I have been teaching general education courses for 22 years. As a young instructor at UP Diliman in 1995, all the first subjects I handled were under the general education program. I taught Social Science 1 (Foundations of Behavioral Sciences), Social Science 2 (Social, Political and Economic Thought), Social Science 10 (Gender and Society), and Sociology 10 (Being a Filipino: A Sociological Exploration).
Honestly, I found it difficult as a young university instructor to teach GE subjects. It demanded mastery, if not, at least a sufficient grasp of all the disciplines and perspectives from social sciences that are necessary to come up with an integrated view of a certain topic or a theme. That is why senior faculty are better equipped to teach GE.
But I survived. And I found myself loving GE subjects more than teaching the major subjects in Sociology. The reason being that GE subjects gather together students from different disciplines, with different backgrounds and year levels, who have to undergo a common and shared knowledge before they specialize.
As the UP GE Task Force (2015) puts it, “The GE program is the embodiment of the UP tradition of liberal education which 'aims to provide...students with a broad perspective that would enable them, outside their own field of specialization, to engage with issues and realities of their own times as citizens with sturdy moral and intellectual integrity.'”
UP GE program has underwent several revisions especially in 2001 when the GE curriculum shifted from all-prescribed courses to “cafeteria-style” approach that allowed students to choose their GE subjects. Then came the hybrid program that was implemented in 2012 because of the failings of the “cafeteria-style” curriculum.
Lesser GE units
Recently, last March 20, the UP Diliman University Council voted to further revise the Hybrid GE program so that each college will have the leeway to choose the number of units from 45 to 21. These shifts are not only internally generated by the UP Diliman system. These changes are mostly shaped by the forces operating outside the university especially neoliberal globalization, the internationalization of education, and the currently implemented K to 12 program. In all these epochal shifts, the university has always maintained its vision to define its general education as preparing students to become good leaders with moral integrity and critical minds.
We have now come full circle. The university has revised the GE program from a tightly prescribed curriculum to a market model (free reign of electives), then to a hybrid system (electives and required core units combined), and finally, the reduction of GE units. And if this is the way the university defines GE program as any other accessory that can be retrofitted as the needs arise, we can expect further reduction, if not, the total elimination of GE from university education in the not so distant future. The reduction of GE units from 45 to 21 means that some colleges can opt for 45, some colleges are also given the leeway to reduce their GE to 21 units.
Two major problems arise: will 21 units of GE be enough to provide holistic university education for professionals? Absolutely no! This goes against the global trends in higher learning institutions that are now strengthening their GE program to combat over-specialization.
Next, does allowing each college to adopt different number of GE units a healthy sign of an academic community that is supposed to foster a common and shared learning culture for all the students regardless of specialization? Again, no!
The existing 45 units GE, the hybrid system, requires students to take 24 core courses while having freedom to choose subjects to further enrich their university education. Admittedly, we don’t love all our GE subjects. Sometimes it has to do with our teachers and the course itself. But who says that you have to like the subject matter to learn?
Most of us hate Math. But without Math our computational and analytical skills will be rudimentary, if not primitive. That is why there can never be complete freedom for choosing GE subjects. Otherwise no one will choose freely a much hated, but necessary subject. Who ever said that there is a royal road to humanistic education?
The university's mandate
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. – Rappler.com
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.