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Textual: análisis del medio rural latinoamericano

versión On-line ISSN 2395-9177versión impresa ISSN 0185-9439

Textual anál. medio rural latinoam.  no.71 Chapingo ene./jun. 2018 


Is it possible to transform the agricultural preparatory school at the Universidad Autónoma Chapingo into a high school relevant to the 21st century?

Héctor Rueda Hernández1  * 

María Joaquina Sánchez Carrasco1 

1Universidad Autónoma Chapingo, Departamento de Preparatoria Agrícola, km 38.5 Carretera México-Texcoco, C.P. 56230, Chapingo, Texcoco Estado de México.


A proposal outlining the elements that should be contained in the curriculum of the Agricultural Preparatory School at the Universidad Autónoma Chapingo to make it more relevant for the 21st century was developed, considering the current context and prospective elements for the immediate future, aspects that had not been considered in the previous design proposals. This analysis is based on the methodology of qualitative, exploratory, documentary, reflective and proactive research. Two important moments in the history of the institution were analyzed: the last curricular update in 1995, and the social context of 2017. It was found that the current program does not include aspects now recognized as essential for teaching at the high school level, such as environmental education, gender equity, and the formation of values. It raises the need to incorporate curricular flexibility, as well as to consider the recommendations issued by UNESCO that refer to the formation of competencies for life and aim toward an educational program with a humanistic approach.

Keywords: Curriculum update; upper secondary level; education for the 21st century


Se desarrolló una propuesta de los elementos que debiera contener el diseño curricular del Plan de Estudios de la Preparatoria Agrícola de la Universidad Autónoma Chapingo, que lo caractericen como pertinente para el siglo XXI, considerando el contexto actual y elementos de prospectiva para el futuro mediato, aspecto que no había sido considerado en las propuestas anteriores de diseño. Se trabajó con base en la metodología de investigación cualitativa, exploratoria, documental, reflexiva y propositiva. Se analizaron dos momentos importantes en la historia de la institución: Su actualización curricular última en 1995, y el contexto social de 2017. Se encontró que el programa actual no incluye aspectos hoy reconocidos como esenciales en la formación Media Superior como la educación ambiental, la equidad de género, y la formación de valores. Se plantea la necesidad de incorporar flexibilidad curricular, así como considerar las recomendaciones emitidas por la UNESCO que hacen referencia a la formación de competencias para la vida y apuntar hacia una formación con enfoque humanista.

Palabras clave: Opinión de estudiantes; modelo de tutoría académica; tutoría en educación superior


The educational offering of the Universidad Autónoma Chapingo includes agricultural high school, a one-year university preparatory course, a bachelor’s degree (or specialty), and a postgraduate degree (masters and PhD), whose programs are offered in both Chapingo’s Central Campus and in some of its regional centers and units located in different parts of the country.

There are two options for entering the undergraduate level at the institution: the first is to accredit middle school level studies to gain access to the Agricultural High School; the second is to have completed high school studies in order to study the one-year preparatory course; in both cases, students must take an entrance exam.

The Agricultural High School of the Universidad Autónoma Chapingo (UACh) has been influenced by social changes throughout its history, which have determined its course in academic, political, and social aspects as well. It is a three-year academic program which is offered to students who enter UACh from different states of the Mexican Republic.

The high school’s curricular structure has been permeated by the following objectives: “1) to form the high school students in the areas of basic, humanistic, social and agronomic knowledge [...]; 2) To develop scientific research [...] in order to contribute to the solution of specific problems of the environment, related to the rural environment and of society in general; 3) To establish a commitment to the environment through service, dissemination and advancement of the university culture [...]; 4) To maintain a close relationship with the other educational levels of the university [...] and 5) To contribute along with the university for the optimal use of resources and in the preservation and enrichment of its patrimony” (

The previous paragraph identifies an objective related to education based on the knowledge areas of the high school curriculum. Objectives 2 and 3 are more ambitious, as they seek to train researchers and to engage students with the environment. And they are ambitious because not all teachers do research, nor do they get involved with the problems of nearby communities. The relationship with the bachelor’s degrees is complex, given that some teachers complain about the deficient training of the students. Based on the last objective, there is the Chapingo University Environmental Program, some museums, a rural fair, and a science and technology week, through which the aim is to strengthen the natural and cultural heritage of the university.

