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Climate change and multiple disciplinarity

MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz - The Philippine Star

A simple example of how learners today need to be trained in multiple disciplines is the issue of climate change.

More than a decade ago, Cambridge University Press already defined climate change as a problem that cannot be solved by a single discipline. The 2001 book “Climate Change: A Multidisciplinary Approach,” by William James Burroughs, traced the scientific interest on climate change to Hubert Lamb in England and J. Murray Mitchell in the USA in the 1950s and concluded that “only by looking at all aspects of climate change can we form a balanced judgement about the relevance to widely debated contemporary environmental, economic and social issues.”

The BC3 Summer School in July 2015 at the Basque Centre for Climate Change, entitled “Climate Change on the Road to Paris,” continued to focus on the “multidisciplinary view of the ongoing trends in climate change research.” Paris, of course, refers to COP21/CMP11, the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held from November 30 to December 11.

Climate change is a universal problem that affects not only one or two individuals, groups, nations, or groups of nations, but everyone, everywhere, including the Philippines and Filipinos.

Who will solve the problem of climate change? Clearly, not teachers and professors who are mostly digital immigrants or digital aliens. After all, they caused the problem. As Cory Aquino so well put it in a speech before the Joint Philippine and Foreign Chambers of Commerce in 1986, quoting from José Rizal in “El Filibusterismo,” “The glory of saving one’s country cannot be given to one who has authored its ruin.” The glory of saving humanity from climate change cannot be given to those born before 1980, because they authored the ruin of the earth.

Those who will solve the problem of climate change are in classrooms, not as teachers or scholars, not as public intellectuals or politicians, not even as full adults, but as pupils, students, learners – young people still eager to learn and eager to solve the world’s problems.

How will the generation now in school be trained to solve a problem such as climate change? Since climate change, by our own reckoning, cannot be solved by any single discipline, we have to take a multiple disciplinary approach.

Fortunately, the K to 12 reform envisions such an approach to learning.

The idea of kindergarten (and the preparatory levels before Kindergarten) up to Grade 12 (or the end of senior high school) is for all basic education graduates to have a fair chance at three career pathways – to get employed as a middle-level skilled worker, to be an employer as an entrepreneur, or to go to higher education. These alternatives are not exclusive: high school graduates may opt to get a job while having their own business, then go to college at the same time as working students or after earning enough from full-time employment or entrepreneurship. College graduates or students themselves – as already happening in contact centers – may opt to get employed in lower-level or even middle-level jobs, or may – like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg – opt out of formal higher education altogether to make incredible fortunes. In other countries, notably Germany, students routinely get technical or vocational training for three years before going for college degrees.

If a high school education is enough to make a fairly decent living, what is the value added of higher education? The now-TRO’ed CMO 20, series of 2013, explicitly defines the outcome of a college education as being a leader. The Grade 12 graduate may make enough money to live, but it is the college graduate that determines how that money is earned, how that money may or should be spent, what it means to live.

There is also, of course, a need for specialists that can delve deep into one field and push the frontiers of knowledge in that field. In the K to 12 reform, this mission is given to graduate schools. That is why, in the typology of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the label of “university” is ideally given only to those institutions that have more graduate students than undergraduate students. The rationale is that it is in graduate school that the university fully performs its function of being the brains of a nation, or challenging received wisdom, or thinking for the world.

The progression is neat: to earn a living, one graduates from basic education; to create the situation where high school graduates can earn a living, one graduates with an undergraduate degree; to discover and uncover new areas where it is not making a living that is the prime concern but the future of the world and humanity, one graduates with a graduate degree, ideally a doctorate or a post-doctoral certificate or even a second doctorate, but minimally a master’s degree.

Working, leading, researching. This is the simple, perhaps some may even call it simplistic, assumption of the K to 12 reform.

I have to admit, however, that not everyone now teaching in basic or higher education has the interest, not to mention the ability, to engage in multiple disciplinarity. In the words of Shakespeare, aye, there’s the rub. (To be continued)


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