Curricular Balance in Higher Education

By Baja-Lasan, Dolores | Manila Bulletin, December 31, 2000 | Go to article overview

Curricular Balance in Higher Education


Baja-Lasan, Dolores, Manila Bulletin


CURRICULUM is the centerpiece of all institutions of higher learning. While colleges and universities may be similar in philosophical base, goals, and aspirations, it is curricula which distinguish one from the other. This diversity in curricular content and approaches hopefully provides an enriching diversity which may guarantee, in one way or another, that higher education does indeed meet the needs of the society it purports to serve.

Curricula and teaching methodologies are a tandem in all educational institutions of all levels. In higher education this tandem becomes doubly significant as the penultimate stage before students formally join the labor force. Theoretically it is assumed that the curricula of institutions of higher education are finetuned to the needs of society and even further assumed to make adjustments as deemed appropriate and necessary.

This essay deals with the creative tension experienced by one university in operationalizing curricular adjustments against the background of findings from its own Placement Division for the last five years and employers' expressed expectations.

Generally it is assumed that in each particular course of study students learn the fundamentals of a discipline or a profession and that they can use and apply this knowledge in the labor market. Ideally it is hoped that the student-teacher interaction in the process of transferring curricular content to the students will lead to the development of deeply committed work habits and attitudes as well as provide a basis for skills in interpersonal relationships which may correspond to those expected and required by the labor market.

John Stuart Mills (1867) asserted that "what professional men should carry away from a University is not professional knowledge, but that which should direct the use of their professional knowledge " Dore (1976) observes that "it does not matter very much what the actual content (curriculum) is; the important thing is the learning itself "

These classical views ideally pre-suppose that what is taught in institutions of higher learning in the manner it is taught shall enable the students to link his knowledge and draw from his learnings once he moves on to a specific field of employment and that he is prepared and able to operationalize principles and concepts into actual working situations. This is largely implied in the curriculum of disciplines and professions.

There are, however, indications which tend to show that this linking of knowledge to actual employment does not always occur. In other words, students are not always able to relate what they learn in the classroom to the actual labor market; that is further assuming that they have consciously gained knowledge from the curriculum of their specific field of study. The test is how they are able to transfer what they learn as they become part of a general manpower force.

This phenomenon has moved some universities and colleges to make the linkages between what they are supposed to learn and the requirements of the labor market more explicit in the course of their studies and, hence, embody what is termed as "an explicit work orientation," i.e., the students almost "rehearse" employment situations they are likely to encounter after graduation as part of their engagements with institutions of higher education.

Such attempts have been met with allegations of "vocationalizing" higher education curricula, which is supposed to be focused on knowledge building and the pursuit of truth. Reminders have also been floated that while a closer linkage between curriculum and the labor market may pole-vault students to great opportunities in the employment sphere, there is much more to higher education than economic productivity.

It is also argued that attempts to link what is taught in institutions of higher learning to the market requirements will contribute to the development of a manpower work force with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary in an environment of global competition.

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