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The challenge of modernizing university curricula


Gabriel Mario Rodrigues – Chairman of the Board of Directors of ABMES (The Brazilian Association of Owners of Private Institutions of Higher Education).

“Continued learning to adapt to global change and innovation strategies is increasingly needed for countries to keep the economy growing.” (Thomas L. Friedman)

The dropout rate in the Brazilian university system is frightening, both in private and public institutions. Professor Naercio Menezes Filho mentioned in an article in the Economic Value of the last day that in 2014 the cumulative dropout rate of students who enrolled in private colleges in 2010 was 53% and in public schools 40%.

There must be more than two dozen reasons for this to happen, but surely the outdated curriculum is one of them. The controversy over the inefficiency of higher education is not new, but it acquires more definite contours in this beginning of a century where old paradigms are being broken and, more and more, the university diploma loses its value and does not enable the development of the cognitive capacities of the students, such as their critical spirit and their ability to solve problems.

Today the question is not whether students have learned specific content of knowledge; it is whether they are learning something. From the outset we can point to the poor training of basic education. And then with the university, which does not accompany the changing world. In the end, the student enters college and leaves the same way he entered.

This is what the former Dean of Harvard University Derek Bok thinks. “He took a beating” with the academic leaders when he pointed out that, despite their many benefits, American colleges and universities “offer much less for their students than they should … Many graduates leave the institution with a coveted and expensive diploma without being able to respond sufficiently to satisfy their employers (…) or clearly reason or competently perform the analysis of complex and non-technical problems. ”

According to him, it is wise to embrace change and take risks to keep Harvard University modern by constantly reviewing curriculum.

“American higher education is a mess. With high costs, low graduation rates, unhappy teachers and frightened students, universities are about to be radically destabilized by massive and technologically driven changes,” he writes in his articles. The task of understanding that the university cannot function, as it has been working up to now, is a matter of survival of the system itself.

The “Daily Signal” article, published by the People’s Gazette, shows the doldrums of American university curricula. Derek Bok, a two-time president of Harvard, is quoted for his book “Higher Education in America,” which is an analysis of the challenges and opportunities that American colleges and universities face.

The preoccupation with keeping Harvard always current has been the concern of outlining the current needs of society and citizens of a historical time marked, among other phenomena, by a world of real-time communication, by the integration of cultures, by global human needs, care for the environment and new forms of knowledge production.

The appropriate strategy is expressed in the core curriculum described as more emphatic in the field of thinking than in disciplinary content. Based on this understanding, it outlined what the student should develop to ensure the basic conditions of an educated individual for the 21st century.

Its curricular proposal is organized through striking theories, multiple disciplines and disciplinary traditions. There will no longer be introductory courses for any subject, or courses under the responsibility of a specific department. There will be integrated courses, breaking with the disciplinary perspective that has defined the academic life of the modern university.

Whatever the choice, the main goal is the strengthening of critical thinking, reflective thinking, the development of reasoned argumentation, the ability to read, write, oral presentation and the ability to interpret and use quantitative methods when appropriate. Relate well, master leadership techniques and, in the century of intelligence, use creative abilities. It is up to the university to create the conditions for this innovative way of teaching and supporting the preparation of its teachers for this new curricular challenge.

In Brazil the domain of socio-emotional competences is also claimed as one of the main objectives of higher education. But commitment to him seems far removed from reality.

“The key to educational reform,” Bok writes, “is to gather evidence that will convince teachers that current teaching methods are not delivering the results society expects from its educational system.”

And, amazingly, these are exactly the skills that employers expect more and more from graduates with a higher education diploma. A 2013 employability survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of employers say that the ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than graduating.

We are in a new era where economics, technology and the environment are transforming the reality in which humanity lives. The fact is that the planet’s sustainability requires people who are increasingly prepared technically, professionally and socially to meet the challenges of global competition, social demands and people’s quality of life.

In our view, the question of a university course is not just in structuring a good curriculum. And the responsibility to find ways and solutions to this must be beyond the university system, the state, business, teachers, specialists and workers. But, above all, with the people themselves, in pursuing their continuous development.