The history of the Agricultural High School can be traced back to 1965 when the Honorable University Council agreed to establish two study plans to enter the specialty. A five-year plan that includes a year-long preparatory course and a seven-year plan, comprised of three years of high school and four in the major. After several events of conflict and tension, the high school curriculum was reviewed in 1995. In that year modifications were approved for the first- and second-year subjects, and the third-year reforms and preparation courses were left pending (

In the last 20 years, two key moments can be identified in the high school’s academic development: one, linked to its curriculum change in 1995, and the beginning of the updating process in 2017.

This paper analyses these two moments and raises the issues that should be taken into account in order to form an academic program congruent with the institution’s own philosophy and with the requirements of a constantly changing society, at the on- set of the 21st century.


This paper is based on qualitative research, exploratory research, including documentary research and review, reflective analysis and construct development.


Although an evaluation of the program’s development was called for in the formal 1995 curriculum document, it was not carried out for various reasons. In 2014-2015, an evaluation of the Preparatory Educational Program was carried out, also administered by the Agricultural High School Department, obtaining, in addition to its findings, suggestions for improvement and lines of research to be developed (Rueda et al., 2016). With this experience, it was decided to start work on the evaluation of the 1995 High School Plan, initiating the actions in the second part of 2017.

Theoretical foundation

This document departs from a theoretical approach to the notion of a curriculum. This concept arose in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and it is understood as interaction and reality, making reference to the analysis of how the knowledge is studied, selected and organized and what contents are taught (Ruiz, 1996).

According to Gimeno Sacristán (2012) , it is through the selection of contents, and how they are developed, that defines what students should learn in an educational process, delimiting them through the contents of the subjects.

De Alba (2002) notes that curriculum is defined as: “[...] the synthesis of cultural elements (knowledge, values, customs, beliefs, habits) that make up a political-educational proposal conceived and promoted by various groups and social sectors whose interests are diverse and contradictory” (2002:38). Said synthesis is arrived at through mechanisms of negotiation and social imposition in a historical context which is neither mechanical nor linear. Thus, the curriculum is a policy proposal because it includes, and at the same time contemplates, certain approaches, which are reflected at the level of the cultural elements that are involved in the educational model. In this sense, the curriculum is not a homogeneous or apolitical space. On the contrary, it is an arena of dispute by the imposition or negotiation of a certain education-policy project.

Each of these conceptions have developed curriculum models that have taken the basic elements of the curriculum into account, which are the same as those of the social culture: capacities-skill, values-attitudes, contents (such as forms of knowledge) and methods-procedures (as ways of doing).

In this text, it is important to highlight the interpretative-cultural model. Said model is practical, based on interpretative-hermeneutics, humanist, liberal, existentialist, interactive and theoretical-practical trends. It uses comprehension as the basis for explanation. The values are prescriptive, as they are part of a certain social culture, but within the framework of an open and flexible curriculum. The values must be interpretable and explicit, being part of the axiology as a social science and are present as objectives to be achieved in the educational practice. Theory and practice reinforce each other. Teaching is a moral activity that develops skills, values and social ideals. It is a changing activity, complex, and difficult to control and predict technically. Teaching is a form of critical intervention in culture. The curriculum is open, flexible and contextualized, focused on the development of processes rather than content, is a selection elaborated from the social culture and has socio-political and cultural implications.

This model of curricular design emerged from the 1970s as a criticism of the techno- logical model, constituting an alternative search that takes into account the integrative cultural dimension of the curriculum. This model implies the construction of objectives in the form of capacities, skills, and values-attitudes, as basic ends of the teaching-learning process. The contents, methods-procedures, and activities are means to achieve the designed aims. The contents must be presented from a constructive and meaningful perspective in the form of problems to be solved, schemes to be integrated, a hypothesis to be verified. The methods-procedures-activities have to be broad, contextualized, adapted to the previous concepts of the students and they have to be oriented not to the rote learning of contents, but to the development of cognition (capacities-skills) and affectivity (values-attitudes). The evaluation must be processual, above all, qualitative, formative, deliberative and enlightening and, therefore, must focus more on the processes than on the contents: evaluate capacities-values and skills-values. The teacher must be reflective, technical-critical and a mediator of the learning; a researcher that while acting, reflects, elaborates and designs his or her own individual teaching practice.

It is worth mentioning that the interpretative-cultural model of the curriculum is consistent with the mission, vision, and objectives of UACh and even with the institution’s own history.

