The future of liberal education

Dhaka,  Sun,  24 September 2017
Published : 18 Aug 2017, 20:32:10
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The future of liberal education

The future of liberal education
Noore Alam Siddiqui
Education makes a person perfect nourishing all human instincts and values. The aim of education should be development of humane, moral and ethical values upholding supremacy of humanity over any type of evil. As a rational being, a man must give priority to upholding moral and ethical values at any cost without which there might be no difference between humans and wild animals.

Liberal education or liberal arts that consist of academic subjects like history, philosophy, literature, social sciences are a system of education suitable for cultivation of human thinking free from provincialism, dogma, preconception and ideology. The people educated this way are conscious of their opinions and judgments, reflective of their actions and aware of their place in the social and natural worlds. People who are liberally educated are trained to think for themselves rather than conform to higher authorities and big influences.

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, liberal education is "a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a stronger sense of values, ethics and civic engagement characterised by challenging encounters with important issues, and more a way of studying than a specific course or field of study". Usually we observe liberal education as very much global and pluralistic in its scope. It can include a general education curriculum which provides broad exposure to multiple disciplines and also can include learning strategies in addition to in-depth study in at least one academic area.

In his best-selling book "In Defence of Liberal Education", CNN host and best-selling author Fareed Zakaria, the Washington Post columnist, argues favouring liberal education for a renewed commitment to the world's most valuable educational tradition. According to him, the liberal arts are under attack. Recently the governors of Texas, Florida and North Carolina in the United States have announced that they will not spend taxpayers' money subsidising the liberal arts-majors like English, once very popular. Former US President Barack Obama urged students during his second term in power to keep in mind that technical training could be more valuable than a degree in art history. Fareed Zakaria also described turning away from liberal arts as a mistake.

Professional and vocational education prepares students for their careers. But liberal education prepares students to utilise their leisure time properly navigating internal and external conflicts in life being self-conscious and aware of their actions and motivations. In this way an individual becomes more considerate for other beliefs and cultures. According to James Engel, the author of The Value of Liberal Arts Education, "Liberal education provides the framework for an educated and thoughtful citizen."

In today's information and communication technology (ICT)-based world, human civilisation has reached the peak of materialistic development with thriving innovation, invention and discoveries. People are running after maximisation of capital and multidimensional consumption. Demand is becoming unlimited and at the same time the demand for various elements of physical comfort and their supplies are growing day by day. But basic human instinct as well as moral and ethical values are disappearing from society very sharply which is really very much alarming.

But why are all those happening? Both hard labour and talent are the driving force of human civilisation. In order to fulfil our consumerist and materialistic demand we are focusing on job-oriented education. In order to develop critical thinking for nourishing human values, we need a certain number of philosophers and we should keep in mind that it is important to have a certain number of people who study history. But we are not currently creating a lot of jobs in those areas. But now they are going back to a college of technology to get a life skill for securing a job. People have become very much pragmatic and materialistic. The difference between man and machine is reducing sharply. Artificial intelligence is going to replace human intelligence in the near future which could be disastrous for the existence of human civilisation as Stephen Hawking expressed his grave concern in this connection.

If we look into the history of education and jobs in many countries, we would find that most of the meritorious students preferred subjects like history, philosophy, literature and various other social studies. But at present, students prefer job-oriented, professional and vocational subjects. Therefore, we are not getting social scientists who could show the society the path to welfare, a political scientist who could redefine statesmanship and leadership, a philosopher who could interpret our faith and could redefine the meaning of life, a historian who could help us learn lessons from the history so that we could take any crucial decision perfectly for betterment of the society as well as for the whole mankind. Literature teaches us both history and humanity, but students are very much reluctant to study those subjects institutionally and personally.

Unfortunately, most of the talents are utilising their brain and wisdom just by learning programming language, coding, engineering and many other materialistic research and development. But as rational beings we must lay more emphasis on various humanitarian and abstract faculties of human mind. We must keep in mind that a human being is not a machine; they are the greatest creature on the earth.

Liberal education teaches us how to write, how to speak our mind, and how to learn immensely valuable tools, no matter whatever our profession is. In order to make our technical and vocational education more interesting, colourful, more meaningful and more humane, we must go for liberal education. Technology and globalisation are actually making these skills even more valuable as routine mechanical and even computing tasks can be done by machines or workers in low-wage countries. More than just a path to building a career, liberal education is an exercise in freedom. Above all, it is an expression of the most basic urge of the human spirit to know.

The writer is a banker and columnist.

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