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Editorial Articles


volume-5 ,4 - 10 May 2019

New wave In Learning

Liberal Arts Education

Nidhi Prasad

Well, most 12th-grade students and their parents struggle to fit themselves into one of a few narrowly defined boxes, what is it going to be: Engineering, Medicine or Commerce? Little do they realize that the fields have become much vaster and varied too. As parents ask me now what careers their children should pursue and whether it is best to steer them into the science, engineering and technology fields? The best answer that I offer is"it is best to let them make their own choice". They should not, do what our parents did, telling us what to study and causing us to treat education as a chore; instead, they should encourage their children to pursue their passions and to love learning.

The pragmatic attitude taken by most Indian students and parents is certainly understandable in a Country where millions of students regularly compete for scarce college placements and job opportunities. The entrance requirements at Indian Universities have steadily risen, with certain premier colleges in New Delhi posting the mind-boggling admission cutoff,of 99 percent last year.

In this high-stress setting, students want to study whatever will land them a job, creating a college experience much more akin to "technical training" rather than intellectual exploration.

In a developing Country like India which is riddled by so many teething problems, yet whose educational aspirations are dominated by Engineering and Management, the need for liberal arts is only amplified. Lucky for us, higher education has started taking humanities seriously which previously was a strict no-no and some of the brightest students are choosing it too, giving us dedicated and uncompromising liberal arts Institutes like Ashoka University in New Delhi and FLAME University in Pune.

On the other hand, there are seasoned players like Lady Shri Ram College and St Stephens College in Delhi and Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts in Pune, which have tailored their curriculum and environment to facilitate inter-disciplinary learning.

Tackling today's biggest social and technological challenges requires the ability to think critically about their human context, which is something that humanities graduates happen to be best trained to do.

Some of Silicon Valley's brightest stars aren't engineers; they are Liberal Arts and Humanities majors. LinkedIn's founder, Reid Hoffman, has masters in philosophy; YouTube's CEO, Susan Wojcicki, majored in history and literature; Slack's founder, Stewart Butterfield, in English; Airbnb's founder, Brian Chesky, in the fine arts. Even in China, Alibaba's CEO, Jack Ma, graduated with a B.A. in English, this emphasizes that point that thinking out-of-the-box is more important rather than the stream from which one comes.

A psychologist is more likely to know how to motivate people and to understand what users want than is an engineer who has worked only in the technology trenches. A musician or artist is king in a world in which you can 3D-print anything that you can imagine.

To create the amazing future that technology is enabling, India needs it musicians and artists working hand in hand with its engineers. It isn't exclusively one

or the other; it needs both engineering and the humanities.

Do you know where the Liberal Arts got its name from?

Ever wondered what it would be like to study one of the oldest subjects in the world? 'Liberal arts' is one such subject - it goes back to the Ancient Greeks who considered a liberal arts education to be the ultimate mark of an educated person.

One of the oldest subjects in the world, liberal arts originated during the most explorative period of 5th century Greece. It was regarded as the hallmark of a good education for all free men, thus the term liberal. Although it may have changed in identity, or rather expanded, it still enables society to probe the boundaries of subjects including, but not limited to, literature, language, history, philosophy, mathematics, psychology and science.

This was the knowledge that every free citizen of the nation would ideally have. And while the ideology of the liberal arts has evolved to include subjects from the world of science, management, arts, humanities and social sciences, the idea remains the same - that education is something that should prepare you to lead a successful life, not merely equip you with half the skills and knowledge required to find your place in some industry and survive.

Interdisciplinary education has become a pre-requisite and there is arising a greater need for and focus on how to put your education and skills to use. What if you get to study multiple courses from different fields to get a holistic, inter-disciplinary education in a degree program? A Liberal Arts education makes your wish come true.

WHAT IS LIBERAL ARTS TODAY?

So, in a modern context, what is liberal arts education? There are now many subjects that fall within the broad scope of the category; a typical liberal arts degree program is interdisciplinary, covering topics within the humanities, as well as social, natural and formal sciences. There are differences in the particular subjects included in liberal arts degree programs at different institutions. However, the liberal arts spectrum is generally accepted as covering the following fields:

Humanities - includes art, literature, linguistics, philosophy, religion, ethics, modern foreign languages, music, theater, speech, languages etc.

Social sciences - includes history, psychology, law, sociology, politics, gender studies, anthropology, economics, geography, business informatics, etc.

Natural sciences - includes astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, botany, archaeology, zoology, geology, Earth sciences, etc.

Formal sciences - includes mathematics, logic, statistics, etc.

The term 'liberal arts education' can also be applied to the dedicated study of just one of the above subjects (for example, a student studying a BA in History could be said to be undertaking a liberal arts education). In general, however, the term refers to degree programs that aim to provide a broader spectrum of knowledge and skills.

The liberal arts are a set of academic disciplines that include the sciences and the humanities. When you study a liberal arts curriculum, you don't have to have one specific career goal, although you might. Instead, you'll assemble a broad foundation of knowledge that can be used in a wide spectrum of careers. You'll learn to think critically, examine the world around you, communicate effectively and adjust to changing situations. If you would like to enter a professional field such as law or medicine, many liberal arts programs could prepare you to continue your studies in a graduate program.

A liberal education is an approach to college learning, that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change Liberal Arts is a structured combination of the arts, biological and physical sciences, social sciences, and humanities, emphasizing breadth of study.

It aims to provide a learning experience that empowers students with the skills to deal with change, diversity and complexity, to make them problem solvers, critical thinkers and responsible members of the society.