Social, political, economic, environmental and educational context of uach in 1995

From the start, the first stages of expansion in world globalization and neoliberal economic policies can be noted among the most noteworthy elements of the social environment in Mexico in 1995, formally initiated in Mexico with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Among the features of globalization: 1) Production based on electronics and automation, 2) Internationalization of capital, 3) Productive capital is gradually replaced by speculative or financial capital, as a dominant form of capital, 4) Technological development has impacted the means of communication through the Internet and social net- works (Fragachan, 2011). There was also a great expansion during those years of the State’s regulatory policies, which in the educational field are expressed through the evaluation of universities’ accountability, a policy subsequently extended to all educational levels, giving rise to the institutionalization of organizations specifically dedicated to this evaluation such as the Centro Nacional de Evaluación para la Educación Superior -CENEVAL- los Comités Interinstitucionales para la Evaluación de la Educación Superior -CIEES-, el Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Educación-INEE- and the accrediting agencies of undergraduate programs. These initiatives, developed from the discourse in the search for quality education, were already present in the 1994 Educational Modernization proposal.

While these accrediting actions (of academic programs, of institutions, of learning, etc.) have allowed for important achievements in the sense of knowing aspects of the status of education in Mexico in the aspects that they evaluate, it is also true that they have been perceived as regulatory and controlling mechanisms, and even more so, of defining the direction that must be followed by education in Mexico.

Regarding the educational processes during those years, UNESCO’s recommendations proposed a major change in the manner of conceiving and developing learning: the development of student-centered learning, being based on constructivist theories and on the achievement of significant learning as part of the cognitive basis with which one had to work.

Thus, the educational program of the Agricultural High School of UACh (known by the Spanish acronym PAUACh), redesigned in 1995, is reconstructed on the basis of constructivism and significant learning (Preparatoria Agrícola, 1995).

Constructivism is a theory of learning that deems the individual to be the result of an individual’s own construction, a product of the interaction of cognitive, social and affective aspects. The process of building depends on: the previous knowledge or representation that one has of the new information, activity, or task to be resolved, and of the internal or external activity that the learner performs in this regard. It is essential that students obtain significant learning experiences that will enrich their knowledge of the physical and social world (Diaz & Hernandez, 1999).

The constructivist conception of learning involves: a) the recognition of the psychological development of the individual, particularly at the intellectual level; (b) the identification with the range of interests, needs and motivations of the students in relation to the teaching-learning process; (c) that the subjects learn to learn about meaningful contents; (d) the recognition of the existence of various types and modalities of learning, taking into account intellectual, affective and social components; e) innovative alternatives for the selection, organization and distribution of knowledge, associated with the promotion of strategies for cognitive learning and instruction; f) promoting the interaction between teachers and their students, and between students through cooperative and collaborative work; g) reassessing the role of the teacher not only in his/her functions as a transmitter of knowledge, and as a guide or facilitator of learning, but as a mediator of it.

Since its implementation in 1995, said academic program has not been evaluated or updated.

Some years later, in 2017 there is an intention to begin a collective academic project to evaluate and update this program. It is therefore necessary to consider the contextual elements that define the historical reality in which we find ourselves, which must be taken into account in order to achieve an educational program that is relevant to the needs of the students them-selves, and to the society in which they live.

The social, political, economic, environmental and educational context of uach in 2017

There are numerous changes in these areas that have been developed in little more than two decades, and according to various projections more profound transformations are coming in the near future, transformations that according to Castells (2008) are the result of the revolution in information technology, due to its ability to penetrate all areas of human life and the accelerated development of new communication technologies which have become increasingly integrated into the world in global instrumentality networks.

This situation, if it is contextualized in the educational aspect, leads to the recognition of the need to transform both the educational practice as well as its contents. Since 2010, the American Society of Training and Documentation (ASTD) estimates that existing information has been doubling every 18 months and increasingly more quickly, and that new generations must be trained for its analysis and management. It is therefore essential to prepare future citizens and professionals in this field, in addition to requiring learning that will help them to live with uncertainty and complexity, two features of societies in the 21st century (Pérez, 2012).

On the other hand, there are increasingly more specialists working in the area of forecasting diverse future scenarios. By way of a brief summary, one of them is De Duve (2008) , who forecasts that by the year 2050 the human species will have continued to multiply, exceeding the ten-billion population mark by then. To ensure their survival, humans will have had to occupy a considerable part of the remaining virgin land, devoting it for planting crops and livestock activities, thus promoting an increase in desert areas and reducing biodiversity. In addition, most of the coal and oil reserves will have been exhausted, also increasing the amount of pollutants, meaning humans will have to face the consequences of the greenhouse effect.

