The Bologna Process may not be proceeding as smoothly as its 47 European member countries wish it would (they missed their 2010 deadline for full implementation), but it certainly is, as Clifford Adelman of the US Institute for Higher Education Policy said recently, “the most far reaching and ambitious reform of higher education ever undertaken. It is still a work in progress, but as it has attracted both considerable attention and imitation of some of its features by former colonial countries in Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia, it has sufficient momentum to become the dominant global higher education model within the next two decades.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last May 12 that “representatives from the three governments [of China, Japan, and South Korea] met in Tokyo last Friday … [and] agreed to explore credit transfers, exchange programs, and quality control in universities across the region.” Earlier, the Asia-Pacific Quality Network (APQN) launched a similar process for our region. There is no doubt that we Filipinos have to take the Bologna Process very seriously.
What does the Bologna Process mean for our schools? I shall list some actions that the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and our Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have to take if we want to be in step with the rest of the world.
We have to expand the system of specifying Minimum Learning Competencies or Standards used by DepEd to include HEIs & CHED. Elementary and high school teachers are used to outcomes-based instruction, because they talk about competencies all the time. These competencies are used not just for preparing textbooks and teacher-training sessions, but for preparing lesson plans for individual classes. In contrast, college teachers have general objectives, often not even couched in psychomotor, cognitive, or affective terms, for courses that are usually planned and taught independently of each other. The much-misunderstood constitutional right to academic freedom is often used to justify a lack of clear and articulated focus on what a student is really supposed to learn in a particular lesson or course.
We have to include both content and skills in student learning standards. Falling into the either-or trap of saying that we need either information or process (transmissive versus transformative teaching) is no longer excusable today. There are bits of information that every student needs to memorize (sometimes called Cultural Literacy or Core Knowledge), as well as processes of learning that the student needs to internalize (sometimes misunderstood as the whole of Constructivism).
We have to specify learning outcomes, levels of challenge, competencies, and student workload. DepEd specifies the first three, but not the fourth; CHED needs to start pushing for all four. The most difficult of these is student workload. The Bologna Process is student-centered, and what we call units or credits are computed not according to how many hours the teacher is in the classroom, but how many hours the student takes to study a subject, whether inside or outside the classroom.
We have to include graduates and employers in curriculum and syllabus development. Some HEIs already do this, particularly those run by administrators with business backgrounds, but all HEIs should do this. In the Bologna Process, education is demand-driven; schools have to comply with what the future employers of their graduates require. Administrators and teachers should not determine learning goals; employers should. This is the most controversial issue in Europe today. Many teachers and students do not want education to be “commercialized” or beholden to industry. Unfortunately for traditionalists and purists, most students today do not pay tuition to “push the frontiers of knowledge” or “to challenge received wisdom”; they invest the money of their parents to buy pieces of paper that will get them jobs.
We have to include faculty of other universities when we revise the curriculum and syllabuses of our own university. Cooperation is a major goal of the Bologna Process. Fortunately, we are ahead of Europe in this regard. We have had consortiums of various kinds for some time now. Nevertheless, we still have a lot to do to ensure inter-HEI “comparability” (another key term in the Bologna Process). A student taking Freshman English 1 in one HEI, for example, should be able to do whatever another student can do at the end of the same subject in another HEI. To ensure that outcomes are comparable if not identical, teachers from other HEIs should be included in the curriculum committees of an HEI.
We have to ensure that undergraduates can evaluate recent research and that master’s theses represent original research. The Bologna Process raises the bar on research and education. What we usually require undergraduates to do is to know what is going on in a field, not to criticize the latest developments in a field. We usually require that of master’s students, who have to do a “Review of the Literature” for their theses. The Bologna Process says that our master’s students should be doing what our doctoral students are currently doing, namely, working at the cutting edge of their field. Master’s theses should be what our doctoral dissertations are now.
We have to think in terms of student load, not faculty load. One of the key items in the Bologna Process is the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), defined as “the workload students need in order to achieve expected learning outcomes. Learning outcomes describe what a learner is expected to know, understand and be able to do after successful completion of a process of learning. They relate to level descriptors in national and European qualifications frameworks.”
For example, if a student, per week, takes 3 hours to listen to a teacher in a classroom, another 3 hours to read an assigned text in a library, and another 3 hours to write a term paper at home, the student should get 9 hours credits for the subject, not 3 units as in our current system. The 3 units that students get in our system are computed not according to the student’s time, but according to the teacher’s time. In other words, our administrative system is teacher-centered rather than student-centered.
Of course, there is a problem. A bright student could take only 1 hour to read an assigned text and only 1 hour to work on a paper, while a dumb student could take 5 hours to read and 5 hours to write. Clearly, it is impossible to figure out what the workload is for an average or typical student. This is one reason ECTS has not really been implemented very much nor very well in Europe.
Nevertheless, we really should start thinking in terms of students rather than teachers. This will be a major paradigm shift for many administrators, who usually spend more time with faculty rather than students. We should start thinking of assigning different credits for subjects that are not equivalent to each other in terms of workloads. For example, “hard” or “major” subjects require more time on the part of students than “easy” or “minor” subjects. Perhaps teachers of major subjects should be paid more than teachers of minor subjects. (I can hear the howls of protest, not from teachers of major subjects, but from teachers of General Education or GE subjects.)
We have to find a way out of the rigid grid of one-hour three-times-a-week courses. The three-hours per week allotment for most subjects is one of the most change-resistant of education practices. Teachers that demand more time or need less time for their subjects often get dirty looks from administrators, who have to think in terms of pay per hour. How, for example, do you pay a teacher who teaches one hour one week, two hours the next week, five hours the third week, and so on, depending on the complexity of the lesson? If there is only one teacher, we can always go on a case-by-case basis (in Philippine English, case-to-case), but if all teachers demand flexible times, no administrator can administrate.
We have to have three years worth of major subjects. This is the most dramatic of changes required of us by the Bologna Process. Except for those taking professional courses such as engineering and accounting, our college students get only two years of specialized or major courses. The first two years of a four-year college course are taken up mostly by GE subjects. Once basic education is extended by two years, however, most if not all these GE subjects will be taken up in high school, thus freeing the college years for more major subjects. Clearly, CHED’s technical panels have their work cut out for them. It takes at least two years to have a new curriculum conceptualized and accepted by all stakeholders (particularly since we should now include graduates and employers in the curriculum development process). The time to start is right now (in Philippine English, now na).
We have to give students a Diploma Supplement in addition to a Diploma and a Transcript of Records. Bologna requires all universities to specify what a student has actually learned to do, not just to indicate the student’s grades or degrees. The idea is for employers to know, just from reading a Supplement, what the graduate is qualified to do.
We have to have a discipline-specific Qualifications Framework statement. We have to list the qualifications (competencies or skills) that every subject in every major course guarantees about a student. For example, can a student who passes English 3 already become a call center agent without further training? If not, which subject can promise this qualification? If no subject or course in college guarantees this, why are graduates encouraged to apply to call centers?
We have to identify the jobs that a student with the degree is qualified to do. The hardest thing for many departments to do will be to identify the specific jobs their graduates are qualified for. Engineers obviously can be engineers and nurses can be nurses, but what is the job that a business or humanities major is particularly prepared for that nobody else can do?
We have to match degrees with industry needs. The bottom line is removing the gap between education and industry. Our famous mismatch – but definitely not all our education problems – will be solved once we take the Bologna Process seriously.