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The many faces of liberal arts education

www.sentinelassam.com | September 24, 2023

A comprehensive and broad-based approach to higher education that emphasizes the development of critical thinking, creativity, and a solid intellectual foundation is referred to as a liberal arts education.
A comprehensive and broad-based approach to higher education that emphasizes the development of critical thinking, creativity, and a solid intellectual foundation is referred to as a liberal arts education. A liberal arts education’s main objective is to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of numerous fields and to develop their interdisciplinary thinking skills. It involves more than just learning specialized knowledge or skills for a vocation. Instead, it emphasizes developing transferable abilities like adaptation, communication, and problem-solving. It attempts to improve students’ capacity to understand concepts, consider various viewpoints, and have thoughtful, educated conversations by encouraging them to investigate different topics.

In a recent visitors’ conference held in New Delhi, the President of India spoke about how the world’s top colleges and technological institutions have prioritized innovation. According to the President, our nation’s higher education institutions can become significant centres for innovation and research. The President was pleased to learn that Indian higher education institutions keep the history of fundamental analysis while transitioning to fostering start-ups, applied research, and commercially valuable innovation. This application of research and innovation in educational institutes is what liberal arts education aims at.

What does the liberal arts education programme encompass? 
A thorough education in the liberal arts and sciences can assist individuals in becoming informed citizens who contribute ethically and intelligently to democratic and accessible communities. In a study, the researchers identified the practices, objectives, and achievements in students’ college experiences that differ in a liberal arts higher education system. This included the different philosophies adopted by professors at these colleges in comparison to those at traditional research universities. Active learning in these institutes is fostered by smaller class sizes with fewer students, along with extra effort and access that the professors provide to their students.

Students who are a part of liberal arts education engage more in activities based on enhancing the multicultural backgrounds and differences of students. However, it is important to also realise that there are many nuances and subjectivities to understand in this aspect in its entirety. We cannot overlook the privileges that people hold and carry on throughout their lives, be it at school or work. Hence, it is important to understand the Indian context of liberal arts education, keeping in mind the socio-economic realities and the ever-prevalent social barriers that people from marginalised sections of society experience.
Institutions with these programmes aim to pay attention to their psychological well-being, curiosity, and the need to quire. Liberal arts education also promotes and strengthens leadership development within students. In a study conducted in the U.S., Seifert et al. (2010) estimated that good teaching and high-quality interactions with faculty are 0.50 standard deviations higher at liberal arts colleges than at research universities, and students at a liberal arts college experience a 0.34 standard deviation advantage over those at a research university in terms of academic challenge and high expectations.

The need for holistic education in India 
It is ironic to begin with because, in a country like ours, most children don’t even have access to a decent quality of life, let alone schooling. However, with the changing times, a lot needs to be done to stay updated and relevant in various fields. The idea of holistic education enters the picture because, in the words of Maria Montessori (2011), “education cannot be effective unless it helps a child open up to life.” The fundamental tenet of holistic education is that each person receives their sense of self, meaning, and purpose from their interactions with people, the natural world, and spiritual values like compassion and peace. A holistic education attempts to instill in students a deep regard for life and a ferocious passion for learning. Instead of using an academic “curriculum” that divides the world into separate educational modules, this is achieved by direct interaction with the environment. The advocates of holistic education claim that it promotes positive relationships between people and their environment as well as between people themselves.

When taken as a whole, holistic education places a substantially greater focus than the conventional learning environment on democratic learning, emotional well-being, and interpersonal development. In India, holistic education is a prominent discussion topic between educators and policymakers. Following the same, holistic education has been given much importance in the National Education Policy of India, 2020. An excerpt from the same is, “A holistic education aims to teach children about life’s difficulties while preparing them for academic achievement. The fullest development of the entire person is addressed at the cognitive and emotive levels, going beyond the scope of the student’s overall education.” Numerous conventional colleges and universities are embracing holistic education and taking steps to include it in their curricula. Many private and recognised universities are educating students about holistic education and its necessity at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

There is a gap between designing a holistic education programme and putting it into practice, despite its necessity and the efforts made by the Indian government and other educational organisations in the nation. This is a result of inequalities that exist in society at large and, of course, seep down to the education structure. In a book called “Social Psychology of Inequality,” the authors state that structural inequalities in education include limited access to high-quality schools due to higher local house prices, inadequate nutrition, and the inability to afford private tuition, among other factors.
Social and cultural factors also act as psychological barriers to engagement and success in education for specific groups. These factors deter and discourage non-privileged students from economically weaker sections of society from striving to succeed, depriving them of the life chances a successful education offers. In the Indian context, access to quality education is still a huge problem. The low literacy rates and the high dropout rates for children from underprivileged areas are indicators of this disparity. This elevates ideas like holistic education to the status of a privilege in the nation. The only people who can afford this kind of education are those from upper socioeconomic classes and those with the ‘right’ kind of connections and networks. It can also be attributed to the lack of institutions that provide the same. We definitely have a long way to go, but acknowledging the fact that there are huge gaps and loopholes in the education system that need to be viewed multi-dimensionally will be the first step in working towards tackling the problem head-on.

This article has been co-authored by Aparna Gupta, FLAME alumna, and Prof. Moitrayee Das, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://www.sentinelassam.com/editorial/the-many-faces-of-liberal-arts-education-668142 )