General education—in the arts and humanities as well as the social sciences for those specializing in the professions and the sciences, and in the sciences for those specializing in the arts—can help provide the understanding of the basics of scientific discipline and the nature of society while educating men and women in the varieties of human motives and experience. But the bad news is that while CHED (Commission on Higher Education) still mandates the arts and the humanities as well as the sciences as part of its various curricula, the need for general education has been under challenge in the context of the mantra to “make Filipinos globally competitive”. While the GE part of tertiary curricula is still there, it is there without the support and with only the minimum tolerance of most schools.
Professors of engineering and similar disciplines question why engineering students have to take art studies, history and literature courses, because, after all “they don’t need them.” And yet human beings aren’t solely engineers or doctors or lawyers, they’re also citizens, parents, lovers, husbands, wives, neighbors who need to understand themselves, each other, and the world. Their understanding of that world also has a bearing on how well or how badly they do their jobs as engineers or lawyers or doctors. Certainly a lawyer who’s aware of the vast complexity of human motives, knowledge the arts can provide, would merit one’s trust better because he or she can do a better job of defending human rights, for example, than one whose understanding of human beings is so limited he has absolutely no idea about why one of his late clients left her entire estate to her cats.
But one suspects that an ignorant population, including professionals who fit the category of Jose Ortega y Gasset’s “learned ignoramus” (meaning one who knows only his discipline and nothing about anything else, including why his country’s poor), are the best assets of a corrupt political class focused on staying in power, despite the lessons of history, which in the Philippines says the time’s ripe—some would say overripe—for this class to give way to real democratic governance of, by, and for the people.
Philippine education needs a clear policy commitment to the making of a competent and knowledgeable corps of people who will find the jobs they need to survive, and even create those jobs by devoting their skills to their country’s authentic development. But they’ll also have to be armed with enough understanding of history and of their society, as well as the humanization the arts have embedded in their minds and hearts, to have some vision of what they want themselves and Philippine society to be—and to devote their energies, talents, and skills (or at least a reasonable percentage of it) to the making of that alternative future.
If even the personal is political, education is even more about learning how power is used, who uses it, and for what purpose. Awareness and understanding of power, and how it can change things for the better, is crucial to the education of a citizenry in a democracy—which means that, for lack of the kind of education that will enable free men and women to actively change society, what obtains in the Philippines is not a democracy, but something else. (http://www.cmfr-phil.org/inmediasres/education-for-democracy/)
Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he teaches journalism. He is the deputy director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. He writes a weekly column for the BusinessWorld.