An added year to college?

Published by rudy Date posted on February 2, 2009

Almost as soon as the Commission on Higher Education posed the question about an added year to college for nursing and education courses—at least for starters—militants (and those putting on airs of militancy) took to the streets hooting their outrage at what they claim is a travesty of their rights. In what that travesty consists, I fail to see. It would make this column instantly popular to support the opponents of this proposal. But I have never been given to seeking high popularity ratings. There is nothing recondite about my position: Let us give it some thought!

I am currently a designated vice-president for academic affairs of the Cagayan State University. We have very smart students in our classes, but the results of a cumulative decline in basic education are everywhere painfully evident. Teachers complain about it and, regretfully, some teachers are themselves evidence of mediocrity in education although we do have a considerable number of Cagayan’s best professors with very credible degrees on our professorial corps. Our university president, Dr. Roger Perez, at one time Ched’s executive director, has given me virtually a free hand to be the ruthless task-master for upping academic standards. However, as my brother, Judge Jet Aquino, at one time dean of a local college of law wryly remarked: How much can you do when the basic material you must work with is shoddy?

It is true that adding one year to college will not guarantee more competent and qualified graduates. But it is no less true that adding one year to college allows for intellectual and emotional maturation and the opportunity for more thoughtfulness and intense cogitative activity as should be rightly demanded of university graduates. That basic education must be overhauled, that thoughtless and endless experimentation with curriculum must cease, that we must resolutely rid ourselves of the foolish bi-lingual policy that has wreaked havoc on the language competencies of our students—all this is beyond cavil. That instruction in the collegiate and university levels must be jolted to new life from its present sterility is likewise evident. Our colleges abound with incompetent instructors and professors, adorned with lofty titles from graduate schools that meet under trees and demand little if any research work at all. In short, the whole system of education is as sick as the pitiful victims of the Ebola virus, and determined, sometimes painful, measures are necessary.

Parents will spend more for one more year. That is undeniable, but that is a cost that is far better borne than having face the specter of Filipino job-seekers losing out to more qualified graduates from, say, the Indian sub-continent (where they take higher education with utmost seriousness and are in no hurry to graduate them). I have never favored “trimestral” programs. Such a delivery scheme supposes the degree of assiduousness at personal study and research that will hardly be found among present-day collegiate and university students, even in the country’s more prestigious institutions.

Nursing students—and their parents —are particularly enraged by this proposal. (In a mature deliberative society, people are not supposed to be enraged by proposals. They are supposed to discuss them, and they are not supposed to hold up placards, but sound argument!) That means a year’s delay in graduation and in the prospect of foreign employment. But this betrays the Achilles heel of what is supposed to be university level education in the Philippines. In this respect, even the supposedly noble study of law has caught the pernicious bug. People study for licensure examinations, with the sole aim of passing licensure examinations. This is a terrible impoverishment of the entire concept of tertiary education. Universitas magistrorum scholariumque… A universe of masters and scholars. That is the phrase “university” comes from, but what we have these days does not even approximate this lofty ideal. We have technical schools masquerading as universities eager to get their graduates to answer with accuracy questions asked in a licensure examination to enter the job market. I am by no means downplaying the importance of seeking a job, but I am advancing the proposition that one’s chances at a rewarding job (rewarding to the purse and to the spirit!) increase in proportion to the “universitas” of one’s learning. The dons of Oxford and Cambridge receive a handsome remuneration that places them in a class apart from technicians. While we need not graduates dons, we need to graduate educated hearts and truly educated persons, not just technicians and functionaries.

Whether or not one more year in college—and one more year of parents’ expense—is justified all depends on what you do with that year. More of the same will certainly not do, and one more year of tortuous subjection to the drudgery of ill-taught subjects by teachers who do nothing more than transfer mindlessly to the notebooks of their students what may be found in the yellowed pages of their own notebooks is a good reason to reject the proposal. But it does not have to be so. One year given to honing communicative skills—developing truly functional communicative competence so that our graduates speak and write as university students ought to speak and write, cultivating the habit of research and acquiring the skills to carry it through, integrating the learning of the past years so that what the student has is not a quilt-work of isolated subjects but a learning continuum, challenging the student to develop that absolutely necessary skill of using data acquired to arrive at new, maybe even boldly unorthodox conclusions—all this will make an extra year worthwhile and may yet justify the honorific “university” bestowed on our higher education institutions.

If we should decide to add one more year to our curricula, let us do so for the right reasons, and pleasing foreign employers or satisfying their demands is certainly not a good reason. We have been repeatedly told that fostering an economy dependent on the export of human resource and their remittances is very bad economics—and very bad management of human resources! The decision about one more year in college should also be the result of careful study so that when it is asked of Ched what pedagogical or instructional grounds there are for such a measure, it is ready to give convincing answers. Students must be consulted, for sure, but students must also be taught what they may at the moment believe they need not be taught. The Greek philosophers long ago insightfully observed that the realization of ignorance is a salutary and necessary starting point for the acquisition of wisdom. I am not imputing ignorance on anyone, but I find useful clues in the musings of the ancient Greeks. –Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino, Manila Standard Today

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