Tuesday, December 28, 2010

General undergraduate education as a market and for the market: Revisiting UP's RGEP

Outgoing University of the Philippines (UP) President Professor Emerlinda Roman writes in the UP Forum on the need to revisit the university system's Revitalized General Education Program (RGEP).  Prof Roman's essay is based on a 2010 series of surveys and focus grouped discussions (FGD) on the problems and successes of the RGEP. For those old (and not so old) and "loyal to thee" alums and those who didn't attend UP, the RGEP was conceived under the presidency of Dodong Nemenzo. Nemenzo is probably the only Marxist to occupy Quezon Hall. One chapter of R Kwan Laurel's iconoclastic and larrikinous book "Philippine Cultural Disasters"  is all about Nemenzo, Randy David's motorcycle and the RGEP recipe with a dash (or is it deadly dose?) of Ayala Corporation!  The larrikin, academic heretic and "loose cannon" that I am, I would recommend readers to grab a copy at your friendly reputable and credible bookshop. I'm not plugging, but I got mine at National Book Store's QA branch! I have found all sorts of iconoclastic books at National Book Store and many of them are on perpetual "cut price". For this Nanay Soccoro Ramos must be congratulated. There is a itsy-bitsy market for iconoclasm in this country!

Now back to the RGEP. I was in one of those FGDs having taught an RGEP course for several years. The whole idea about the RGEP is that undergrads would be able to in the words of Professor Roman take courses based not on "prescription but on choice'. Students are now able to take 15 units of courses each from three thematic areas, Math, Science and Technology (MST), Arts and Humanities (AH) and Social Science and Philosophy (SSP). Undergrads can choose from a "menu" of courses. Now with the RGEP, the stranglehold of the Arts and Sciences (in other campuses) now tri colleges of Science, Social Science and Philosophy and Arts and Letters (in Diliman)  in solely offering GE courses is removed . Other colleges even Library Science can offer an RGEP course if they so desire. The College of Mass Communication offers several RGEP courses on media and the press.  However since the tri-colleges are the largest they obviously offer  the most courses.

It has been ten years since RGEP has been implemented. What now is the score? In the FGD I was in, it was about RGEP science courses. One of the main issues raised was that it is defeating to serve an RGEP course in many sciences for a RGEP science course presupposes a basic science foundation. Now we all know how bad basic science education in the grades and high school is! Thus the PhDs tasked to teach science RGEP spend half of the time in remedials rather then teaching something newer! This was the biggest complaint of the Chemistry professors.

RGEP courses do not require a prerequisite and is not a prerequisite for a more advanced course. The science professors are concerned about dumbing down science material just for RGEP. And this led to a discussion of what RGEP is really for. Kwan Laurel lists down the disadvantages in implementing the RGEP and this deals mainly with unmet and unrealistic expectations all related to the poor state of basic education.

Of course there is an ideological dimension to UP undergraduate education. If an Ateneo 'core" education desires to produce a "man or woman for others", a UP RGEP education aims to produce a man or woman for the country. The ideological base of UP education was and still is nationalist. But does that square in with a choice driven market oriented offering of courses? Prof Mykel Andrada of the Filipino department has already noted the trend about "blockbuster" RGEP courses the most notable is the one on sexuality and gender. In the various campuses of the university, there are RGEP courses that are not popular and some that are not. Prof Roman reports these in her Forum essay.

The most popular RGEP courses at UP (from the www.up.edu.ph)

Thus many professors are now reassessing the wisdom of a purely "choice" driven undergraduate liberal education program. And here is where Kwan Laurel's iconoclastic essay "Late Capital and the University of the Philippines" comes in.  Kwan Laurel notes rather acerbically that it was in the term of the Marxist Nemenzo that the whole idea of a UP undergraduate was remodeled under a market orientated and driven framework.

Nemenzo was enamored with a Marxist idea of "technology as salvation" and giving the means of production (in Nemenzo's view IT) to the masses. In fact in the opening screen of UP Webmail, there was a link to an essay on "digital imperialism" which Nemenzo wrote himself. There is a rather big disconnect here. In a capitalist system, the generation of scientific knowledge and its applications is driven by capital (which obviously is not put up by the masses since their level of scientific and technological capacity is limited). In a socialist system, the state is the one funding the research although this is largely driven by ideological consideration. In a capitalist system, it is capital pure and simple and ideologies are secondary even if they serve as a garnish.

It is beginning to appear that the whole nationalist ideology of UP undergraduate education is incompatible with the present application of the RGEP program. The demands of the global market are likely determining student's choices of courses. Note that in Diliman, English courses are tops in AH and the top MST subjects are on NatSci. These subjects are indeed important in a hypercapitalist globalized world and will equip students to be competitive wherever they end up to be.

Under the PNoy presidency, the UP is expected to find its own way of supporting itself. There is no way of escaping capital and so far the UP has danced and is dancing and will dance with Ayala Corporation's capital. But what surprised Kwan Laurel was this all started under the Marxist Nemenzo. The benefits of commercial capital in the UP remains to be seen. Like in the RGEP and its professor , is the university prepared for such infusion? Laurel Kwan looks into the academic culture of publishing, the fixation on ISI and Thompson Reuters listed journals and how this relates to serving the metropole at the expense of the local.

The raison d etre for the University of the Philippines is to train young people for the professions in the service of the country. Implicit in this lofty Imperial American goal is that a vast majority of the people should be lifted out of poverty at least to middle class status (which as Kwan Laurel notes is happening fast in India but retrogressing in the Philippines) This required an ideological direction. The UP is in an ideological crossroads. It is not a matter of choosing one ideology over the other, but choosing an ideology over none, save for the forces of the market!

This discussion in the first decade of UP's next 100 years needs iconoclasts and "loose cannons". As Richard Rorty writes (a major influence on Dodong Nemenzo's ideas according to Kwan Laurel)

"college students badly need to find themselves in a place in which people are not ordered to a purpose, in which loose cannons are free to roll about"

And so my dears, we honour the greatest loose cannon (who punched an irreparable hole on the intellectual hold of the Church) of them all with this quote

""It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved"- Galileo Galilei

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