For Cartwright (2008) there are two mega- trends that will influence the development of societies: the continuous changes in the global population, and the advance of modern technology. He refers to conservative estimates that indicate that the world’s population will be between nine to ten billion inhabitants in 2050, most of them in the coastal areas of the Third World. Bourlag (2008) considers that the demand for food for human and animal consumption will increase by 75 % over current levels, in addition to large amounts of crops being designed for the production of ethanol and other fuels. This situation is particularly important for the Universidad Autónoma Chapingo, as it is dedicated to the training of specialists in food production, so we deserve to give it special attention.

Considering that the agricultural production of 5.5 billion gross metric gross in recent years will become 11 billion gross tons, which will involve huge ecological pressure on the global resources of land and water, agriculture in the tropics and subtropics will face major challenges due to increased droughts and temperatures. Biotechnology based on the recombination of DNA will have provided valuable methodologies for the production of food, as well as genetically modified organisms, which will have characteristics that will improve the nutrition and health of consumers (Millán & Concheiro, 2006).

These authors recognize the remarkable development and social impact of biotechnology and genetic engineering as trends nearing 2030. Genomics will have significant effects on health and food production, in addition to modifying energy production, environmental protection, and other fields. Artificial intelligence and new materials will allow work “on demand,” to satisfy society’s needs.

From another perspective, Brambila (2008) suggests that in addition to the amount, the type of food that will be eaten will substantially change at the beginning of the current millennium, based on an analysis of the projection of population growth for the years 2025 and 2050, recognizing, among other elements, the increase in life expectancy in Mexico. For example, it is estimated that by the year 2025, 78.9 years will be the life expectancy, which, in addition to the progress made in the area of social development, globalization and health in different societies, raises the need to produce different foods, due to differing needs in the population. Brambila tells us of individualized nutrition (according to the specific needs of each individual), directed food (specifically for children, older adults, or by gender, or by geographic region, etc.) and ethnic foods (from the regions or countries from which migrants who have settled in various other countries come from).

Brambila also speaks about the development of “precision farming,” which gives the plant only what it requires in terms of nutrients, water, and light, among other needs.

On the other hand, the characteristics that define the context in 2017 can be recognized in those identified by Tünnermann (1998) as the challenges to be faced in the 21st century as part of globalization, and development of the neoliberal economic policy: the development of the third industrial revolution, with the consequence of a notable increase in levels of poverty, inequality and exclusion at the global level; the increase in threats to peace, excessive population growth, the rapid degradation of the environment, the emergence of the “information society,” the relevance of the role of women, the interaction of cultural pluralism, and the strategic role of science and technology.

Among the factors that have influenced such an impact are the production of goods and services and irrational consumption, which are the basis of reproduction of the prevailing economic model. Unfortunately, the deterioration of “the social and natural” is due to the fact that global institutions, transnational corporations and the governments of developed countries do not assume full responsibility for the environmental costs and social breakdown that they generate. Special mention deserves to be made of the environmental problems given the complex issues presented, being one of the major challenges to be resolved in the 21st century. Climate change caused by global warming that leads to the depletion of natural resources, the production of waste pollution, acid rain, deforestation and desertification are among many other problems that require immediate attention.

As early as 2005, Foladori and Pierri recognized that, as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the generalization of capitalist relations, the relationship between human beings and nature had undergone significant changes in its rhythm, scope, level, depth and awareness level, causing significant alterations in the Earth, thus causing two main outcomes: climate change and the loss of biological diversity.

International efforts to participate in their solution have been remarkable in the last few years. Outstanding among them are: the Brundtland Report emanating from meetings such as the World Commission for Environment and Development (WCED) in 1983; the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit (1992), enabling the integration of Agenda XXI in 2006 which generated the emergence of various interpretations of what environmentalism is, as well as of working groups that have been consolidated and provided important solution proposals, such as that raised by UNESCO which identifies items that should be integrated into education to promote sustainable development: the reduction of poverty, gen- der equity, the promotion of health, environmental conservation and protection, rural transformation, human rights, and intercultural understanding and peace. Education for sustainability should help solve all these issues (González, 2008).

In Mexico two of the five national goals of the 2013-2018 National Development Plan address elements to participate in this effort: provide a quality education in Mexico, and develop a socially responsible Mexico (Gobierno Federal, 2013).

The part corresponding to the high school level of education is in the Comprehensive Reform for High School Education (RIEMS), which defines the competencies to be developed in the students who con- tribute to the undertaking of actions for a solution (DGEMS 2008) and are subsequently addressed in the 2017 Educational Model for Basic Education.

Thus, in this complex context, it is recognized that education is of vital importance in solving these complex issues.

