Retool, not retrench

MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) - September 11, 2014 - 12:00am

Administrators of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) must by now, since it has been a year since it was promulgated, have started following what the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) ordered them to do through CMO 20, series of 2013.

Section 1 (“General Provision”) of Article 2 (“Transitory Provisions”) of the CMO says that “Prior to the entry of the first batch of Grade 12 students into college in AY 2018-2019, higher education institutions with higher education development assistance of CHED shall prepare the basic requirements in the implementation of the revised GE curriculum as follows: 1. Orientation and training of GE faculty so as to: (i) orient them toward the philosophy of liberal education, away from the disciplinal and remedial thrust of current GE courses; (ii) enable them to teach the core courses using new material; and (iii) recognize best practices in general education.”

It is the duty of HEI administrators to train their teachers to teach the new GE courses. It is not necessary for teachers to take the initiative to ask administrators to train them. The responsibility for getting teachers ready for the new GEC lies with administrators.

Why should the current GE teachers get trained?

Section 1 of Article 2 puts it plainly: so they will move away from “the disciplinal and remedial thrust of current GE courses.” Many (if not most) GE teachers today cannot get out of the narrow confines of their disciplines. Worse, many (if not most) GE teachers today teach on the assumption that they need to make up for what high schools did not give students.

An example of a course that is disciplinal is the current “General Psychology.” The course is taught by teachers with degrees in psychology. Students are asked to read and understand standard readings in psychology. The course is really an introduction to the psychology major offering. It is not a course meant for those who are not interested in psychology. This is why the course no longer exists in the new GEC. To her credit, CHED Chair Patricia Licuanan, who happens to be a renowned psychologist and would have been expected to protect her turf, so to speak, approved and now champions the new GEC.

Examples of courses that are remedial are the Filipino, English, and Mathematics courses in the current GEC. They merely repeat what high school students are supposed to have learned in their ten years of pre-university education. (With the added three years of pre-university education and a much more advanced K to 12 curriculum, it is even more unlikely that high school students will not learn what they are supposed to learn.)

The new GEC explicitly does away with remedial courses. It is not the job of HEIs to do what high schools are supposed to do. If a student is not sufficiently prepared for higher education by the time s/he finishes Grade 12, then s/he should not enter college. It is that simple. In practice, this means that an HEI (or perhaps the Department of Education or CHED itself at some point in time) will have to have a test to see if an applicant meets the College Readiness Standards.

Teachers also have to be trained because they will be using “new material.” This implies that the materials now being used in teaching the current GEC will be different from those needed to teach the new GE subjects. If it is wrong to put new wine into old wineskins, it will also be wrong to put old wine in new wineskins.

Teachers also have to be trained to follow best practices in teaching. In one of his TED talks, Bill Gates observes that teaching is the only profession where there is no system for individuals to learn from their peers. In every other job in the world, individuals look at what others are doing and follow them if these others are doing better. That is not the case for teachers at every level. Teachers are left to their own devices.

Today’s GE teachers must sit in the classes of teachers who really teach GE and not disciplines. Bill Gates funds a program in the US in which teachers travel to observe the best American teachers. CHED has to find a way to do something similar.

Notice that the CMO does not say that administrators should retrench, declare redundant, or fire their teachers. What the CMO says is that the current teachers should be retrained to handle the new GEC. Of course, it is always management’s prerogative to let go of employees, but the CMO envisions the GE teachers teaching today as being the same ones that will teach the new GE courses in 2018.

While it will take serious retooling to get today’s college teachers to step away from their disciplines and move towards a GE frame of mind, it will be much more difficult to find other teachers who have the experience of teaching fresh college students.

There are four years to go before first-year college students will be taking the new GE courses. There is still time, but there is no time to waste.

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