In the context of neoliberal globalization, the modern university curriculum now faces a crisis of critical values. Reflective and critical values of higher education curricula are being weakened, and new curricula are being developed, which essentially view universities as useful for growth and productivity and ignore and diminish the moral and social benefits previously so closely associated with universities. I argue that what is needed is further investigation into the notion of a higher education values-based curriculum aimed at explicitly fostering learners’ critical values such as “conscientization” and social justice.
The contemporary developments in higher education curriculum policies, globally, lean towards market-driven curricula and generally share certain features, especially a structure whereby outcomes are rigidly delineated, prioritizing generic capacities/skills rather than rigorous specifications that the values and knowledge/knowledge content the curriculum should promote. This approach has attracted criticism for excising values and essential knowledge from curricula, with a newfound emphasis on generic skill sets.
Market-driven higher education curriculum
When the market drives the higher education curriculum, its focus is narrow instrumentalism ruled by economic imperative. These forms of the curriculum are designed to promote the soft skills learners will require in the workplace, not the values/knowledge they need for critical engagement with society and the world as a whole. This means that the curriculum reflects how neoliberal arguments have started to appropriate progressive education’s language without surrendering their goal of technical/instrumental education. These aims focus on a limited individual psychological perspective of learners, ignoring the vital elements of education, for example, by framing citizenship as related to individual profit, not elements such as political or social activism. These curriculum concepts wish to mandate not the knowledge expected of students but the way they ought to be.
Another concern is that when the market drives the curriculum model, there is no differentiation between the theoretical and the everyday (sic) when it comes to knowledge and values, so students are not equipped to develop and offer criticism of the knowledge of the discipline. As critical knowledge content and values are stripped from the curriculum, the market dictates what core/key competencies and capacities (e.g., individual confidence, successful learners) are prioritized. This represents a challenge to acceptance of learning as being good in any form without considering the ethics of learning that can promote sustainable values for students and without questioning crucial aspects such as what is being learned and why it is being learned.
Values-based higher education curriculum
Higher education curriculum must be reconceptualized along more values-based pathways. The roles that higher education curricula play must be urgently and critically rethought to take their place in the fight against social inequities, both global and local. It is crucial that a higher education curriculum should be developed that can produce learners who can take their place in a globalized environment by acting in a humane, transformative, critical, and emancipated way.
In the context of neoliberal globalization, what is needed is further investigation into the notion of a higher education curriculum aimed at explicitly fostering learners’ critical values such as “conscientization” and social justice (see the work of Paulo Freire). Educators’ use of critical pedagogy in higher education curriculum affected by globalized neoliberal policies is relevant because it can teach students accountability for their actions and responsibility for using the knowledge acquired and reconstructed during their education in a way that puts the values of social justice at the center. A notable element of critical pedagogy is that education should be politically “conscientize” by constantly being reconstructed and engaging, something that not all educators offer. Educators who are critically conscious and committed can create spaces for dialogue, criticism, and parent students’ participation to constantly rethink and recreate their identity.
Building on such concepts, I contend that a values-based higher education curriculum must aim to provide high-quality scientific/academic education that foregrounds humanity, ethics, and politics in its learning. A values-based curriculum rooted in critical pedagogy must also encourage learners to have more profound and responsible interactions and exchanges with their communities, both locally and globally. Educators who implement this form of the curriculum must assume a pedagogy supporting the questioning of injustice and underprivileged sections of society.
Values-based approaches to the higher education curriculum can offer a rebuttal to those who regard higher education as essentially economic and instrumental, asking for efficient “evidence-based” educational outcomes. When a curriculum is rooted in critical values, allowing students to be accepting, social injustice will not occur. It should not be acceptable for students to be conformists and be indignant in the face of human suffering and oppression. Educators approaching the curriculum from a values-based perspective will help show students that academia values risk-taking, making decisions, learning from errors, and supports their endeavors to build an equal society. As such approaches encourage students to use their critical faculties, they will gain the ability to contextualize their position and be more willing to learn about other cultures and respect them. By inspiring students to be thoughtful and critical, their educators will enable them to participate in a blossoming democratic culture that will empower them to fight for autonomy and inclusivity against oppression and exclusivity.
The concept of promoting values via higher education curriculum, as this article proposes, implies not only “reading the word, but also reading the world” in ways that assist learners in formulating critical questionings regarding the dominant forms of neoliberal globalization. Politics and culture blend with pedagogy and educators must consider all these elements that allow them to embed critical values within the higher education curriculum. From this perspective, the higher education curriculum must aim for enhanced human values alongside critical ethical inclusion, focusing on the practicalities of life and the value influences our education has on learners. Curriculum matters, and in times like these, we need to respect the value of education more than ever. We need to foster the capacity for critical thought and analysis, and we need educators in higher education committed to creating these values.