Reforming University Education

Manila Bulletin, September 10, 2004 | Go to article overview

Reforming University Education


PHILIPPINE universities and colleges are turning out close to 400,000 graduates every year. These are supposed to be the oknowledge workerso who will be vital to both Philippine knowledge-intensive enterprises as well as the increasing number of Filipino overseas knowledge workers (OKWs) such as management, IT, health, media, and teaching personnel who are replacing the manual workers of the past.

I know of a number of these universities-both private and state u which are implementing a thorough restructuring of their respective curricula to ensure that their products are going to be globally competitive. A very important part of the transformation of university curricula is the greater stress that has to be given to the liberal arts in the education of the professionals needed by all sectors of society u whether business, government, civil, society, military, etc. u during the coming years and decades.

A recent dialogue I had with the corps of professors of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) reinforced my long-standing belief that many university courses in the Philippines will have to incorporate more subjects in the humanities and cut down on the overly technical courses which are better learned in the work place or in post-university continuing education programs. I am referring to such university offerings as engineering, the sciences, accounting, and other specializations in business as well as the military sciences.

I was informed by the new PMA superintendent Brig. Gen. Cristolito Baloing that when the PMA corps professors began 63 years ago, the focus of the curriculum adapted from US military schools was the training of artillery officers. This explains the traditional overloading of the PMA curriculum with mathematics, physics, and engineering courses. Today, it is obvious that future military officers have to be more steeped in philosophy, history and literature, English and other languages, and the social sciences if they are going to perform their duties in close interaction with all sectors of society. The military officer cannot be an unfeeling and insensitive expert in military science. His role today is clearly vastly different from that of the "artillery officers" of old.

The same can be said today of other knowledge workers in the technical professions, whether they be accountants, engineers, computer scientists, physicists, chemists, biologists, etc. In an article by two Harvard professors (David Bloom and Henry Rosovsky), the case for liberal arts education for technical people was convincingly presented: "By teaching students how to think rather than what to think, and how to learn rather than what to learn, a liberal education produces graduates who are better able to adapt and respond to the demands of a fast-changing economic and social environment. But in a rush to respond to a rapidly changing world, it is easy to overlook long-term objectives. The view that engineers should learn solely the technical aspects of their trade, for example, neglects the social and environmental impacts of their work. Skills in road design and maintenance are clearly essential for all countries, but if planners and policy-makers do not recognize and take account of the views of local populations, negative social impacts of a project may outweigh, and eventually threaten, the positive economic outcomes. …

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