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Who Should Opt For Liberal Arts?

www.bweducation.com | June 23, 2019
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Traditional liberal arts disciplines such as Economics, Sociology, Political Science, Psychology, Literature, History are undergoing massive changes in their way of doing things in light of the computation and data revolution. Their practitioners are employing new technologies to better understand, explain, and intervene in society. The rise of the internet has brought in new forms of labour, production, and capital supply while upending traditional economic models.

In today’s day and age, there is absolutely no doubt about the importance of higher education to meet life’s goals. While what the goals of life should be is debatable, one of aspect of education is indisputable: it should provide the skills and the means for the sustenance of self and family. Hence, it is a given that an education should first and foremost enable the acquisition of tools and knowledge that will unravel opportunities for fulfilling the material needs of life. By implication, an education that provides the skills to be gainfully employed will be highly valued and the most sought-after streams will be those which the employers find immediately useful. Given this reasoning, professional education will be much sought after, while seemingly relegating the liberal arts and sciences which deals with foundational knowledge rather than its application. Given this general perception, it is imperative to question the value and relevance of a liberal arts education in today’s economy and who should pursue it. 

The proliferation of knowledge has meant that education is now offered in multiple areas perplexing high-schoolers who have to choose their streams for advanced study. It is not just their decision to make as there are various social and economic forces that seek to influence them. There is parental pressure, who given their lived experience, bring their own sensibilities to what a right career choice should be, to peer pressure which herds people to follow what others do. Amidst all this is the inherent desire of the student to pursue one’s passion. It is often the case that their inclinations might be in stark conflict to the desires of their parents who seek to stamp their beliefs on them. In the current context, while people are aware of the dramatic socio-economic transformation that is taking place in the past few decades, many of them seem to be oblivious of the changes that is happening in real time. A significant proportion of current parents didn’t have the luxury of choice or the opportunities that are available today when they were young. Education was pursued more for the opportunities it provided to earn a livelihood than for its own sake. Proficiency in a trade or skill was the ticket to a promising life and a good career. Hence, professional education in areas such as engineering, medicine, law, accountancy, business was much desired. 

However, things have changed significantly. The past few years has seen massive disruption in society due to revolutionary technological advances. The rapid rise and adoption of the internet has blurred political boundaries. Globalization is forcing firms to become multinational to survive. Their workforce is dispersed across multiple countries and barriers to international mobility for skilled workers has reduced significantly. We are as much citizens of the world today as we are that of our respective countries. This massive disruption has given rise to a multitude of opportunities for making a living while many others are fast vanishing. Some of the most valued skills today weren’t even anticipated a decade ago. The pace of innovation and disruption is such that college curriculum in highly specialised areas are becoming obsolete by the time students graduate. To make matters worse, the rapid advance of Artificial Intelligence technologies is making many valuable skills redundant. Slowly but steadily, employers are now adapting to the new scenario. While they continue to value specialised knowledge, they also want employees to be multifaceted. They demand a higher degree of proficiency in critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and interpersonal skills that are essential to operate in an Increasingly Globalized World. These Are Precisely The Skills That Form The Bedrock Of A Liberal Education.

This is also an era witnessing a data revolution where the humungous amount of data is being generated capturing all aspects of life. Gone are the days when data was the sole purview of the science and engineering streams. Understanding it and using it has become key to the survival of businesses and transformation of societies. Advances in software and hardware development has democratized data analysis skills and made it available to the masses of what was once the sole purview of “quants”. The ubiquity of computers has led to basic computational skills as the minimum requirement in almost all domains. 

Consequently, traditional liberal arts disciplines such as Economics, Sociology, Political Science, Psychology, Literature, History are undergoing massive changes in their way of doing things in light of the computation and data revolution. Their practitioners are employing new technologies to better understand, explain, and intervene in society. The rise of the internet has brought in new forms of labour, production, and capital supply while upending traditional economic models. Advances in communication has led to new forms of social networks and generated an immense amount of granular data on how people behave, forcing Psychologists and Sociologists to revisit their old theories and come up with new ones. The disciplines comprising the Humanities have enthusiastically embraced the new medium. Through the digital humanities, the latest in web and computation technologies are being harnessed by the new generation to spread their message. Traditional disciplines which operated in silos till a few years ago are increasingly becoming inter and multidisciplinary to widen its scope making it relevant to business and industry, which is leading to blurring of the boundary between professional and non-professional education.  With the advent of new kinds of jobs, the perception of liberal arts being non-professional will no longer be true and it is now unavoidable that the list of disciplines that constitute a professional education must be revisited and revised.  With the immense opportunities available, it is time parents realized that the world today and India, in particular, is vastly different from the one they grew up and it is the first choice of some of the best students today.

What is liberal education and who should opt for it?

Liberal education believes in educating people for life by giving them the fundamental tools and techniques that are borrowed from multiple disciplines and which can be used in any stream of human endeavour. It enables students to engage with various academic areas for a better understanding of diverse phenomena, which is not always possible in the traditional system. This provision allows students to balance their divergent interests by exploring the Social Sciences or Business along with coursework in the Humanities or even the Physical and Natural Sciences. It also allows them to combine programs with research and academic focus such as International Studies and Psychology, with programs that involve more hands-on professional training in Mass Media such as Marketing, Advertising & Branding, Film & TV etc.  While a broad-based understanding is a key element of liberal education, this understanding provides the foundation for developing expertise in specialised areas. A strong focus on research and experiential learning constitute key elements in the pedagogy. The framework is inherently interdisciplinary operating at the intersections of multiple specialities. The emphasis is more on understanding and finding solutions rather than rigid adherence to restrictive frameworks of individual disciplines. For example, a course in economics may look at the impact of profit motives on the environment and the ethical questions that such a pursuit raises while suggesting policy interventions derived by crunching hard-data. Given the multi-dimensional training based on futuristic curriculum offered by the best liberal education institutions, liberal education students can successfully work in most jobs barring exceptions that require highly specialized and technical knowledge. 

Liberal education is ideally suited for those interested in foundational disciplines who have diverse interests and seek understanding from multiple perspectives. It is meant for those who are less easily satisfied in operating in silos created by uni-disciplinary knowledge systems. They have multiple interests and constantly strive to improve themselves. Liberal education students understand the importance of learning throughout their lives and do not perceive a bachelor’s degree as an end but actively seek to pursue advanced degrees. They are trained in the basics and have the skills and confidence to work in the most general or arcane settings. They see themselves as ethical individuals who are on a journey of discovery by constantly challenging themselves, the society and the world at large. They are guided by a strong value system which acts as a moral compass in everything they do.  Liberal education strives to ignite the imaginations of young minds, foster creativity, propel innovation, and provide the basis for the creation of a new generation of informed leaders.

- Prof. Santosh Kumar Kudtarkar - Associate Professor - Physics & Statistics

(Source: http://bweducation.businessworld.in/article/Who-Should-Opt-For-Liberal-Arts-/23-06-2019-172225/)