Vidal Tan’s Original Manuscript
By Dean Vidal A. Tan
Philippine Collegian, Graduation issue, 1941
(Transcribed from the UP College of Engineering 75 Years Yearbook)
With the mounting complexity of our fast changing problems, the demands on engineering education and on the engineer increase both in variety and acuteness. Implements and techniques that are modern today become obsolete tomorrow. Startling inventions this year become more historical exhibits the next year. Achievements once marveled at and considered as wonders of engineering skill become commonplace a few years later.
Before these fast moving scenes and standards, engineering education, more than any other branch of learning, faces a real problem. It is conceivably possible that the training we give to our students become antiquated upon their graduation. There is real danger in that as we try to prepare our students for life, they find themselves upon graduation prepared for life that was, instead of for a life that is to be. Hence the preparation of an engineering curriculum is a work of utmost importance.
In preparing our course of study, we must guard against being influenced too much by our environment. This statement may sound like an educational heresy. It refers to an evil from which American higher education has been suffering. In their attempt to fit their curricula for conditions as they exist, American educators have clogged their curricula with a multiplicity of special courses designed to meet special needs. Courses have been divided and subdivided into minute branches and sub-branches intended to prepare a student for a definite work which may no longer be there when he graduates. This is what I mean by the danger of allowing our environment to shape our educational program.
Under a fast changing world there is only one safe way of preparing the student for life: teach him how to think. And let his thinking be built around an inner structure consisting of unchanging fundamental principles and sound methods of thought. This kind of training affords the student a better chance to survive in an ever shifting environment.
In the light of this theory, the curriculum of the College of Engineering is being revised. More emphasis will be given to fundamental subjects, even at the expense of specialized narrow fields. When a student graduates under this proposed curriculum, he may be discouraged to find that he could not even do this or that specific job at once. He may not even shine in a board examination, as the questions are made. But in the long run, his thorough training in mathematics, physics, chemistry, mechanics, strength of materials, thermodynamics, and other fundamental subjects will enable him to tackle new problems, problems he never saw before; while his neighbor trained to a particular kind of work finds himself lost before a problem he has not seen in the book before.
According to this plan, the field for specialization will be placed in the fifth year, after the student has perhaps gone in practice and has settled down to a chosen line of work. This fifth year should be most fruitful for him and stimulating to the faculty. It will be mostly in the nature of graduate study and research.
Side by side with emphasis on fundamentals, the proposed curriculum will have more humanities. It must be recognized that the engineer cannot get along with only his technical training. It is clear that he is a part of the community and as such should know that community. The engineer lives in a world of human beings, works for men and under men; lives with men and depends on men for his success and happiness. His preparation would be one-sided and inadequate if he only learns how to deal with nature.
But this curriculum has disadvantages that might discourage men of little vision. In as much as board and civil service examinations are made by men of experience, many of their questions will likely be on specialized fields. The young engineer might find them quite baffling. He will not likely do better than a man prepared and coached to pass a board examination. He should however find comfort in the thought that topping a board examination is not the aim of engineering education, although he is not excused for failing one. The glory of this feat comes when new problems arise and new difficulties present themselves. Then the man who has had a thorough training in the fundamentals will find himself equipped to face the new issues, because his mind has been trained to think.
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