocates for flexible and inclusive policies related to language and education. It is composed of educators, students, attorneys and other members of the public from various regions, institutions, and language backgrounds. They raise awareness about the value of linguistic and cultural diversity, and the need for this diversity to be adequately represented in government policies for the benefit of all Filipinos. 

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