Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

Views of Chinese Students on General Education Based on Individual Interviews

Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

Views of Chinese Students on General Education Based on Individual Interviews

Article excerpt

Introduction

As an educational initiative traced back to ideals of liberal education in ancient times and a curriculum legacy in American higher education, general education is now widely introduced into the curriculum of higher education in many places in the globe. In its early days, general education was regarded as an essential mean for "the cultivation of the intellect" (1, 2). Later on, the meaning changed to the cultivation of a rounded person with not only intellectual qualities but also emotional advancement (3). As argued by Brubacher (3), the human nature in the present age was not "a simple dualism of rationality and appetite" but "a complex product of biological, psychological, sociological and historical forces"; therefore, general education "must address itself to its emotional content, which is the wellspring of action". The curriculum of general education has also evolved from a more prescribed one to one incorporating an elective system to admit more individual differences. In modern times, particularly in an era characterized by rapid increasing of knowledge and advancement of science and technology, general education was more important to "counteract the increasing specialization and compartmentalization in undergraduate study" (4).

In recent years, attention paid to general education has been shifted from a focus on curricular content to that on pedagogy and learning approaches. New curricular and learning modes evolved, such as learning communities, experiential learning, service learning, collaborative group projects and case study (5). These modes were proved to be very effective in promoting active learning of students (6). Aligning with these teaching and learning changes, emphases were also made to strengthen some fundamental intellectual skills through general education curricula such as critical thinking, quantitative reasoning and oral and written communication (5).

Although the idea of general education is not new and its curriculum is widely adopted, there are few empirical studies to explore students' views about the learning experiences gained through general education. Several existing studies provided some insights in this area. A survey of student views about general education indicated that students valued general education programs that were broad and had linkage with self-knowledge and career development (7). Students also expected to improve their communication, thinking and interpersonal skills through general education. Johnson et al. (8) also suggested that students had high expectation of general education for fostering their cognitive and personal development. Furthermore, a qualitative research based on student interview indicated that students had a better understanding of general education purposes, did not like classes delivering too many contents and attributed teachers as an important factor in their learning (9).

While these existing studies provided valuable findings on student views of general education, they were not without limitations. Primarily, most of them were conducted based on forced-choice survey that provided structured and quantitative information. Some studies even did not aim purposefully to explore the subjective views about general education. There are several reasons for exploring students' views about general education. Firstly, in determining curriculum issues, student views are easily neglected because of faculty authority (9). However, students are important stakeholders of general education and are those who really experience the curriculum. Secondly, from the perspective of evaluation, students' experience and viewpoints should be regarded as important and could provide essential knowledge for meaningful curricular change in general education (10). Furthermore, as alignment of the goals of general education with student learning outcomes has to consider student viewpoints and learning experiences (9), more studies on exploring the subjective views and experiences of students on general education are needed. …

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