‘A well-conceptualised liberal arts and sciences programme is the need of the hour’
Such a curriculum also prepares students to work in a variety of sectors as it helps them achieve a strong foundation in different subject areas, learn to communicate effectively, work collaboratively with others, and think on one’s feet.
The fourth industrial revolution dominated by the internet, machine learning, social media, and abundant data is changing careers and lives in profound and mundane ways.
At the same time, never before has the planet been home to so many more people living longer lives and also moving vast distances, in real and virtual terms, in mind-boggling numbers. Finally, humanity is faced with an enormous set of challenges as far as the natural environment is concerned.
These set of cooperative and competing interactions among men, machines, and mother nature will shape lives in ways that we have just begun to comprehend. While the media is full of stories about stresses and challenges in these relationships, we should also keep an eye on the many opportunities that will arise with a more positive impact.
In such a rapidly evolving dynamic and diverse world, educators at all levels (school and college) have heightened responsibilities on what we teach our students, and how we prepare them for this complex, complicated, and connected world. At the same time, as one considers the college environment, teaching should give way to ‘co-learning’ to enable students to ‘learn how to learn’ as now ‘information’ (which in any particular subject could be claimed as the domain of expertise for a particular teacher) is available at the touch of a computer key. Hence a premium on how to apply such information, how to react to changes in information, rather than merely the accumulation and regurgitation of said information through rote memory.
In such a world, a well-articulated liberal arts and sciences programme equips students with tools to continually adapt to new conditions, challenges and opportunities – students should be ‘liberated’ or free to pursue a combination of disciplines rather than be straight-jacketed into one stream of study; the educational model should develop both the ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’ of the student, i.e., both the ‘logical, analytical’ aspects and the ‘thoughtful, subjective, creative’ aspects.
Finally, the system should allow a student to develop as a ‘whole individual’ – body and mind – meaning that in addition to classroom and academic activities, emphasis be given to developing interest in physical well-being, sports (which develops principles of resilience, teamwork, discipline), artistic talent, and community service engagement. So the overall curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular structure develops a student’s talents in being curious, creative, communicative (oral and written), and collaborative.
Such a curriculum also prepares students to work in a variety of sectors as it helps them achieve a strong foundation in different subject areas, learn to communicate effectively, work collaboratively with others, and think on one’s feet. The focus is less on a particular job or sector or career right after graduation, but more a preparation for a gainfully employed and fulfilling life.
That said, colleges and universities these days, where there is a parental and societal pressure on students’ employment prospects, are conscious about preparing students in ways that allow them to ‘hit the ground running’ right after receiving the diploma with a job offer in their pocket already in place. It is just that a well-conceptualised liberal arts and sciences programme looks beyond the “first job after graduation” to help a student anticipate the “known and unknown” challenges and opportunities that life has a mysterious way of throwing one’s way.
It is well documented that an average person changes their jobs over half a dozen times in their lifetime and while there are many opportunities nowadays for adult learning programs (offline and online), for middle-aged employees to learn new skills, not all of them are able to take advantage of such opportunities, given family and other commitments.
So, regardless of what one can do later on in one’s life to develop new skills, it is critical for colleges to nurture the foundations to develop lifelong learners. So whether students pursue careers in the government sector, the corporate, academic or non-profit world, or decide to become self-employed entrepreneurs, artists, or performers, the liberal arts and sciences paradigm is well suited not just for the first job but all subsequent jobs as well.
(Ramaswamy is the vice-chancellor of Krea University. Views expressed here are personal.)