In Mexico, actions in this regard began in the 1990s, with developments such as that of ANUIES (1990), in its Proposal for strategic lines of development for higher education in the 21st century, which states that higher education should be based on eight guiding principles: quality and innovation, consistency with its academic nature, relevance to the needs of the country, equity, humanism, a commitment to build a better society, responsible autonomy and dependable government structures and exemplary operations. Thus, the curriculum design of higher education should be established on these bases.

On the basis of these elements of context, various proposals have been generated which aim for the consideration of these elements in higher education in the near future: scientific, pedagogical, technological and humanistic competence of teachers; motivation, interest, and creative imagination of students; a pedagogical model that is conducive to the autonomous development of the student and recognizes the new value that knowledge has; the human potential demanded by development trends; an administrative policy at the service of academic life; the problems that higher education faces, as well as the challenges and commitments of the university (Eusse, 2009).

Thus, with these antecedents, in recent years the vast majority of educational institutions in Mexico have been integrating the topic of environmental education into their educational programs, research and service. The most recent proposal that points in this direction is that contained in the 2017 Educational Model for Public Education in Mexico, which includes as one of its eleven graduate profile traits showing responsibility for the environment, characterizing it in this way: “promotes care of the environment in a pro-active manner.

Identifies problems related to the care of ecosystems and solutions that involve the use of natural resources with responsibility and rationality” (SEP, 2017).


Once we have defined the elements of the curricular theory on which we will base ourselves, we concur with the view that it is necessary to develop a critical curriculum that points to dialectical reasoning and to- wards emancipation. Regarding the need for a “environmentalization” of education, it coincides as well with Daniel Luzzi, who points out that environmental education is much more than addressing ecological issues in a cross-sectional study in an educational program, or the insertion of ecological issues into a subject, or occasionally presenting some activity with topics on the conservation of the environment; for Luzzi:

“Environmental education is the product in construction of the complex historical dynamics of education, a field that has evolved from learning by imitation, by doing so, to perspectives of constructive, metacognitive, significant critical and environmental learning. Education is a product of the permanent dialog between conceptions of knowledge, learning, teaching, society, the environment; as such it is the repository of a particular socio-historical worldview” (Luzzi D. 2009 .159).

Therefore, the new curricular proposals must reflect the confluence of all aspects of the educational process, educational and political objectives, the epistemological reflections about the complexity of knowledge, disciplinary and didactic updates, and other elements.

Faced with the very complicated context that frames education, we propose developing for the Agricultural High School of the Universidad Autónoma Chapingo a curriculum with a vision of the future, that is critical, flexible, and emancipatory, and aims at complex thinking and problem solving, and is in line with the needs of the citizens of the 21st century, considering environmental education as one of its integrating axes.

It should include research training processes, in accordance with the knowledge production system called Mode 2 (Gibbons, 1998), which refers to the production and dissemination of knowledge developed for it, research in the context of implementation, of an interdisciplinary nature and organizational diversity, greater social responsibility and a broader basis for quality control.

Finally, it should be built taking into consideration, as its integrating axis, environmental education for sustainability, gender equity and the humanistic training of future citizens of the world.

Thus, the elements deemed necessary to integrate into an updated Agricultural High School curriculum are:

  • Curricular flexibility that allows the student to choose subjects according to the degree that he/she wants to study.

  • Emphasis on constructivist learning theory. Constructivism is a psychological and philosophical perspective that holds that people form or build a large part of what they learn or understand. It is based on human development research conducted by Piaget and Vygotsky. Constructivism promotes the interaction of people and situations in the acquisition and improvement of skills and knowledge (Schunk, 2012).

  • Transversality of education in values, environmental education, gender equity and interculturalism.

These factors must be transversal in the high school’s curriculum, since it is essential that the students put into practice and internalize values related to solidarity, mutual support, respect and honesty, which allow them to recognize and to assess cultural diversity and thereby lessen discrimination.

Students are required to reflect on environmentally friendly behavior and values. At the same time, they need to recognize the social construction of gender that has contributed to men assuming a position of superiority with regards to women, and discrimination toward groups that do not share a heterosexual view.

The humanistic approach. The subjects related to the humanities have been eliminated or substantially reduced in some curricula at the high school level. This quietly and gradually erodes the socio-cultural bases of society. Thus, today’s education emphasizes profitability rather than civic participation and democracy (Escourido, 2016). In this regard it is essential that high school curricula retain a social and humanist approach that will contribute to the development of students’ critical thinking skills and acquisition of civic values related to equity and social justice.


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Received: November 10, 2017; Accepted: January 14, 2018

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