Though you study multiple subjects in a Liberal Arts course, you still get to choose the subjects you wish to major in, as well as your minor subjects.

Liberal arts course offers you great freedom to build the most interesting subject combinations. For instance, if you choose Journalism as your major subject, you could choose from over 15 subjects for a minor subject, ranging from Economics, Finance, International Studies, HRM, to Literary and Cultural Studies, Music, Dance, Design, Theatre, etc.

Depending on the choice of your subjects you get one of these degrees- B.A, B.A Hons, B.B.A, or B.Sc. in Liberal Arts. Your degree depends on the stream you choose to major in. For instance, if you major in History, Economics, you get a degree of B.A (Liberal Arts) and if you choose Math's or Biology, you get a degree in B.Sc. (Liberal Arts).

Liberal Arts in India is most commonly offered as a three-year undergraduate degree. However, some universities do offer an optional fourth year. In a few universities, the curricula have in-built Liberal Arts courses, without a dedicated course to it.

WHY LIBERAL ARTS NEEDED?

What is Liberal Arts education? According to John Henry Newman, "The purpose of a Liberal Arts education is to open the mind, correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge, to give its power over its own faculties, application, flexibility, method, critical exactness, sagacity, resource, address, and eloquent expression".

A Liberal Arts education promotes intellectual curiosity, helps in the process of creating knowledge in a range of subjects ranging from arts and humanities, social sciences to the natural and applied sciences. The Liberal education is a holistic education fostered to encourage creativity and independent thinking.

Increased automation, climatic changes, artificial intelligence and the vagaries of nature will call for greater resource fulness on how we cope with change.There is endless information available today to anyone who has a smartphone and an internet connection, and it is more important for our youngsters to learn 'how to think' through complex problems by looking for solutions from different perspectives.

A strictly vocational training is nonetheless not the need of the hour and some very thoughtful scholars have indicated that in this globalized post-industrial society a totally different skill set and mindset is needed for people to survive and succeed. These are the people with a deep sense of imagination and with a mind like a parachute that functions best when it is open. An exposure to a Liberal Arts education will help to reach this goal much easily.

Liberal arts colleges aim to mold their students into well-rounded, well-informed global citizens with a wide skill set. The focus is now shifting to how good you are with reasoning, mathematical skills and writing skills - with these you can do any job well regardless of what content you are taught

Advantages of Getting a Liberal Arts Degree

With the valuable skills and knowledge that one master during the Liberal Arts degree program, you move closer towards finding a career that you are extremely passionate about.

  1. Improves your analytical and critical abilities
  2. It prepares you for uncertainties in your career- A Liberal Arts education can translate to many different careers and you can ditch one in favor of another. As a college student, you can also have the option to change your mind down the road if you so desire!
  3. You develop most sought-after soft skills- You polish your proficiency in writing, public speaking, presentation skills, collaboration work and creativity due to the nature of Liberal Arts courses.
  4. Enhances cultural under-standing- A broader under-standing through interdisci-plinary studies of sociology, cultural anthropology, philosophy, international studies, etc. prepares you for enhanced cultural understanding.
  5. It makes you a better leader- Not just a political leader, a Liberal Arts degree helps you in leading teams through creating, collaborating, inspiring and innovating in the corporate world too.

What is the scope of Liberal Arts?

A liberal arts education offers students a well-rounded education and an opportunity to be the creative thinkers needed in the business world in the decade ahead.There is limitless scope for students of Liberal Arts degree that are not available in a traditional graduate degree. Some of the colleges offering Liberal Arts offer you a range of foundation courses over the first few semesters before you can choose to take a well-informed decision on your major subject.

Liberal arts degree would help you in the preparation for work in a variety of sectors. A liberal arts degree focuses on interdisciplinary learning that connects math to literature, language to science. It opensup a plethora of career options-With a liberal arts degree, you can branch out into many different careers, such as journalism, public relations, writing, law, politics, linguistics, publishing, social work, psychology, management, civil services, marketing. Consulting, banking, media, advertising, public relations, research, teaching, and the social sector offer promising prospects for liberal arts graduates. Entrepreneur-ship is also a great possibility.

List of Liberal Arts Universities in India

Awareness and affluence are merited as the major reasons behind a wave of emerging education options in India and liberal arts courses are no exception. From 2005 to 2015, the number of universities offering this programme has grown exponentially, as has the number of applicants.

  1. Ashoka University, Delhi
  2. Jindal school of liberal arts and humanities, Delhi
  3. Lady Shri Ram college, Delhi
  4. St Stephens college, Delhi
  5. Flame university, Pune
  6. Symbiosis school for liberal arts, Pune
  7. Loyola college, Chennai
  8. Madras Christian college, Chennai
  9. Christ university, Bangalore
  10. Azim Premji University, Bangalore

As Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited; imagination encircles the world."

Most Liberal Arts education has an academic research based on strong pedagogy. The Liberal Arts curriculum incorporates the best of content, course and knowledge in terms of interdisciplinary and experiential learning, use of technology, and mentorship. All of this is inspired to attract young minds towards the best educational experience and to prepare them to be global citizens.

A Liberal Arts Education is what shall prevent you from becoming obsolete or redundant. Arm yourself with a futuristic looking education today. The success of the programme depends a lot on the individual, and the way they choose to approach and experiment within this system. It can get challenging. While big words beginning with 'inter' and 'multi' sound very appealing; it also means that much to cope up with and excel at.

(The author is a Senior Counseling Psychologist.

E-mail id- nidhiprasadcs@ gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.

(Images Courtesy : Google)