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Narrowing down UP Diliman's GE program is a disservice to PH

Definitely the new 21 units of GE is not a good number to fulfill the mandate of the university to produce good citizens who are connected to the collective wisdom of the past (notwithstanding the fact that UP Diliman now has the lowest number of GE units in the country beating UP Manila by 3 units and UP Los Banos by 6!).

Some may argue that the skills of GE can also be learnt along the way as students take major subjects. But that would be defeating the very nature of GE which is different from the purpose of the major subjects. It is undeniably true that skills like mathematical and artistic reasoning can be acquired from various major courses. But the substance of these skills can only be honed and deeply explored in GE subjects.

Why sacrifice GE subjects for the sake of specialization, when GE program can enhance the learning capacity of students to specialize? Why be so spendthrift to investing in shaping the minds of future generations? 

Some argue that the K to12 program that contains subjects that were lowered from the college curriculum should compensate for the reduction of GE units. But with the rudimentary situation of our K to12 program, coupled with the ill-equipped training of the teachers handling these courses, and the logistical problems, the university cannot just close its eyes and hope that all is well with K to 12 program. Even if we improve the K to 12 program, it cannot be a substitute to college GE program. In fact, the university is challenged to come up with better GE program that can enhance further what is learned in K to 12.

It is quite sad for me as faculty who have been teaching GE subjects that my university suddenly decided to reduce GE from 45 to 21. I can afford not to teach GE subjects (who would not want to be liberated from having large classes?). But I cannot imagine our majors undergoing an impoverished GE program. This is beyond quantifying what an emancipated mind is. This is about the quality of minds of future leaders we will be producing as a university.

Today we complain about our educated politicians as susceptible to corruption, our legal luminaries as having narrow view of legal system, of top-notch engineers and scientists who are inattentive to indigenous culture, of top-class doctors who treat their patients as milking cows, of excellent graduates who are not even aware of our territorial claims in South China Sea, of students bereft of any knowledge of our colonial past. We cannot solve these problems by further reducing our GE subjects.

University education is more than specialization. It is more than filling up the minds of facts. It is about equipping those young minds with the necessary skills – logical, communicative, aesthetic, etc – and knowledge that they can use to assess “fake news," evaluate complex local and global issues, gauge moral dilemmas, and be at home with comparative analysis of issues that cut across knowledge systems. We don’t wait for our students to graduate and work with a team composed of specialists from other disciplines to have a well-rounded education. It is the duty and responsibility of the university to train them to be specialists yet firmly grounded in general knowledge of the world, society, history, and humanity.

March 20 was a sad day for the university. It was the twilight of general education and the narrowing down of our university education to mere specialization and employability. Being employed is not a bad thing. But definitely it is not the end of general education as the proponents claim. Surprisingly, studies like the 2013 National Survey of Business and Non Profit Leaders have shown that employers do not emphasize the majors of graduates. They are looking for the attitudes and critical skills of the applicants.

Unless the exultant voices of those who succeeded in narrowing down our GE can come up with a better vision and perennial philosophy for general education, I will mourn the twilight of GE in UP. And for the coming days, I will join other faculty, students, alumni and concerned sectors with the future of the university to do something to this plummeting down of our university general education to mere narrow specialization and employability.

If there is something I learned from my GE subjects, it is that I should be able to question a consensus reached by a majority that has no scientific basis or any probative value to an academic community. –

Gerry Lanuza is currently the Chair of Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy UP Diliman. He is a Professor of Sociology at the UP Diliman Department of Sociology. He has been teaching GE courses since 1995.